There are plenty of things about Canada that seem to mystify Americans despite their close proximity. If you've ever watched Rick Mercer’s "Talking to Americans" it gives a clear insight into how little is actually known to some about the neighbours north of the border, and this has lead to a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about what life in Canada is like. While not everyone lives in an igloo and travels by dog sled as some seem to believe, there are certainly some quirks that Canadians possess that simply cannot be ignored.
While in Canada these things seem like common knowledge, they might actually be very confusing to an outsider hearing the lingo for the first time. It’s truly amazing how the same language can have so many variations between countries, as can be seen in the differences between the way each country speaks, as well as those in Britain. The English language is full of cultural intricacies and can still have barriers that pop up between those who speak it fluently. It’s worth doing your homework so you’re not caught off guard when travelling abroad, even if you think there won’t be that many cultural differences. Here are 25 things that Canadians say and do that baffle all of us.
25 Saying “Eh”
If most of the world knows one thing about Canadians it seems to be the fact that they say "eh" on a regular. But what does this actually mean? "Eh" is used in the same way that we might say "right?", following a statement or question. It's a friendly request for affirmation and in some parts of Canada is replaced by "hey?".
Most Canadians are not aware that they are even tacking this onto the end of sentences, but it certainly does crop up quite a lot in daily conversation.
24 Buying Bagged Milk
To us, seeing these bags of milk at a store might elicit some serious confusion and the internet is full of "You're Canadian if you know what this is" memes, featuring an image of the plastic pitcher used to hold the individual clear milk bags.
So why do Canadians insist on buying milk that comes in a bag instead of a carton? It's more cost effective with the bag option providing 4 L for roughly $3.99 CAD. A 1L carton costs roughly $3.29 CAD so clearly, the bag is the better option.
23 Pouring Maple Syrup On Everything
Perhaps the most famous Canadian stereotype is that they put maple syrup on everything. Waffles, pancakes, sausages, carrots, cereal, snow... it's a national favourite. While putting maple syrup on snow might seem strange it actually creates a delicious dish called tire sur la neige (pull on the snow) which is basically maple taffy. The syrup hardens and cools on the snow allowing consumers to roll the snow and syrup around a stick and eat a cold and gooey delicious treat. This is very popular at maple sugar shacks in late winter.
22 Consuming The Donut Hole
America loves Dunkin’ Donuts but in Canada there's no more common snack then the popped out hole of the donut. Sold by the popular chain Tim Hortons (a donut and coffee shop), the snack is called Timbits and they can be purchased by the box, by the dozen.
Coming in the flavours of pretty much every donut that has a hole on Tim Hortons shelves, this sugary treat is a favourite amongst locals and is especially popular for road trips, or bringing to a social gathering with a jug of coffee.
21 Passing The Serviettes
Serviettes are what they call napkins in Canada, though napkins is still a commonly used word as well. There really is no difference in the product here besides the name.
Arguably the only benefit of sticking to the term serviette instead of napkin is that there can be no confusion of whether the reference is to a table napkin or a sanitary napkin. Serviettes tend to evoke an image of a fancier paper used at an upscale gathering but they can be as plain as the white napkins you’d find at a gas station.
20 Eating Cheese Curds On Fries
America loves cheese curds but do they love them with fries and gravy? Once you give them a try, it’s hard to not to fall in love. Canada’s famous dish is called poutine and it features a heaping pile of fries lathered in a steaming hot gravy mixed with cheese curds. It's delicious, not at all nutritious, and an absolute must-try when visiting the country.
You can also get specialty poutine topped with pulled pork, beef or maple bacon. Adding avocado, more cheeses or sometimes Jalapeño are all great options, but if you’re a first time poutine eater, stick to the original and you can’t go wrong.
19 Kraft Dinner
Kraft makes mac and cheese for America but in Canada the orange, cheesy pasta product is known as Kraft Dinner or sometimes just KD. Loved by kids and hungry college students alike, Kraft Dinner is commonly known by its name and is never ever referred to as mac and cheese.
To them, mac and cheese might come from a no name brand or be something you make from scratch at home. Alarmingly, some choose to consume Kraft Dinner with ketchup, which is definitely the most appealing way to sell this local treat.
18 Speaking Goose
Canada has two official languages, English and French, with French primarily being spoken in the province of Quebec. Children begin learning French in schools around the age of eight or nine and can continue until they graduate high school, or even become fluent by attending a French Immersion program in which 50% of their classes are taught in French.
But is goose the unofficial third language? Not for the people, but Canada geese actually have around 13 different calls they use to communicate with each other; this distinct classification makes it possible to identify a makeup of a structure in their “speech”. But for citizens of the country, the only language understood from a goose is when to run the other way lest they attack.
17 Wearing Bunny Hugs
They wear what? Don't worry, some locals think this is a weird one as well. Basically only those living in Saskatchewan know what a bunny hug is and actually refer to it as such.
This is what the rest of the country and America would refer to as a hoodie or a sweatshirt with pockets at the front. The name is thought to have originated in the 1960s but the theory as to where it came from dates back much further. Speculation suggests the name comes from a time when the pelts of rabbits were used to create clothes for warmth (Nationalpost.com).
16 Staying Warm With a Toque
This one certainly gets a head scratching reaction from most of us as well as others around the world. A French word that has become common in Canada spreading from Quebec, most locals wouldn’t know what else to call this winter clothing item.
The word refers to a hat worn in the winter time that has a brim and is sometimes knitted. In America it's commonly known as a beanie. There is debate among locals as to whether the word is properly spelled “touque”, “tuque” or “toque”.
15 Paying in Loonies and Toonies
Sound made up? To our neighbors to the north who are used to the terms for their currency, loonie and toonie seem like normal names but for us there is certainly a comedic appeal. A loonie is the local one dollar coin; it is gold in colour and features a loon on its tail side. A toonie is the two dollar coin and is silver and gold in colour, featuring a polar bear.
While Canada has had a one dollar currency since 1935, the image of the loon first appeared on the coin in 1987, and was dubbed the “loonie” by Canadians. The nickname clearly stuck.
14 Being Ultra Polite
Their PM's memes are sweeping the internet and many of them are poking fun at how polite Canucks are even when they're angry or if they mean business. In several of his recent addresses to the US Leader, late night talk shows had a ball, joking that the firm but polite wording used was intense coming from a Canuck. In actual fact, they are generally big on manners.
While some countries may consider a more direct way of speaking to be more polite (like the Dutch), those from the Great North are not always straight to the point and may be more concerned about offending others with their word choice.
13 Bacon That Doesn’t Look Like Bacon
We have what they call Canadian bacon but Canadians have peameal bacon. What’s the difference?
Peameal bacon is a type of back bacon from the lean boneless pork loin of a pig; after it’s cured the edges are rolled in cornmeal. Peameal bacon looks more like ham at first glance than it does traditional bacon strips, but it’s not quite what we all know as “Canadian Bacon”. What we are referring to when they say this is back bacon, but not cured or seasoned so it’s difference in appearance and taste than peameal.
12 Rejecting Pennies
This one even locals thought was weird for a little while. In 2012 their government began phasing out the penny and it is now no longer accepted as a cash payment in stores across the nation. When paying for an item in cash, customers and cashiers round up or down to the nearest 5 cents instead.
The coin was discontinued on February 4, 2013 because the production cost of creating it actually outweighed the value. Many of them still have pennies in their wallets or piggy banks that are no longer of any value and CBC.ca reported financial institutions were encouraging locals to contact them about recycling the metals.
11 Living In A Bachelor
To us, a bachelor is an eligible single man, perhaps to be pursued. And in the nightmare of the Toronto rental market bachelors are also intensely pursued but it's not the same thing.
A bachelor apartment is one that has only two rooms. One main living space that features a small kitchen and then a combined living room and bedroom, plus a separate bathroom. The name bachelor comes from reference to a "bachelor pad" where a single person would reside. In major cities like Toronto, Ontario, a bachelor pad is now nearly impossible for a single millennial to afford despite its size, costing on average $ 1300.00 CAD per month.
10 Constantly Apologizing
They have a reputation for being nice and that seems to go hand in hand with being apologetic. This is not something just America finds odd. Countries all over the world with a more direct way of speaking ogle the number of times in a day that the Canucks apologize. Of course apologizing when you've upset someone or done something wrong is important but is it necessary to say sorry every time you accidentally brush past someone on the sidewalk, pass them on public transit or want to ask a question? America would say, probably not.
9 Going To The Washroom
What we call the bathroom, they call the washroom; yet another minor vocabulary difference. It makes sense since often times this room does not even contain a bath in a public setting, but amplifying their need to be polite, they use washroom as a means to draw less attention to what goes on in the facility.
When in Canada look for the “WC” (for water closet) signs when searching for public restrooms; perhaps they want to remind everyone that they understand the importance of washing your hands?
8 Santa’s Postal Code
According to his postal code, Santa lives in Canada. Postal code is the local version of a ZIP code and it contains six digits, a combination of numbers and letters.
In Canada, if you mail a letter to Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada, you will receive a return letter from the man in the red suit himself (Canadapost.ca). It has created beautiful family traditions in the country for years, allowing parents to encourage their children to correspond with Santa each year and experience the excitement of hearing back from him.
7 Not Paying For Healthcare
The envy of all of us, Canadian healthcare is accessible to all citizens. Using a card that varies by province, they simply present this card upon arrival at the doctor to have their visit covered by the government. This means hospital stays and emergency room visits are covered as well. While this may sound like a dream, and is a wonderful thing, it doesn't encompass all medications and there are exceptions for some treatments being covered but most services are free with a referral from a physician.
6 Carrying A Knapsack
They carry their books to school in a knapsack. While that might seem weird to us, who refer to it as backpack (a word that is also used in Canada sometimes), knapsack pulls from the British term rucksack (also deriving from German) and the Dutch and German Knapzak.
Local travellers would still refer to their travel bags as backpacks and the activity as "backpacking". Just smaller bags used for everyday are sometimes labelled knapsacks, which literally means "snack bag".
5 Asking For The Bill
In America if you finish your meal and you’re ready to leave the restaurant, you might flag the waiter down to ask for your check. In Canada, they do things a little differently.
“Can we get the bill?” is an exceptionally common phrase at the Canadian dinner table, and while referring to the exact same thing, might seem unusual to us. Though some locals might refer to it as a check, it’s actually spelled "cheque" in Canada when the word is used in a financial context.
4 Setting Cutlery On The Table
Setting the table with silverware in Canada means you’re about to have some very illustrious dinner guests over and you’ve had to get out your fine wedding china and expensive, authentic silver utensils for the occasion. While in the United States all forks and knives as silverware (sometimes even called “plastic silverware”), they reserve this title for the good stuff.
Your everyday day utensils are known as cutlery here, referring to any materials such as plastic, metal or wood. Cutlery encompasses your average place settings of a knife, fork and spoons.
3 Drinking A Pop
In America, pop is a sound or perhaps a character on a beloved Kellogg's cereal box. In Canada, it's a carbonated beverage that we would recognize as soda. Parts of the midwestern US may also recognize this term but rarely will you hear a Canuck calling their pop a soda. Soda water is a thing, as is Cream Soda; it’s really only used in a product specific context.
According to Syllabus.ca, Montreal is the exception to this rule where they do not have to struggle with the pop/soda debacle but simply avoid the controversy by referring to it as a soft drink anytime it doesn’t contain alcohol.
2 Exercising In Runners
In America, runners are people who are running. In Canada, the word refers to this but is also used to talk about a pair of shoes. Running shoes or runners are what Americans would call sneakers.
This popular piece of footwear has a slew of names across the globe from being called trainers in England to tennis shoes, sneaks or gym shoes in the United States. Who’s right on this one? Well arguably the term sneakers comes from the rubber soles allowing the wearer of the shoes to walk silently, but of course the person can also run comfortably in them so....let’s call this one a draw.
1 Cleaning Out the Eavestrough
In Canada they clean the eavestrough and in most parts of the US, this means absolutely nothing to anyone. What is an eavestrough? It's what most would know as a gutter or a downspout. Canadians call it an eavestrough because it’s where water from the eaves (also known as the overhang) of the house pools before draining.
One of many words in the Canadian vernacular that differs from America, this is luckily one you won’t come across in conversation most of the time.
References: Katherinebarber.blogspot.com, Canadapost.ca, Translate.google.com, BBC.com, CBC.ca, Huffingtonpost.ca, Rcinet.ca, Foodbeast.com, Canadiangeographic.ca, Nationalpost.com, Merriam-webster.com, Syllabus.ca, Dictionary.cambridge.org, Thefreedictionary.com, Writingexplained.org, English.stackexchange.com