Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Annotated How to Tell You're in Canada

Found this page at, which apparently took the content from, but that doesn't exist anymore.

I found I was making comments about each item to myself, which only crazy people do, and decided that I was preparing for a blog post to share with others, which may or may not be crazy.

Some of the items are absolutely true, some are regional (Canada is huge, and there are cultural differences between different areas), some are true but trivial, and some I've never come across. I haven't bothered to research anything, so don't believe anything I say without checking it out for yourself. And don't read it expecting it to be funny. I don't feel very funny.

I've italicized my comments:

  • Everything is labelled in English and French.
This is true. Whenever anyone asks if I speak French I tell them, "Just cereal box French."
  • Everything is measured in metric. (No, the temperature does not drop fifty degrees when you cross the border, and the speed limit doesn't double.)
Mostly true. Some items in grocery stores are labeled with both metric and imperial measurements, and most measurements used in construction are imperial, using inches and feet instead of metres and centimetres. I have no "feeling" for Fahrenheit measurements, but tend to measure length and weight in feet/inches and pounds rather than metres/centimetres and kilograms.
  • Milk comes in plastic bags as well as in cartons and jugs.
I remember getting milk in bags years ago, but haven't seen it sold that way for a long time. This may be a regional thing, it may still be sold that way in the east.
  • There's hockey gear everywhere. A guy can get onto a bus wearing goalie pads, a helmet -- everything but the skates -- and nobody gives him a second look.
This is a little exaggerated. I don't remember ever seeing anyone wearing full hockey gear outside of a rink (and I live in Edmonton, which is a big hockey town), but it's not uncommon to see people carrying their gear around in hockey bags.
  • Restaurants serve vinegar with French fries.
Might be a regional thing again. I've eaten french fries with vinegar, but always have had to ask for vinegar, it's never been served automatically.
  • There are $1 and $2 coins. The paper currency is in different colors, and it's pretty.
True. I've heard lots of jokes from Americans about our "play money", but it's practical too. I can see at a glance whether I'm selecting a $20 or a $5 from my wallet without having to read the bill.
  • The Trans-Canada Highway -- Canada's analogue to the US Interstates -- is two lanes wide for most of its length. (There are great big huge wide highways around the major cities. The 401 north of Toronto is sixteen lanes wide in places.)
This always drove me crazy when driving out of town. The highway is divided close to major cities, but in-between cities it's two lanes.
  • There is still the occasional musical variety show on network TV, and such a show that was on until recently was hosted by a very, very large woman (Rita McNeil).
I have no real comment on this. I haven't watched a musical variety show in years and don't pay attention to see if any are still on. Although I'm not a fan of Rita McNeil's music, I think it's a good thing that a person with talent can have a successful (?) show, in spite of her weight. There are too many successful "artists" whose sole talent is their appearance.
  • The CBC's evening news anchor is bald and doesn't wear a toupee.
Peter Mansbridge. I've always respected him for not wearing a toupee, against (I'm sure) a lot of pressure. Baldness isn't a handicap or a disfigurement, and I'm more inclined to trust an anchor who doesn't hide himself under a wig than a smarmy hairsprayed mouthpiece.
  • When new coins are introduced to replace paper currency, people actually use the coins.
There are one dollar coins called "loonies" because there is a picture of a loon on them, and two dollar coins called "toonies" because, well, "toonie" rhymes with "loonie." If you don't manage your change it can get away from you. Once I noticed the change in my pocket was getting a little heavy. I had over $50 in loonies, toonies, and quarters.
  • Contests run by anyone other than the government have "skill-testing questions" that winners must answer correctly before they can claim a prize. These are usually math problems, and are administered to get around the law that only the government can administer lotteries.
Even contests on the radio have to have skill testing questions, although these are usually lame trivia questions rather than math questions.
  • Lots of people run around in clothing from Roots.
I suppose, although being fashion blind I haven't really noticed. No different than anyone else paying to wear advertisements for any other clothing brand in any other country. Instead of having to pay thousands of dollars to get their name out, clothing companies have the consumer pay them for the privilege of displaying their brand. I really identified with the main character in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, who was "allergic" to brand names.
  • The following gas stations are around (and don't exist in the US):
    • Esso (instead of Exxon -- a visitor suggests "Esso" comes from the "S" and the "O" of Standard Oil)
    • Petro Canada
    • Irving (only in eastern Canada, and a visitor advises me that there's now at least one in Maine)
    • Canadian Tire
    • Husky
    • Mohawk (primarily in western Canada)
I would add Domo to the list as well, although I think it's only in western Canada. And they already mention that Irving, which I've never heard of, is only in the east. Irving is a terrible name for a company.
  • These are the biggest department stores:
    • The Bay (the Hudson's Bay Company, the oldest company in North America and possibly the world -- it was incorporated on May 2, 1670)
    • Eaton's (Toronto, Montréal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver are among the cities that have large malls called the Eaton Centre (Centre Eaton in French)). Eaton's has been having financial troubles for several years now, and finally closed a number of its stores and sold the rest to Sears Canada.
    • Zellers -- owned by the Bay, Zellers is similar to KMart (which recently pulled out of Canada) or Target (which isn't in Canada at all).
This is dated. Eaton's Centre in Edmonton has been renamed City Centre or something like that, and as far as I know Sear's has given up on using the Eaton's name. There are no more Eaton's stores. As far as I know.
  • These are the big banks:
    • Toronto Dominion
    • Bank of Montreal
    • Royal Bank
    • The Bank of Nova Scotia
    • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
    • The National Bank of Canada
    • The HongKong Bank of Canada
    • Canada Trust (actually a trust company, but offers the same services that a bank does)
    These banks are national and have branches all over the country. One sure sign you're in Canada: the federal government has blocked two big bank mergers (the TD wanted to merge with CIBC, and BMo wanted to merge with the Royal), ostensibly because reduced competition is bad for Canadians. Wow.

    Credit unions are also popular in Canada, especially in Quebec, where they're called caisses populaires.

Again, a little dated. Toronto Dominion merged with Canada Trust to become TD Canada Trust. Not interesting, but true.
  • These are the most well-known Canadian restaurant chains:
    • Harvey's -- fast food burger joint
    • Mr. Sub -- similar to Subway
    • The Keg (Le Keg en français) -- a big, high-end yet still generic steakhouse
    • Pizza Pizza -- similar to Domino's
    • Tim Horton's -- do(ugh)nuts! See below.
    • Swiss Chalet -- sit-down chicken and ribs place
    • Robin's -- another do(ugh)nut chain, popular in western Canada.
I had forgotten about Robin's. I'm not sure they even exist anymore, I haven't seen a store here for a long time, and I know they ran into financial trouble a while ago. Pizza Pizza is only back east; I ran into them for the first time when I was in Toronto.
  • The big mass-market beers are Molson and Labatt, and they're a lot stronger than US beers. Molson Golden was recently reintroduced to the Canadian market, but I hardly ever see anyone drinking it -- I get the feeling Molson ships most of it to the States and tells the Americans it's good.
True, but beer snobs won't drink beer from either of them. They buy from small brewing companies until they find out they're also owned by Molson or Labatt.
  • The major cigarette labels are Player's, Craven A, DuMaurier, Matinee, and Export A. Canadian cigarettes are milder than American ones.
True story. Got into a truck with a friend, sniffed, and asked, "Did you fart?" Turns out he was smoking an American cigarette. Marlboros, I think.
  • Mountain Dew has no caffeine.
Ya, but so what? I don't demand that my soft drinks contain caffeine, and probably wouldn't notice whether they did or not.
  • Coke and Pepsi use real sugar instead of corn syrup.
I'm sure there are people who will claim that this makes a big difference, but most people wouldn't be able to tell without reading the ingredients. I've heard it has something to do with how the US taxes sugar, but I don't know for sure.
  • Instead of seeing Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, you see Coles and SmithBooks and Chapters and Indigo.
True, but boring.
  • There are lots and lots of do(ugh)nut shops, especially ones called Tim Horton's (named after the hockey player who started the chain). (The number of Tim Horton's diminishes as you go further west, but I'm assured there are lots of them in Edmonton.)
There are lots of them in Edmonton. I've worked with guys who knew the location of every single Tim Horton's in Edmonton, and there was always one near by when it was time for coffee.
  • When you step on someone's foot, he apologizes. (This really happened.)
This is a comment on Canadian politeness. I've never run into a situation like this, but perhaps people are generally politer here than elsewhere. I haven't really noticed. For every comment on how polite Canadians are, though, I can come up with a story on how rude they are. Canadians are just people.
  • There are billboards advertising vacations in Cuba, and Cuban cigars are freely available.
I guess it might be odd for an American to see. I guess Canada sees no need to ape a pointless embargo. I wish we thought the same way for other pointless American policies. Like moving up stupid Daylight Savings Time.
  • Nobody worries about losing a life's savings or a home because of illness.
They're talking about Canada's publicly funded health care system as opposed to the American private health insurance system. If a person can't work because of illness and has no long term disability coverage, they can still have financial difficulties, although it's not the problem I've heard it can be in the States.
  • In pharmacies, you can buy acetaminophen or ASA with codeine over the counter, but you can't buy hydrocortisone ointments or creams without a prescription.
Not sure this is something that will leap out at a new visitor, I've never noticed, but sure.
  • When you go to the dentist to get a cavity filled (or worse), she or he puts a needle in your mouth first to "freeze" it. (Asking for Novocaine (a brand name) immediately pegs you as an American.)
What do they do in the States? Is Novocaine administered topically? Rectally? I've never had to ask for any kind of anaesthetic, let alone by brand name. If a dentist approaches me with her tools of destruction without giving me anaesthetic first, I leave. Quickly.
  • At county fairs and the Canadian National Exhibition, red ribbons indicate first place and blue ribbons indicate second. (Canadians: it's the other way around in the States.)
Okay. Don't care.

Submitted by visitors:
  • Any conversation will inevitably include a brief discussion of the weather.
Weather is a large source of small talk, but isn't that true anywhere?
  • It's almost impossible to get a glass of iced tea in downtown Toronto. (This person must have been a Southerner -- in the US South, "iced tea" is unsweetened, and "sweet tea" has sugar. "Sweet tea" is what you get when you ask for "iced tea" in Toronto.)
I don't think it would be easy to get unsweetened iced tea anywhere around here. I remember ordering iced tea in Las Vegas and getting unsweetened iced tea. No big deal, I just added sugar. I also had a jar of unsweetened instant tea in the cupboard when I had a roommate. He tried some and complained to me later about how it wasn't sweetened. For some reason it didn't occur to him that if something wasn't sweet enough you could add sugar to it.
  • Teenagers can drink legally. The drinking age in Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta is 18; it's 19 in the rest of the country.
Yup, and when they drink they act like drunk teenagers. I did, anyway.
  • Potato chips come in flavo(u)rs such as salt and vinegar, ketchup, and "all dressed" (a collection of just about all possible seasonings -- the person who suggested this one liked it to a "suicide slush" in the States).
Do potato chips not come flavoured in the States, or just not these particular flavours? Ketchup chips are disgusting (if you like I'll show you lab results and studies proving it), and I've never been a big fan of salt and vinegar. Now you know a little more about me.
  • There are "chip vans" (aka "chip trucks" or "chip wagons"). These are like the van driven by the ice cream man, only they sell French fries. They are most ubiquitous on the roads to "cottage country." (A visitor from British Columbia noted that "chip trucks" don't sell French fries in BC; they drive on logging roads and carry wood chips there.)
I don't often see these, although there is one that makes an appearance during downtown festivals.
  • Every weekend during the summer, southern Ontarians go in droves from Toronto and its environs to their second homes (ranging from campers to great big houses with all the amenities) in cottage country (usually Muskoka -- I'm told that calling it "the Muskokas" marks you as an outsider).
No, the southern Ontarians that can afford second homes go in droves. I'd like to believe that every Canadian family can afford a cottage on the lake, but it's not true. Every region has it's popular getaway spots, and this is a "How to Tell You're in Southern Ontario" bit, not Canada.
  • Every weekend during the summer, southern Quebecers go in droves from Montréal and its environs to their cottage country (usually the Laurentians; the Eastern Townships; Burlington, Vermont; Lake Champlain, New York; or Plattsburgh, New York).
See the above comment. Same idea.
  • Every weekend during the winter, the cottage country people go back to cottage country to go snowmobiling. Gas stations are just as likely to be filling snowmobiles as cars or trucks.
Yup. Canada has snow, and we like to play in it.
  • Cars (especially on the Prairies) have electrical plugs sticking out from under the hoods. These are for block heaters, to prevent engines from freezing when it's -40.
It doesn't often get to -40 C around here, but even at -20 C it's a good idea to have your car plugged in.
  • People give distances in times, not miles.
Never noticed this. Might be a rural thing, and I'd bet it's not limited to Canada.
  • People ask whether you'd like "a coffee" rather than "some coffee."
Sure. Who cares?
  • Canadians tend to use British spelling. They write about "colour," "cheques," "theatres," and so forth. Most use the American "-ize" rather than the British "-ise" verb ending, however.
Canadians tend to use Canadian spelling, which tends to the British but contains some American.
  • People drive with their headlights on during the day. Since 1989, all new cars have had to be fitted with daytime running lights.
I'm surprised they don't do this in the States yet. It does increase visibility, and decreases accidents. I've heard of cars from Canada getting stopped by troopers because the lights were on. This was a few years ago, I hope at least the border states have caught on.
  • In Ontario, you can buy beer only at the Beer Store (formerly known as "Brewers' Retail"). The experience of going into a beer store is documented nicely in the 1983 film Strange Brew.
Again, "How to Tell You're in Ontario."
  • Movie theatres have one night a week, usually Monday or Tuesday, where they charge matinee prices.
It used to be a really good deal. We used to call them "$2.50 Tuesdays," which had a nice ring to it. Now it's not that big of a discount (even considering inflation.)
  • There is no mail delivered on Saturdays.
Or Sunday. Or holidays.
  • "Lieutenant" is pronounced "leftenant."
That's the official pronunciation, but I've never heard anyone in real life actually use it, even those in the Armed Forces.
  • Mortgage interest is not tax-deductible. The interest rate on most mortgages is not fixed, but rather, is renewed at the end of a term which can be as short as six months or as long as seven years.
Wow. I used to work at a bank and dealt a lot with mortgages, and I still don't care.
  • Most Canadians will tell you that the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced "zed." Sharon, Lois, and Bram, popular children's entertainers, make it a point in their performances of "The Alphabet Song" to say "zed" instead of "zee."
This throws some Americans. Don't worry though, we still say Jay-"Zee" and "Zee-Zee" Top.
  • People end sentences with "eh," eh?
Ahh, good old Bob and Doug McKenzie. We also wear toques to funerals (well, actually, we might if it were really cold) and drink beer for breakfast.

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