While living in your country, I have had the pleasure of sharing a laugh with…well, some of you. Not all of you. Seems that you don’t know enough about Canada to make a joke about me without worrying that you’re totally offbase. Truthfully, I don’t know enough about your country, either. And so we just sit here politely, giggling about the weather.
(…though I have been known to chant “U-S-A!” at awkward times. So, there’s that.)
But the weather just isn’t that funny. I’m sorry. Ottawa is cold. Washington DC is not as cold. We have both run out of amusing ways to express this. The romance is gone from our adorable “Oh goodness, how does one convert Celsius to Fahrenheit?” conversations.
Now, it would be unfair of me to assume that you are unfunny people. I’m sure you would be fantastic at making fun of Canadians…if you knew anything about us. Maybe you just need some ammunition? Because honestly, if I hear one more person describe Toronto as “so pretty and clean and lovely and friendly” without cracking a SINGLE “centre of the universe” joke…
It’s not your fault, America. I’ll explain.
I won’t write in detail about any other city or province, but I will take a moment to write about Toronto. I will write about Toronto because I grew up just an hour outside of it. Because I love the Blue Jays (baseball), I hate the Leafs (hockey), and have anecdotal reasoning to back both of those up.
I will also write about Toronto because DUDE, OTTAWA IS THE CAPITAL OF CANADA NOT TORONTO(!!!!).
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. You didn’t know.
Let us treat this as a learning moment.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada. It’s serious metropolis–17 percent of the nation’s total population lives in or around T.O. (ie the “Greater Toronto Area” or “GTA”).
Toronto is actually an alright city, save for the fact that it’s, well, city-ish (shocker). If you don’t like cities, you won’t like Toronto. If you do like cities, it will probably work for you. Credit where credit is due, Old Toronto and Toronto Island are beautiful. The Hockey Hall of Fame and the Royal Ontario Museum are neat. Toronto Rock Lacrosse games are the best.
You may also be familiar with the CN Tower, a free-standing building known for being really big. It’s a tourist attraction. You can go up there, if you want. We all have at some point (read: ten-freaking-times). I can’t say it’s that exciting, unless you decide to do it like this:
Here’s where the “center of the universe” thing comes in.
People make fun of Toronto for being egotistical. Loud. Bossy. Overzealous. I don’t know how true any of it is, but essentially–when you’re making fun of Toronto, you’re making fun of this guy:
Oh, and this guy:
For what it’s worth, most Torontonians I know have a few bones to pick with guys like this, too.
What makes a true Torontonian is hard to identify (so far, all can pinpoint is that they seem to yell “Say word!” when they are enthused). Immigrants make up almost half of the city’s population, so it’s a VERY diverse place.
But folded into that diversity are dudes like Rob Ford. And since some of you still don’t believe me when I say that Toronto is (really, really) not the capital of Canada…
We must continue making fun of them.
On Shopping and Eating in Canada.
Firstly, all packaging in Canadaland has text in both French and English. This means that while less than 20% of Canadians speak both official languages, most still possess some level of “cereal box bilingualism.”
(Cereal box bilingualism, lesson one: “Cruncharific” = “Crouncharifique.” I assume this can also be found in the dictionary.)
There are a few things on Canadian grocery store shelves that ‘Murica lacks. These are real foods, by the way. Would I lie to you about something as serious as ketchup chips?
Yeah, ketchup chips.
Canada gets awfully fancy with it’s potato chip flavours. In equally fancy fashion, we also spell the word “flavours” with a “u”.
To be fair, those Fries n’ Gravy chips on the right are only available in Atlantic Canada. The East Coast knows what’s up.
Yes, things are a little different in the Canadian snack aisle.
Growing up in Canada, my Halloween stash also looked quite a bit different than its American counterpart. Here are some examples, presented to you via slightly disturbing fan videos. Thanks, YouTube.
Kinder Surprise (this is a commercial, but it is more disturbing than any fan video could possibly be):
Canada also has a few restaurant chains you may not be familiar with. The Cara restaurant family and Tim Hortons can easily take responsibility for at least 80% of the teenage employment in my hometown–including mine. Growing up, I spent time working at both a Swiss Chalet (a Cara restaurant that basically only serves chicken) and a Timmy’s (the staple coffee-and-donut place which fuels the Canadian people).
This brings me to a very important lesson–How to order coffee at Tim Hortons:
Regular: One cream, one sugar
Double Double: Two creams, two sugars.
Triple triple: Three creams, three sugars.
Timbits: Donut holes
Alright, I suppose we should learn about drinking in Canada. In Ontario, all our beer comes from a very creatively named place called “The Beer Store.” I previously though the government ran and regulated this place, but a reader informed me that it is “owned by a company that is comprised of 49% labatt, 49% molson, and 2% sleeman.” (Thanks, Korbyn!)
Meanwhile, the only store which can sell liquor (and other kinds of alcohol) in Ontario is the equally creatively named “Liquor Control Board of Ontario” or “LCBO.”
(Probably not the easiest store name to market, but it’s not like they have any competition.)
Beer drinking is a big part of Canadian culture. So is hockey, coffee, and making fun of American beer. Because Canadian beer is better. And if you question that…
Ultimately, what you should know that 1) If you’re ever looking for a pint in Canadaland, I’d say Alexander Keith’s is a solid choice; and 2) A “two-four” isn’t a hardware term–it’s a 24 pack.
[Proof from the hyper-Canadian comedy of “Bob & Doug MacKenzie”]
If you’re looking for real “Canadian cuisine,” the only options I can think of off the top of my head are poutine (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), peameal bacon (aka Canadian bacon), and anything drenched in maple syrup. That said, it’s a really big country. Regional foods are definitely worth checking out.
Oh, also, I should warn you about this:
I have no further explanation for that, except that it’s legit. As an Ontario kid, I grew up with it, so it seems totally normal to me. If you’re trying to figure out how the heck that works, a quick google image search will clear up the mystery for you.
Otherwise, here’s a hint:
Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy. That means the Queen is our “Head of State,” but that we have an elected, multi-party Parliament that really runs the show. We also have an appointed Senate designed to double check everything done by the elected representatives (ie “the house of sober second thought”).
“You mean, kinda like Britain?” Sure.
“You mean, kinda like ‘Murica?” I guess.
“You mean, kinda like Australia?” Maybe?
The Queen is on our money, and has a representative that does her symbolic business in Canada, but Parliament really does all the “work”
…or doesn’t, if you’re feeling cynical.
This is Jon Stewart-esque Canadian comedian Rick Mercer explaining it much better than I could:
Canada is a multi-party system. Right now we have Federal representatives from five different political parties: The Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party. Translation: We have one right-wing party, three left-wing parties…and one party that wants Quebec to separate from Canada.
After living with some very Republican roommates here in DC, it’s worth noting that by American standards, our right-wing party isn’t all that “Conservative”–though it’s arguably moving in that direction. Canada runs a bit differently than the US; We have socialized health care, no capital punishment, and legal gay marriage. We also spend a lot of time translating stuff into French.
Oh, and that appointed Senate? Yeah. It’s pretty controversial.
I hope that clears up a few things about Canada for you. I tried to respond to the FAQ as much as I could, but let me know if there’s anything I missed/didn’t explain very clearly.
(Well, except bagged milk. You’re gonna need to look into that one on your own.)
7 thoughts on “Meet the Neighbors: A Guide to Canada for Americans”
A couple things… bagged milk doesn’t exist in the Western province. The Beer Store is owned by a company that is comprised of 49% labatt, 49% molson, and 2% sleeman, not the government.
I’m sorry I asked…
Thank gawd for political talk-show-hosts –
Hah! Mercer helps everything make sense.
Sad, but true – Americans wait for comedians to tell them what is going on, too….
I was reading this with baited breath waiting for a mention of poutine! Ah, the most delightful, salty, goopy, amazing food. This bar downtown serves it and I have no issues downing an entire plate by myself in a front of a bunch of dudes and girls who are pretending they aren’t dealing with a serious case of the drunk munchies. I hope to make it to Toronto sometime!
I am fully, shamelessly addicted to poutine…and I make sure my American comrades know it! They really miss out down here. Can’t wait to dig into some curd and gravy action when I’m back in Ottawa 🙂
So well written. I may have to hire you to write for me. Nice work.