Well it’s been nearly 6 months since I first touched down on Canadian soil, and I’m very pleased to report that it’s been a delightful experience. I love this country!
I’m at the stage now where I feel like I’ve passed my probation. Settling in Toronto has given me the fantastic opportunity to get to know first-hand what life is like within the boundaries of the most populous & multicultural city in Canada, and I’ve done enough travelling around the province and south of the border to gain a basic understanding of the North American way of life in general.
So in no particular order, here is a list of a few Canadian quirks, loves, frustrations, tongue-in-cheek observations and comparisons to life in Australia that I’ve come to notice so far during my time here.
Rather than being sold in the screw-top plastic bottles we’re used to in Australia, milk in the eastern provinces of Canada comes in a package of three 1.3 litre plastic bladders (to give 4 litres in total). You simply place the bladder into a jug, cut a small hole in the top corner and pour. Admittedly the first time I tried to pour using this method, the bladder fell out of the jug and cow juice spilt everywhere, but I’ve since figured out how to keep it in place and see its benefit. It’s a surprisingly effective, drip-free pouring method, and once the bladder is empty you’re left with a hell of a lot less waste than that of an empty carton or bottle. 1L cardboard cartons are also available, but it’s a lot more cost-effective to buy the bladders.
The fat content of milk here is predominantly referred to as a percentage, and the descriptions are slightly different from home: it’s 3.25% for homo milk, 2% for partly-skimmed and 1% for low-fat.
Also there’s none of that ‘permeate-free’ marketing garbage infiltrating Canadian milk labels like it does in Australia. It’s just plain milk.
Australia has Oporto, Britain had Wimpy, America has McDonalds and Canada has Tim Hortons!
It was founded by hockey player Tim Horton in 1964 as a donut shop, before quickly expanding into a Canadian fast-food institution, well loved by almost every Canuck for their assortment of donuts, sandwiches and weak coffee.
I made the fatal mistake of bagging out Tim Hortons on Twitter after I tried one of their sandwiches for the first time, which wasn’t met with an overly joyous response from locals. My displeasure was justified though: it was not a very appetising meal at all, and the particular branch I dined at didn’t even have any seating so I had to stand at a crowded bar to eat it.
Since then I’m happy to say that Tim Hortons has grown on me. Their donuts have proven a lifesaver in the early drunken hours of the morning. I quite enjoy their Timbits (a popular bite-sized donut snack) and I’m somewhat smitten by their signature caffeinated recipe the ‘double double’ – brewed coffee with two sugars and two servings of cream. I’d never appreciated coffee with cream until I had my first double double only last week.
Oat & aboat
I was under the impression that every Canadian I was to meet would pronounce the word “about” as a-boot, but this isn’t the case. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Toronto they say a-boat. It’s so adorable 🙂
Another thing I’ve found synonymous with the Canadian accent is that if a word ends with R like door or floor, there’s an emphasis placed on the R at the end so that it sounds like doorrrrrhh or floorrrrrhh. This too is super adorable.
I find it quite odd that there is no need for the suburb in Canadian addresses – all you need is the street, city, province and postcode. In my case, the city is simply Toronto; there is no need to note the suburb of ‘Kensington Market’ anywhere in my address. The postcode is what holds the key to that specific information.
However in Sydney, for example, I worked on Miller St, in the suburb of North Sydney, state of NSW, postcode 2060; each of those details are required on the address for the post office to make the delivery. You can’t just put Sydney as the suburb – you have to put North Sydney specifically, because the postcode 2060 encompasses the areas of HMAS Platypus, HMAS Waterhen, Lavender Bay, McMahons Point, North Sydney, North Sydney Shoppingworld and Waverton.
People generally don’t refer to their suburb when they speak of where they live either – they either give a specific cross-street, or just say their city: ‘Toronto’ or ‘Etobicoke’ or ‘Mississauga’, all of which include multitudes of smaller neighbourhoods. I’ve heard that the naming and outlining of suburbs are only a recent addition to Toronto’s cartography.
Thanks to the grid system, cross-streets are a very popular way of communicating addresses, much more so than in Australia. In Toronto, if meeting a friend at a restaurant you’d simply say it was at ‘King & York’. Everybody knows where that is already. But back at home, we tend to use the full street/suburb address of 124 King St, Newtown… we wouldn’t really say ‘King & Bucknell’ cause most people wouldn’t have any clue where Bucknell St is.
Although I’ve passed through many areas of the world where cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, it took quite some time to get used to the fact I’m now living long-term in a country where the flow of traffic is opposite to that of home. There were a few instances early on where I’d mistakenly wait for the tram on the wrong side of the road, and when I enter a car I still habitually head toward the Canadian driver’s side when I should be aiming for the passenger side. I know I’m getting used to it though: I watched a British movie the other day with a driving scene, and it felt strange to see cars driving on the left again.
I haven’t actually driven a car over here yet, but I’m looking forward to the challenge when the day comes.
In Australia we have the “turn left at any time with care” lanes at intersections with lights, but these dedicated lanes don’t exist over here – instead, it’s completely ok to turn right at an intersection on a red light if it’s safe to do so.
There are no green & red men on the traffic signals at pedestrian crossings. The signals in Toronto (and much of North America, from what I’ve seen) display a white man when it’s safe to cross, followed by a red ‘stop’ hand and a countdown timer showing how many seconds are left until the lights change.
If a pedestrian is walking parallel to a road and comes to an intersection where there is no pedestrian signal, the pedestrian has right of way. Unlike in Australia where you wait for cars to move through the intersection before you continue on, in Toronto the cars will stop for you and let you cross first.
Everyone in every city I’ve ever lived in (including this one) is unhappy with the state of their public transit system, but I can honestly say that Toronto’s subway/streetcar/bus system run by the TTC is brilliant! Sure, there are times where scheduled streetcars don’t arrive or when a subway line is out of action for a weekend, but so far I think the pros outweigh the cons. The combination of a grid street plan with a city-wide bus, tram & underground system means public transport can get you very specifically to where you need to go, all on a single ticket which is pretty well affordable.
Something I find unique about TTC streetcars is that doors don’t open automatically when they stop – if you want the door to open, you need to stand on the step. It was an awkward moment learning this from the people behind me on a crowded tram when I was trying to figure out how to disembark at my stop.
There is another company called GO Transit who run bus & train commuter services in the Greater Toronto Area, and while the service has always been on time and comfortable whenever I’ve used them, it annoys me that their transit centres in regional areas are so bloody far away from the main hub. When I went to Unionville I had to walk 45 minutes in the freezing snow to get to the main street. Downtown Oakville was at least an hours walk away from the train station, and it was a $20 cab fare to get from Oshawa GO Station to Oshawa itself. To compare this with Sydney, it’d be like getting off at Merrylands but being told you were in the centre of Parramatta.
They’re mostly referred to as cell phones here, not mobile phones.
Canadian cell phone plans are extortionately expensive 🙁 I’m paying $65 / month at the moment with Bell Mobility. With tax, that takes it up to around $74. Add on the very minimal 7 minutes of calls (3 minutes of which were to my own voicemail) and 7 US text messages that I sent last month and my bill turned out to be $88. The only thing it’s good for is my 1GB of data. In comparison, I paid $35 a month with Virgin in Australia which gave me 2GB of data and texts/calls to just about anywhere. The only time I ever paid more than $35 was the month I made a few phone calls from within New Zealand while on global roaming.
There is a caller ID service here that automatically sends your name along with your phone number when you call someone. It’s pretty neat, because even if you don’t have the number stored in your address book, you get to see the name of whoever is calling (providing both parties are subscribed to the service).
Area codes and phone numbers are formatted differently over this side of the world. An Australian mobile number always starts with 04 and would be formatted as 0416 123 456, but in North America the cell number always starts with a three-digit location-specific area code and is formatted as 416-123-4567. The same format applies to landline phones.
Traditionally, Toronto had two area codes, 416 and 647, but the numbers are nearing exhaustion so last year they released a new area code into the mix: 437. I had no idea about this when I first got my SIM card so I chose any old number and ended up with one of the new 437 area codes. Now every time I give my digits to someone I get weird looks because it doesn’t begin with 416 or 647, and I have to give the whole spiel about how it’s the new Toronto area code. It’s important that people know this too – if they aren’t confident that I have a local number, they may hesitate when getting in touch as the cost of calling/texting a number outside the local area is significantly higher.
Toronto is a place like no other when it comes to cuisine. It’s incredibly multicultural here, and I love how there are numerous pockets of the city dedicated to the fare of specific worldly regions such as Little Italy, Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Poland, Chinatown and Little India.
In other neighbourhoods that aren’t necessarily laid out to feature a certain geographical area, the fusion of cultures & cuisine is second to none. In my own locale of Kensington Market, for example, we have restaurants featuring Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Tibetan, Indian, Afghan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Spanish, Greek, American, Mexican, French Caribbean, Jamaican, Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine – and that’s not to mention other eateries that specialise in vegetarian, seafood, apple pie and grilled cheese sandwiches. To say that my taste buds enjoy living here is an understatement.
Poutine is an artery-clogging but delicious Canadian dish of hot chips, cheese curds & gravy that I became aware of in the months leading up to my departure from Sydney. For some reason I had the impression it would be more of a specialty menu item, but it turns out it’s massively popular and you can get it anywhere from dive bars to to posh hotels; from street carts to chains such as Smoke’s Poutinerie and Poutini’s who dedicate themselves entirely to said meal.
There are hot dog carts on every second street corner in downtown Toronto, where you can pick up a fix of German/Italian/Polish sausage on bread for as little as $2. I can’t believe that some of them are even open and manned at 6:30 in the morning when it’s -15°C and blowing a blizzard.
An abundance of eateries around Toronto are open 24 hours, including a bunch in Chinatown just down the road from me. It’s great to know I can order a huge bowl of Vietnamese pho from across the street at 3am, should I ever feel the need.
After hearing so many horror stories of people being chased down the street for not tipping their waiter, I was petrified when I first started dining out because I didn’t want to offend anybody by not offering enough. I’ve since learnt that it’s pretty much compulsory to tip every waiter/barman/taxi driver/concierge in the US, but the rules are a little more lax in Canada, I guess because the service wage is higher. You won’t get chased down the street for not leaving a tip, but it’s not going to gain you any brownie points either. I go with 15% for average service but 20-25% for great service.
For reasons unknown to me, people in North America refer to an entree as an appetiser, and a main course is called an entree. It’s pretty funny.
There are a couple of words I’ve begun using here that I’d never be caught dead using in Australia.
You don’t drink soft drink – you drink pop. And never refer to the sweet clear carbonated stuff as lemonade because that specifically refers to the traditional recipe of water, lemon juice & sugar. If you want the pop form you need to call it Sprite or 7-Up.
People don’t live in apartments, they live in condos.
Electricity is called hydro.
Full-cream milk is homo.
You go on vacation rather than on holiday. But it’s a holiday when referring to a national day off, except instead of a public holiday, it’s a stat holiday (statutory).
People not from Toronto call Toronto the centre of the universe.
And god forbid if you ever call it a toilet – it’s a washroom!
Film is not a form of entertainment I’ve particularly enjoyed over the years, but there is something about the film culture in Toronto that speaks to me more than it has anywhere else in the world. There are a bunch of amazing indie/arthouse cinemas dotted around the city that delve deeper than the usual Hollywood rubbish such as the Bloor Cinema (one of the only in the world that focus solely on documentaries), the Royal (host of the European Film Festival and a rare venue that gives up & coming filmmakers the chance to showcase their works) and the TIFF Bell Lightbox (the Toronto International Film Festival, screening 365 days a year). In addition to my beloved Netflix subscription, Toronto’s cinemas have opened up a whole new world for me of motion picture discovery.
There’s little need for covertness in Canada when it comes to weed. It’s as though it’s perfectly fine to smoke anywhere you like. It’s still entirely illegal to do so (unless medically regulated), and arrests do occur especially if you’re caught with more than 30g on your person, but people smoke it anyway, the authorities tolerate it to a certain degree, and everyone gets on with their lives. So long as you aren’t caught dealing the stuff, really.
As a matter of fact, only about 200 metres from home, along Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market is a funky little BYO ‘vapour lounge’ called the HotBox Cafe. Providing you don’t deal or ask, it’s completely ok for any old Joe Bloggs to use one of the in-house vapourisers and relax at their table while they study/read/socialise/chill to their hearts content.
I also highly recommend their ginger tea.
I knew I’d be up for some inclement Canadian weather pretty quickly seeing as I landed in Toronto just in time for the winter. It turned out to be the most brutal season experienced in decades, complete with metres of snow, wind chill reaching 39-below-zero and an ice storm… but despite the polar challenges, I’ve fucking loved every second of it!
Come to think of it… there are two things that piss me off about the cold weather:
As soon as it snows the council & shop owners start coating the sidewalks with salt, as it assists in melting the ice. The salt gets onto your shoes and creates ugly white marks. You then need to spend the next four days meticulously cleaning your shoes: the first cleanse of the day only moistens the salt and camouflages it with the underlying material, the second cleanse starts to remove some of the grime, and the third cleanse usually wipes the stubborn stains away. You have to repeat that process again in the evening after you’ve walked home, and continue with it for days sometimes until the snow melts away and the salt disappears from the surface. Then it snows again and the whole process starts over. I HATE CLEANING MY SHOES.
Secondly, it’s really difficult to go running outdoors when it’s icy & windy as heck. I used to be pretty active in Sydney but I’ve cut down on jogging since the Toronto winter graced us with its presence. Hopefully I can get back into a regular schedule in the coming few weeks.
They’re red, not green.
It’s commonly known that Americans write the date as mm-dd-yyyy. We wouldn’t dream of putting month before day in Australia, but Canadians tend to take a diplomatic viewpoint of the situation and accept it either way, thanks to both European and American influence.
I actually find it makes a lot more sense logically to write the date in the Americanised style. If the month is written first, it goes to follow that the sorting order appears numerically by month (Jan 1st, Jan 2nd, Jan 3rd) rather than date (1st Jan, 1st Feb, 1st Mar). I can’t wait for the day the international standard of yyyy-mm-dd is widely accepted in informal situations, but until then, I’m a happy convert to the American format.
It does get confusing sometimes in Canada with the dual acceptance… I recently quoted ‘December 3rd’ to somebody when I should have quoted ‘March 12th’.
In a similar inclusive style to that of the date, it’s completely ok to pronounce Z as either zed or zee in Canada.
The music of Canada is one of the primary reasons I chose to move here to begin with. After stumbling upon the music of Newfoundland folk/rockers Great Big Sea a few years ago, it became a dream of mine to one day see them perform on home soil – a feat achieved in November last year.
Since then I’ve been introduced to dozens more indie Canadian artists who I probably would never have heard of if it weren’t for my GBS discovery. Some of my favourites so far include Hawksley Workman, The Tragically Hip, Joel Plaskett and July Talk. I also learnt quickly that Drake is the darling of Toronto.
The live music scene in Toronto is pumping – plenty of local & well known musicians pass through the city’s eclectic venues on a nightly basis. But the best gig I’ve seen so far was at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club last Monday night – a fundraiser for the Company Theatre, feating Alan Doyle & Murray Foster (from Great Big Sea), Alan & Greg Hawco (actor & composer from TV show Republic of Doyle), Ed Robertson (from the Barenaked Ladies), Blake Manning, Stuart Cameron & Danhmait Doyle (from country band The Heartbroken), Keith Power, Kendel Carson, Barry Canning, Patrick Boyle and Tom Power… wow! A mindblowing assembly of pure Canadian talent. I can’t wait for more experiences like this; it’s only gonna get better as the summer months approach and more tours come to light.
On a freezing winters day if you needed to get from, say, the Eaton Centre to the Ripley’s Aquarium on the other side of town, you could walk the entire journey without even stepping foot outdoors. This is thanks to the PATH, the world’s largest underground shopping complex: a 1,200-store, 27km labyrinth of walkways beneath the city that acts as a link between dozens of buildings in downtown Toronto. It’s a brilliant idea – it might be -20°C outside, but it’s entirely feasible to do your grocery shopping, go to the bank, buy clothes, have lunch, take a class at the gym, fill a prescription, post some mail, watch a hockey game and venture up CN tower all while wearing a t-shirt & shorts.
Toronto isn’t the only Canadian city to feature a network of connective tunnels – Montreal has the 32km Underground City, Edmonton has the 13km Pedway, Halifax has the Downtown Halifax Link and most other major centres have some form of subterranean climate-controlled link between inner-city buildings.
I miss the simplicity in Australia of knowing exactly what you’re going to be charged at the cash register when you’re out shopping, because taxes are included in the price already.
In most cases throughout North America, items on shop floors are listed as their pre-tax price, and tax is added on at the register. It’s not so much the increased price at the end that annoys me, but more because if I pay cash for something, I always like to have the correct change prepared already to hand straight over to the cashier. Maybe I’m OCD, but it sucks to have to wait until it scans to find out how much I need to prepare.
When I first started dealing with North American cash it took a while to get used to the 25c coin denomination seeing as all I’ve ever known was the 20c/20p coin. It’s kinda cool though, and I like not having a stupid big 50c coin.
I still find it difficult to use the terms penny, nickel, dime and quarter, it hasn’t quite sunk into my head yet. I still prefer to say 1c coin, 5c coin, 10c coin and 25c coin, but people look at me funny when I do that. I really feel like a knob when I say ‘loonie’ ($1 coin) or ‘toonie’ ($2 coin) 🙂
They also look at me funny when I refer to paper money as ‘notes’ instead of ‘bills’.
Props to the Canadians for phasing out the penny. I hate the pile of copper that builds up in my wallet when in Europe or the US.
The first thing I had to learn when it came to banking was that rather than a savings account, Canadians use a chequing account for their daily spending. I became so used to pressing the SAV button on card terminals back at home that I did the same by habit in Canada the first few times and of course the transaction always declined. I’m used to the CHQ button now, and it does make a whole lot more sense to use your savings account for actual savings and not for day-to-day use. It just sucks that when you do have money in your savings and accidentally press the SAV button, the bastards at the bank charge you a $5 savings access fee.
Which brings me to my biggest Canadian frustration of all: spending money electronically.
In Australia I have a Mastercard debit card that allows me to spend my own money anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted. Simple.
Canada, however, uses a debit card service called Interac which can only be accepted for in-store transactions at select retailers within Canada and is utterly hopeless for those who wish to buy stuff online. So my bank gave me an even more useless “virtual” Visa Debit card for online purchases (it’s basically a card with a number only, no chip or magnetic stripe). Unlike my Australian Mastercard debit card (accepted throughout the entire Mastercard network), my virtual Visa Debit card can only be used at online retailers that specifically accept Visa Debit. In other words: virtually nobody.
For example, I had to physically go to Billy Bishop Airport to buy a plane ticket over the counter with my Interac card, because Porter Airlines won’t accept Visa Debit online. Greyhound doesn’t accept it either, so I had to use my Australian credit card to reserve a seat on a bus. (Thankfully, however, Netflix is fine with Visa Debit, so at least I get to watch my documentaries).
I wouldn’t have this problem if I had a credit card, but the bank won’t give me one because I’m a foreigner. So I’ll just have to live with the ridiculous fact that a bunch of Canadian retailers aren’t able to accept my hard-earned CAD, but are happy to accept my dwindling foreign AUD.
Tea has been my preferred choice of beverage since it was forced upon me while I lived in England, but it wasn’t until I discovered Canadian retailer DAVIDsTEA that I began to feel a real passionate devotion for the leafy hot drink. My workmates introduced me to Davids almost as soon as I started my job, and nearly every day since I’ve ventured to the shop either at the Richmond Adelaide Centre or on Queen St for my tea fix. I’m nearly two thirds of the way through sampling at least one cup of each of their blends.
Not only do they keep a delicious menu of nearly 150 varieties, but they’re one of the most loveable brands I know of. From their delightfully happy retail staff to their #caturday pics of felines exploring the insides of DAVIDsTEA boxes, everything about them is tops.
If I had to choose the #1 factor that’s brought the most joy and happiness to my Canadian experience so far, it’s gotta be the people I’ve met along the journey.
Seriously, what a top bunch the Canadians are! For quite some time now I’ve held Belgians, people from Perth and New Zealanders (only when sober) in high esteem as those who consistently come across as the most genuine, happy people I encounter throughout my travels, and it heartens me very much to now add the Canucks onto that same list. And I don’t just mean those who are born Canadian, but anyone from any country who has spent time here and adopted their beautiful, cheerful way of life.
Generally speaking, I feel a camaraderie here in Canada that’s rare to come across elsewhere in the world. It’s very similar to the Australian sense of mateship, where you celebrate the good times with a hint of larrikinism and stick together when times are tough. There’s a definite sense that the population supports & appreciates each other’s contribution to society. People smile. People say please and thank you. People are engaged and interested. People are happy.
And it’s true what they say about Canadians being delightfully apologetic. A few weeks ago I accidentally stepped in front of a car just as his light turned green, but instead of swearing at me, he smiled, waved and mouthed ‘sorry’ as if he took blame for my own error.
Aside from the cranky old bloke who runs the local coin laundry, there are very few people I’ve met so far in Toronto who I can say have been unpleasant!
To everyone so far who I’ve met with, lived with, dined with, drank with, explored the city with and – especially – worked with: you guys absolutely rock. You’re the reason I booked my flight back to Toronto after my three week Australian rendezvous in May. You haven’t gotten rid of me just yet 😀