Observations on Canadians/Canada –
- Some things here are definitely upside-down and the wrong-way around – the seasons, the stars, the roads, the light switches…an ‘entre’ is actually considered the main meal… Additionally, Canada uses a mix of North American and Commonwealth systems – I walk to work in kilometres, weigh myself in pounds, have a height in feet, freeze in centigrades during the winter, but bake pies using Fahrenheit? Correct me if I’m wrong here! ;-).
- In most pubs you can see multiple TV screens showing huge shoulder pads whizzing by (and guys underneath them). They use long sticks and chase a small white object. Sometimes I wish it was Quidditsch, but no, the #1 sport is undoubtedly hockey (note: don’t call it “ice hockey” unless you wanna start an argument…even though it is actually played on ice).
- There is no such thing as a street that is JUST TOO LONG. Yonge street (actually pronounced “Young” –which I found out after probably sounding like an idiot) is the longest street in the world with a length of 1896kms – true fact! I remember telling a friend “Hey, I live on the same street as you!” and then realising it was actually a half hour drive away…(I google-mapped my street and found out that this one super long street runs through numerous suburbs and the naming system is as follows: Dundas st. West –> Dundas st. East –> Dundas st. West –> Dundas st. East –> Dundas st. West and lastly (surprise, surprise) Dundas st. East again!!)
- If you mention “the TTC” you will see people’s expressions change and unleash an infinite number of transit horror stories… If you arrive late for work, there is a common understanding that it must have been the fault of the TTC. Toronto’s transportation system is, if I may be frank, not exactly reliable, speedy nor cheap. Biking and walking got me to places faster.
- Blackberrys are ubiquitous and BBM-ing is a common way a typical Torontonian communicates (when you plan Cranium, don’t draw a berry. Draw a phone). Although since the onset of the i-age, RIM hasn’t been doing too well.
- Maple leafs are everywhere and I think souvenir shops are for Canadians just as much as for tourists. Anywhere in the world I can spot a Canadian from the maple leaf tag swinging from their backpack :-). Even my work desk had a Canadian flag hanging, and proudly!
- Canadians are always very polite, and apologize when it’s your fault and thank you when they offer you their service. This leads to a dialogue such as this: A: “thank you” B: “thank you”; A: “sorry!” B: “Sorry!” It’s quite funny. (Note: when not sure which is more suitable, I find a quick “Sorry, oh thanks!” works too sometimes).
- Canadians start thinking about trips to the cottage right after winter and talk about the summer’s cottage trip until almost the following winter. A summer is not a real summer without vacationing at a cottage.
- People here have created some interesting foods.
Best Canadian food invention: Poutine – French fries, covered in bit of cheese curd, drowned in gravy. Close to ‘best’ would also be Montreal’s famous smoked meat sandwich and ‘Caesars’ – tomato and clam juice, a bit of vodka, and celery stick (it’s not technically a food, but it’s not a bad option when you’re hungry).
Worst Canadian food invention: Poutine, sushi pizza. Also, when you see a plate of perfectly fine looking food – but completely drowned in maple syrup – this was done on purpose! 😉 I think there are no rules when it comes to what you can have maple syrup with, and in which quantities.
- On the subject of food, things here never turn sour, bitter or lumpy even after months – I’ve been drinking from the same soy milk carton for a month. Also, you can get all types of fresh produce at any time of year and in a much globalized Canada it’s always every season (I used to buy a lot of strawberries and asparagus thinking the season was about to end, but then it never did…).
- You only drive 6hrs from Toronto to be in a very European-like city. In Montreal, you don’t eat at KFC, put at PFK (Poulet Frit Kentucky) – they take their French pretty seriously. My pronunciation was obviously well below satisfactory (Me: “Bonjour!!” Reply: “Hello.”). The music scene is really good over there, too – apparently the saying goes something like this: ‘you go to Toronto to work, to Vancouver to live, and to Montreal to party”.
- Winter is all about surviving. It’s cold. I often wondered to myself why people a long long time ago inhabited frozen lands around the world. Maybe it went something like this: “Hey, what is this huge white mass?” “Hmm…I wonder…maybe there’s something hidden underneath?” “Hmm. Let’s wait around to find out.” (Although this winter is supposedly very mild)
- Canada’s national animal is the beaver, but some perceive this animal as a dentally-defective rat. An article about this debate I read a little while ago explains that “the beaver, humble and industrious, represents Canada’s colonial past… but Canadians are tired of being perceived as a nation of “apologetic fur trappers”. The polar bear, on the other hand, is a majestic creature and, in the words of Canada’s national anthem, the defender of – “The True North, strong and free”. Let’s face it, polar bears are kinda cooler (pun unintended).
- Squirrels are everywhere. People will think it’s funny if you try to run after them and take pictures of them. They are just so cute when they prepare for winter by collecting and burying nuts all over the place. But remember – ‘you can’t be friends with a squirrel! A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit’.
- Homeless people are also everywhere, sadly (and are not cared for as much as Wellington’s famed ‘Blanket Man’ was). On freezing mornings when I walk to work, I usually pass by subway vents with big clouds of warm smoke puffing out…and through the big white cloud, I can make out a body covered in a sleeping bags. More than half have stated to be homeless due to the inability to pay rent and apparently Canada is one of few countries without a national housing strategy to combat this. Not great at all, especially for a wealthy developed nation…
- …On a lighter note on the subject of inequality – my work desk is near the bank’s top executives’ offices, but the only items in the kitchen provided to us poor temp-workers are: a steak knife, a shot glass and a plastic spoon (no kidding). So…what would YOU do during your lunch break? 😉
- Lastly, Canadians are very friendly (like in New Zealand, there’s a lot of how-are-you-ing going on here) and really outgoing and fun! In general, less extroverted as their American neighbour, but it’s not uncommon to hear loud domestic arguments on the bus and people yelling crazy stuff in public places.
So I will end this list here…
…And describe a little of how life has been here in Canada for those who are interested.
Coming to Toronto was not such a culture shock because Toronto encompasses so many different cultures. Rather than “Are you Canadian?”, it’s more like “Are you CanadianCanadian?”. With 49% of Torontonians born in another country, the city is an accumulation of ethnic enclaves (“Little Italy, Little Portugal, Little Greece… and then Asian people came along and created ‘towns’… Koreatown, Chinatown..). Toronto really has so many unique and lively neighbourhoods. So in this way, I didn’t feel so much an outsider (aside from not speaking North Amerrrrŕř♫♫ican). My first impression when I arrived was “hey, it’s kinda like on TV!” – with those red brick North American-style houses, hot dog stands on the street, yellow school buses like in the Simpsons.
Canada has been a great experience work-wise as I was open to take on any kind of job – and did! (Worked at a seafood tapas restaurant for a while, taught English to a class of exchange students from Spain and Brazil, and, for the majority of my time, worked for the Bank of Montreal’s anti-money laundering/anti-terrorist funding unit – and no, this did not involve tasks such as chasing mafia). I am lucky to have worked together with my awesome Irish colleague Niamh, and our ‘interesting’ elder colleague who we think may have a history of fathering children across South America and trading bananas in the jungle. Although our daily tasks were often a bit boring, so much funny stuff kept happening and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much at any other workplace 🙂
Another important part of Canadian life was training at Openmat Mixed Martial Arts gym and spending most days rolling in Jiu-jitsu class and training Muay Thai. I had not only awesome training partners but also great friends outside of the gym (and awesome karaoke buddies hehe). It’s a great environment with positive results in terms of fitness, self-defence, positive energy, and it’s really fun – try it! I am going to miss you guys so much…
I am leaving Toronto on 7th Feb. On the way home to New Zealand I will focus again on the ‘holiday’ part of my ‘working holiday’ year by visiting Vancouver to see a bit of Canada’s west coast and stopping over in San Francisco for a few days too (a real Kiwi doesn’t just travel straight home ^^). Last stop is Nuku’alofa, capital of the small Pacific Island group of Tonga, to visit my old school friend Nina who has been living there for years, together with another friend from back home. It’s all on the long way back down under… ;-). I am looking forward to home, seeing my family, being woken up by noisy birds, kiwi slang, the smell of real coffee, home cooking, summertime, and then maybe chillin’ by a chilli bin chucking shrimp on the barbie – dats how we roll.
In mid-March I will be moving to my favourite city Melbourne, Australia. Not sure what exactly I’ll be doing there except ‘be a Melbournian’ 🙂 Still figuring out to do in life, but as long as life never gets too dull… [sits at computer, stares out the window and ponders on the meaning of life] “Some people are settling down, some people are settling and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies” (Bradshaw, Carrie).
Anyway, let me know if you’re around – I always love to see old friends again even after much time has passed. And friends in Canada, thanks for everything, keep in touch, I’ll miss you much 🙁 see you in the future…. xx