Oh, Canada! A newbie "guide" from a veteran immigrant (Part 1)

A wee disclaimer to start: This is all in good fun. I promise. (Well, most of it. If I decide to be serious, I think it will be obvious.) There will definitely be some poking fun at Canadianness. :) I will refer to Canadians throughout in a way that alternately amuses and annoys me in the media and other conversations when its done with regard to Americans. Yanno, as if “the Americans” all act, feel and think the same way? Also, I’ve converted my thinking, so temperature readings are all in Celcius, but I’ll be nice and translate…er, convert for you Fahrenheiters since I have a diverse audience.


Later this year, I’ll be able to say I’ve been in Canada for 12 years. I think I can now safely write a guide for those entering Canada based on the things I’ve learned.

1) Canadians have an even bigger thing for gravy than southerners. It’s true! They even serve it in a cup and dip their bread in it. They love drowning everything from fries to sandwiches in it. I remember the first (and last) time I ordered a “hot sandwich”. I expected chicken between two pieces of bread of some kind, all of which would be warmer than body temperature. What I got was exactly that, but it was also drowned in gravy. (<——Click the link if you want to see examples.) I think I even ate one or two bites in my attempt to avoid being rude. I would suggest to the Canadians serving this that ” hot gravy sandwich” is a more accurately descriptive name.

I avoid poutine like the plague. Poutine - for those who are uninitiated - is fries drowned in gravy and topped with cheese or cheese curds. There are other variations, but this is the traditional way it’s served up. I like ketchup with my fries. Not gravy. Not vinegar.

2) Speaking of ketchup, Canadians also have a thing for ketchup chips. I suspect the gravy and vinegar thing started because they ran out of ketchup when someone got this crazy idea of putting it on chips. I can help with this! Stop production of the ketchup chips and save it for your fries. Poutine problem solved! It cracks me up that the girl in this video describes the ketchup chips as being “covered with red stuff”, because that’s honestly the most accurate description.

3) Canadians love to talk about weather. Some complain. Some observe. Some make jokes. Some complain about the complainers. It’s as much a national pasttime as hockey. The triggers are predictable for Ottawa - I cannot speak for other areas, though.

From January to December, it goes something like this: Major snowfalls/deep freezes, then the weather gets a bit milder, so we hover in the -5 (23F) to 5 (41F) zone which brings freezing rain and lots of falls and car accidents as we slip slide through our days.

As soon as we hit double digits (50F) on the plus side of zero (32F), you start to see the fewer boots, heavy coats, mittens, toques (winter hats - who knew that was a metric/imperial thing!? Also, it’s not pronounced tokes. It’s toohks.). The bonus is that people start to show up to work and other obligations on time now that they don’t have to spend 15 minutes bundling up.

It’s inevitable that some (women in particular) will get tired of waiting for it to be 20 (68F) and will don their cute sandals for work at about 15 (59F). Most of them also have space heaters under their desk so their toes don’t freeze off.

August July and August are HOTtawa months. Yes, even for the Florida girl.

The heat takes so long to come that you’d think it would give us an easier transition, but no. The first snow since I’ve been in Canada almost always happens on or around Halloween. When it happens, you can hear the collective groan that covers all the cheers from the two people who get excited about snow.

I still say it’s a miracle anyone settled here and stayed. Although perhaps they were trapped in by the snow all those hundreds of years ago.

4) Canadians really want Stanley to come home. Alas, for yet another year, he’s not going to make it.

5) Getting back to weather, Canadians have a fear of rain. I recently watched half a dozen people get off the bus, open their umbrellas, walk ten feet to get under cover and close them. As soon as it starts to fall in the least little amount, from drop to drizzle, they break out the umbrellas. Having lived through torrential downpours and hurricanes in Florida for 23 years of my life, I am thoroughly amused by the perceived need for umbrellas here. After all, one can practically dodge the drops and stay dry through 95% of the rain that falls here. I can only conclude that there’s an irrational fear of rain. 

6) Canadians say “eh” a lot. Usually it’s a statement/question kind of thing: You know Canadian bacon isn’t really bacon, eh? Sometimes it’s like the period at the end of a sentence: I could probably write a whole post on the use of eh, eh. 

7) Canadians take a lot of pride in who they are and what they do. Not having grown up in Canada, I can’t relate to a lot of the “inside jokes” that my friends and Matt’s family sometimes refer to. Particularly the ones in French. I often find myself smiling and nodding. For those who think that Canada is “just” an extension of the United States, you couldn’t be more wrong. Canada is unique. It has a culture that is charming and engaging. You won’t ever truly understand this unless you come and stay awhile. Canadians are kind, thoughtful and concerned people who want the world to be a better place for everyone. 

I was only going to write one post, but there is just too much to share. This needs to be a series of indeterminate length for now.

What do you think new residents of Canada need to know?