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?

Umbrellas keep raining on my head

I grew up in Florida. Think hurricanes, occasional tornadoes spinning out of the hurricanes, and torrential downpours that will flood a street in minutes. Then, of course, there are the things that follow the aforementioned acts of nature - like further acts of nature, trees falling, loose items scattered all over creation.

It's actually a sight to behold. The calm before a storm is filled with ominous peace. It's as if the world is holding its collective breath in anticipation. Then come the winds. Then slow, fat drops of rain start to fall and that's all the warning that's given. More often than not, those fat raindrops are followed immediately by a torrent of rain that can leave you soaked to the skin in seconds flat.

Growing up, once a storm started, we'd often watch through the windows - especially if there was lightning. It was like this amazing light show - one of a kind, one showing only. I loved watching the storms. It's one of the things I remember doing with my mom; she taught us how to appreciate the awesome power of a storm.

As a kid, it was exhilarating. Whenever there was a storm without lightning, my parents would let us go outside and run through the rain (which makes your hair really soft!). We didn't have air conditioning for a lot of years, so those summer storms were a welcome relief from the heat and humidity that reigns supreme in Florida. 

As a teenager, I was constantly frustrated that my mile-high teased, shaped and hair-sprayed into submission hair would be flattened in less time than it took to say, "Hurry, get inside!" (Have you ever gotten hair-sprayed hair wet? No, NINETIES hair-sprayed hair. It was a horror show. What on earth made us think that big, poofy bangs looked good?)

After reaching the age of majority (18), I went with a friend to Jacksonville to spend the weekend. We spent some time with a couple little girls who were either friends of her family or family members - I can't recall for sure. We drove with the girls from Jacksonville to the outlet malls in St. Augustine. It was a nice, hot summer day and we knew a storm was coming. We went, did our shopping and then decided to head back to Jax. The older of the two girls had a problem - she always felt like she needed to pee, even when she didn't. That's a feeling that can produce a lot of anxiety, especially in a child that age (around 6 or 7). We tried to sing songs, tell stories, read books - anything to get her mind off her full-feeling-but-actually-empty bladder.

Then it happened. We got hit with a torrential downpour. Four-lane highway, 70 miles per hour and we couldn't see 5 feet in front of us. The rain slammed down on the car so hard that we had to practically yell over the sound of it. And we had a child in the backseat who thought she needed to pee. In the middle of one of the worst rainstorms I've ever been in. She had to pee. Rain. Pee. Rain. Pee. Get it? Good. You ever try keeping a 6-year-old's mind off of peeing when she's surrounded by falling water!? Stressful! (Don't worry; we pulled over along with every single other person on that highway until the rain slowed.)

August 1998, Tallahasee, Florida - One of Matt's first "real" rainstorms. (History lesson: How much was gas in 1998? Boy, were those the days!)Imagine my surprise, upon moving to Canada, when people called drizzle "rain". Seriously, the barely more than mist that we call drizzle in Florida is rain up here. Thunderstorms are not terribly common, nor are they terribly dramatic when they happen. In ten years, I can basically count on one hand the number of storms that came close to what I experienced growing up in the Sunshine State. I remember my husband's first trip to Tallahassee in August 1998. He witnessed his first torrential downpour and took pictures AND video. He wanted to document the rain for his family to see because they had never seen anything like it. He got lucky - we had a torrential downpour AND the sun was shining the entire time, through the thunder, rain and lightning.

Today it "rained" in Ottawa. There was drizzle that fell in between drops you could dodge if you walk at a good pace. I work downtown, which is a small area jam packed with a whole lot of people. And every time it "rains", roughly 85-90% of that large number of people stuffed like sardines into the core carry umbrellas to to stay dry. I find it amusing to realize that Ottawans turn into big 'ole wimps as soon as a little water starts dripping out of the sky. I was nearly plowed down by a woman who had her umbrella foisted in front of her like a shield. She couldn't see where she was going or anyone who might be coming at her. I was hit in the head by people who seem to have no spacial awareness when they have an umbrella in their hand. I had to jump and strain to see around the sea of umbrellas at my bus stop so I wouldn't miss my bus - all while getting barely damp from the "rain". I'll say it again - and I have no malicious intent - Ottawans are wimps! ;) I'm smiling as I say it, because I know most Floridians would just as soon go running home rather than live through our January or February weather!

As I was sitting here writing this, the rain picked up quite a bit. We were actually having an honest-to-goodness rain storm for about 10 minutes. A nice one, too. The kind where there's an occasional bolt of "soft" lightning, the lowest rumble of thunder in the distance, but mostly it's just a steady beat of rain - relaxing and calming. The perfect storm to come before bed. I think I'll sleep well tonight.