Canada Day, eh?

It’s a holiday weekend! So what are you doing with your Friday off?

You don’t get Friday off? Of course you don’t, you’re probably in America where you celebrate Independence Day on Monday, July 4. Here in Canada, the holiday is on July 1, this year on Friday: Canada Day.

Canada Day is a federal holiday, an opportunity for Canadians to celebrate all things Canada. Most folks chose to fly the country’s flag, have a picnic, see a free concert and/or watch some fireworks. (Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?)

But as I did some research, I discovered that there are actually some pretty big historical differences between Canada Day and Independence Day. First off, it’s only been called Canada Day since 1982, which was the year that Canada gained full independence from the UK. Before that, it was called Dominion Day, which was meant to commemorate the day in 1867, when three British colonies were joined together as one nation within the British Empire.

While it was an official holiday, it was not dominant on the Canadian calendar until the 20th century, because up to then, most Canadians considered themselves British and just weren’t too interested in specifically Canadian patriotism. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Dominion Day (now Canada Day) became a more popular holiday to average Canadians.

Even now there is a bit of (somewhat typically) Canadian controversy around the day. In Quebec, some folks feel like Canada Day overshadows Quebec’s National Holiday on June 24, which causes some friction. Sacrebleu!

Compare this to the history of Independence Day in the States. While July 2, 1776, was the day that the Continental Congress voted for US independence from the British, July 4, the date on which the Declaration of Independence was signed, has been widely celebrated across the land since 1777. John Adams even predicted that July 2 would “be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” He was only off by 2 days, but he wasn’t wrong about how Americans would celebrate the birth of their independence.

And, that’s what I was raised believing July 4th was all about: remembering that our forefathers did something incredible, defying the most powerful country in the world for our ideals and freedom, and fighting and sacrificing for it to happen. Don’t the fireworks just represent the “rockets red glare” and the “bombs bursting in air” that haven’t yet brought down our red, white and blue?

So I will raise my glass to Canada on Canada Day, for it is a good country of good, kind people. But on July 4th, I will remember what it means to be American.


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Sorry! (FYI – that’s pronounced “soar-y”)

Americans have a tendency to think that Canadians are culturally quite similar. I think there is some truth to that idea; Canadians are probably closer culturally to Americans than almost any other country. But Canada is indeed a separate, sovereign nation from the US with its own distinct cultural tendencies. From my brief time here, I’d say Canadian culture is a interesting mix of British and American influences on its own unique home-grown character.

Here is one cultural value that is distinctly Canadian: avoiding conflict.

Canadians culturally have an aversion to interpersonal (and come to think of it, international) conflict. It often comes across to the rest of the world as them being super nice. Honestly, when you think of Canadians (which you probably don’t do very often if you’re an American, but if you happen to…) you generally tend to think of someone who is remarkably inoffensive in just about every way. Some might even call them bland in this area, as they tend to be rather self-deprecating and good natured about most things in general.*

*Unless you end up thinking about French Canadians, who seem to be an entirely different ilk of people altogether!

Before I ever moved to Canada, I heard stories of American travellers putting Canadian flags on their luggage so that folks in other countries would treat them better, because – hey, who has anything against Canadians?

This cultural value of conflict avoidance generally makes for a very pleasant place to live. In a city like Toronto with multitudes of people from so many other countries, I think that it’s one of the main glues that holds the city together, and a reason that so many immigrants continue to be drawn here.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Canadians tend to be very aggressive about hockey, both in playing and watching. But, even so, who wasn’t a little shocked when there were riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup this year? That’s just not an image of Canadians that we’re used to. (In LA, “fans” riot when their teams lose and also when the win! Sadly, no one seems to be afraid of conflict there.)

The other exception we’ve found to this is on the road. While we’ve seen a lot of simply bone-headed maneuvers (or manoeuvres) by drivers up here, we’ve also seen a lot of aggressive driving. Speeding, tailgating and pushing into another car’s space are more normal than not on the highways and roads. But again, where else are they going to vent all that pent up aggression from trying so hard to avoid conflict all day?

One of the major difficulties that caught us by surprise and frustrated us when we first arrived in Canada has to do with how this main value plays out over other values, which are held more highly (and therefore, more unconsciously) by us Americans.

Early on, we kept getting taken aback by how frustrating it was to get what we considered “good” customer service. When we’d call a company for assistance, often their service reps would mislead us about our situation or simply avoid bringing up a difficulty that would need to be dealt with. For example, we’d ask when we would receive an item; they’d tell us that it would be mailed that day. Weeks later when the item still hadn’t arrived, we’d call back and find out that there had been a problem all along that the first customer service rep hadn’t told us about, and no one else bothered to inform us about it either. This kind of thing happened again and again, much to our dismay.

To us, this kind of service seemed, at best, incompetent and, at worst, out-and-out deceptive. It turns out that from their point of view, they were simply trying to avoid direct conflict. To them, that is good customer service. Now that we understand this, we’ve learned how better to communicate on our end, generally by asking probing questions.

These subtle assumptions can throw everyone off if we aren’t aware. I was waiting for a friend at the Toronto Airport recently and began a conversation with some Americans that had just arrived on a business trip to help smooth out a merger of their company with a Canadian company up here. They asked me what I had learned about living in Canada and I basically related to them what I’ve written above. Their jaws literally dropped open as they listened. They told me that I had just unlocked for them the key to many of the difficulties they’d been experiencing and couldn’t figure out how to fix. They even asked me if I was interested in doing consulting like this as a business!

This just showed me how important it is to learn about – and respect and work with – differences in cultural values.

That’s my opinion, anyway. I hope it hasn’t upset anyone. And, if it has, I’m “soar-y!”

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Party Hardy!

A few weeks ago, Canada had a national election. They’re on the parliamentary system here, like in England, and a vote of “no confidence” by the Members of Parliament (MPs) regarding the ruling Conservative party meant that it was time for them to start over again and hold elections. And, like in England, the populace votes for whoever is going to represent their area  – called a riding, here in Canada – and the party with the most MPs is the one who runs the government.

One of the things that my husband and I have enjoyed is what it’s like to be in a country that has more than 2 major political parties. In Canada, there are/were 4 major political parties.

1. The Conservative Party of Canada – nicknamed the Conservatives or the Tories, they are the party of the right, which, by the way, regained control of the government again after the recent election. (Then, why even have an election? Well, some things did change, but I did think it was interesting that the party in whom Parliament had no confidence is the one who is back in power.) They are like most right-leaning parties, favoring lower taxes, smaller government, more decentralized power and strong stances on “law and order.”

2. The Liberal Party of Canada – known as the Liberals or the Grits, are the oldest party in Canada. For over 2/3rds of the 20th century, this was the party that held power in Canada. Even though their name is “liberal,” they actually sit center (or centre, as they spell it here in Canada) or centre-left on most issues. While they support such things as balanced budgets and reduction of spending on social programs, they also supported same-sex marriage and the legalization of cannabis.

3. The New Democratic Party – otherwise known as the NDP. This is the party of the left. They’re big on social assistance, environmental stewardship, rights of the underprivileged, and higher corporate taxes. In their history, they were a populist, agrarian and democratic socialist party, but they’ve grown into a solidly liberal party. The big news for the NDP was that in this last election, for the first time, they had enough MPs elected to come in 2nd place, which makes them the “Official Opposition” party, a position they’ve never been in before and which they overtook from the Liberals.

4. Bloc Quebecois – sometimes referred to as “the Bloc” or BQ.  This is my favorite (or favourite) party in all of Canada. It’s not that I’d ever vote for them, if I had the opportunity; it’s just that they’re so amazingly Canadian. Bloc Quebecois is a federal party with only one platform: to protect the interests of Quebec and to push for Quebec’s succession from Canada. Isn’t that amazing? That would be like having a major political party in the States whose sole purpose was protecting the rights of … say… Oregon and pushing for Oregon to succeed from the US. And, it’s not like this has been a fringe group. This has been one of the four major parties of Canada. However, the recent election was also a major event for Bloc Quebecois, in that for the first time, the NDP did better in Quebec than the Bloc did. The Bloc went from having 47 seats in Parliament to having just 4. Since they now have fewer than 12 seats, they lost their official party status, which means that each Bloc MP is treated like an independent and has to sit in the back row. (I kid you not.) Could this mean the end of Bloc Quebecois? We shall see.

One more bit of interesting news from this last election: the Green Party of Canada won a single seat in Parliament for the first time. Yeah, it’s that Green Party, just like the one in the States.

Bet you didn’t think that Canadian politics could be so interesting?

You don’t think it’s interesting? Then, how about just amusing?

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Eager for the Sun

It’s finally spring here in Toronto! Having never really experienced four different seasons before, I was looking forward to the spring as I had heard that it was a lovely time of year.

But back in March when the spring officially started, the only major change I noticed from winter was that we now had enough rain to melt all the piles of built-up snow. But it was still rather cold, and we had several more days of snow, wind and rain in store.

April was pretty dreary as well. While it was getting slowly warmer, we had mostly overcast, foggy and/or rainy days. The snow was gone, but the trees were still bare and the ground was brown. Where was this spring that everyone was talking about?

Ah! May! There it is! Suddenly, the grass is green, the trees are sprouting little green leaves and all the bulbs are in bloom. Simultaneously, the weather has turned lovely with highs in the mid to upper teens Celsius (that’s upper 50’s Fahrenheit), and skies clear and blue. So, this is what everyone means by “spring.” Lovely.

And, just like I expected, I’ve started to see people wearing shorts – shorts! – even though it’s never gotten over 60F yet. But, simultaneously, I’ve also seen people still wearing their winter coats. Spring is such an interesting time.

But the thing that made me realize just how hungry Torontonians are for spring to be in full swing is actually what I saw on Friday evening. It had been a very lovely day, with highs in the mid-50sF. That evening, all sorts of people were sitting outside eating on restaurant patios. At that point, it was probably about 50F, but there they were sitting outside to eat because they could, gosh darn it!

I couldn’t help but think back to many of my friends back in So Cal. For them, a high of 50F would feel like the dead of winter. They’d be completely bundled up under quilts with fires going in their fireplaces, talking about how cozy it feels when it’s “cold.” Just the thought of sitting outside on a patio to eat would make them shudder with disbelief.

Yes, So Cal has unbelievably comfortable weather. But it does lack the wonder, joy and enthusiasm of spring.

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Yes, Please, and Thank You, Ma’am.

One of the things that my husband and I continue to be impressed by up here in Toronto is the children we meet. No matter how old they are, they tend to be very well-behaved. That’s not to say that they don’t still act like children. They love to play, laugh and tease one another. But when their parents call them, they usually come quickly without much complaint, whining or defiance.

Several times now, we’ve met parents who want us also to meet their children. They call the kids away from what they are doing, and the children come over to meet us. The kids stand there politely and say hello to us, waiting for their parents to dismiss them so they can go back to what they were doing before. It’s so charming and delightful to see!

We’ve been in many social gatherings with children and, while they still act like kids, none of them are too boisterous, obnoxious or out of control. It’s like the kids here know that they have a place in society and they know what is expected of them.

Unlike in So Cal, I’ve never seen a child out of control in a store or other public place and I’ve never seen parents have to bribe their children to behave here. I’m not exactly sure how they do it, but my husband and I both like it a lot and would love to learn the Canadian secret of well-behaved and polite children.

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Back to Musing

It’s weird that the last time I posted on this blog was in January – almost four months ago. I began this blog as a kind of therapeutic aid, really. I had never lived in another country before, and writing posts gave me a place to process and chronicle all of the differences I was noticing between the two cultures. It helped to orient me during my transition of living in one culture to another. Ideas for blog posts would simply pop up in my mind as I journeyed through my new surroundings here in Canada, and writing them was a way to process what I was discovering.

I stopped posting, however, when the differences between “here” and “there” started to fade from my attention. When ideas no longer popped up before me unbidden, it felt to me that maybe the time of my transition (and by extension the time of my blog postings) was over. So I simply stopped writing and left my blog alone like a fallow field.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when the other morning, I awoke and could barely write fast enough to catch all the ideas that were flowing out of my mind. For some reason, nine months after we moved to Canada, the differences are popping up again for me – in large amounts, it seems!

I don’t really understand why. Maybe some of you who have had cross-cultural experiences will have some wisdom to share on this. Nevertheless, I’m feeling called to begin again, chronicling my observations of the differences in my culture “back home” and the culture I’m in now.

So get ready for another round of a “A So Cal Gal in Toronto!” The texture and tone might seem a bit different. Let me know if you notice that, as I’m in a different place than I was when I first began.

I hope you enjoy my renewed musings.

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Mix and Match – What does it mean?

Hey you guys!  Up for a little quiz?

Just mix and match the terms below with their meaning!  I’ll give you the answers at the end.  (Hint: Remember to think like someone who lives in Toronto.)

1. 416er                            a. The subway, bus and streetcar system

2. TTC                               b. Someone who lives in the suburbs surrounding Toronto

3. RCMP                            c. Canada’s version of a Congressman

4. U of T                             d. The Mounties!

5. 905er                              e. A big area from Halton to Durham (But not Hamilton)

6. MP                                   f. The most international and diverse city in the world

7. GTA                                 g. Canada’s NPR

8. CBC                                  h. Someone who lives in Toronto proper

9. The Big T-O                    i. A big ol’ school in the the middle of Toronto

Okay!  Pencils down!  How did you think you did?


1. is h.  416 is the area code for the city of Toronto.  A 416er is basically a title for a hipster who lives in the city and loves the city life.  (By the way, I have a 416 area code.  Wink, wink.)

2. is a. TTC stands for Toronto Transit Commission, but everyone just calls it “the TTC.”  It’s a major, major topic of discussion all the time, because everyone in the city uses public transit so much.  That, and they were talking about a fare hike recently, which they were able to stave off, thank God!

3. is d. RCMP stands for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, otherwise known as the Mounties!  I’ve yet to see one here in their awesome red uniforms, but there is a part of me that fears when I do that I’ll sing the theme song from Dudley Do Right!  (They probably don’t like that, do they?)

4. is i. U of T stands for University of Toronto, but everyone, even people who don’t go there, call it simply U of T.  It’s located right in downtown Toronto and is so big that it serves over 45,000 students.  It’s also where my husband is going to school… sort of.

5. is b.  905 is the area code for the suburbs surrounding Toronto.  And as you can probably imagine, the term 905er is used in a derogative way to describe folks that are bland, boring, unsophisticated and/or ignorant.  In other words, normal people who aren’t hipsters.

6. is c. MP stands for Member of Parliament.  Canada is run on a parliamentary system with a Senate that is appointed and a House of Commons which has elected members. Everyone calls those members “MPs.”

7. is e. GTA stands for the Greater Toronto Area.  It’s made up of the City of Toronto in the middle and is surrounded by the municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham. Altogether the GTA encompasses 5.6 million people!  Sadly, Hamilton, a port city southwest of Toronto of over 500,000 people is not included in the GTA.  Why is that sad? Only because I’ve met some pretty cool people from Hamilton, so it deserves some love, too!

8. is g. CBC stands for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  CBC is a huge radio, television and record empire, but they’re known best for their radio programs, which are very much like National Public Radio back in the States.  If you want real international news and really creative shows, CBC is the place to go!

9. is f. The Big T-O is a nickname for the city of Toronto itself.  It’s the largest city in Canada, with over 2.5 million residents.  49% of the city’s residents were born outside of Canada.  UNESCO officially ranked it as the most ethnically diverse city in the world, and it is where I am calling home for the next few years.

So, let’s tally how you did!

7-9 answers correct = You must be Canadian, eh?
4-6 answers correct = You must be a very knowledgeable person
0-3 answers correct = You must be American, huh?
(Don’t worry; I didn’t really know anything about Canada until I moved here!)

Hey, if you read this, please let me know what you scored in the Comments section!

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Sadly, Not So Different…

So, the other day I was at my favorite Chinese supermarket, Tone Tai, when I saw and heard a large, angry Caucasian man go to the front counter and ask loudly, “Does anyone here speak English?”

I don’t know what he was so upset about, but I didn’t stay around to find out.  I moved past him quickly and got into a checkout line.

As I waited my turn, I saw him leave.  He was still fuming as I heard him complain loudly to his companion.  “… they move here to my country, they should learn to speak my language!!”

I was so tempted go up to him and say, “Excusez moi, parlez vous francais?”

After all, this is Canada, so he should learn the language, right?

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Air Travel Canadian-Style

So, when Canadians want to go on holiday (that’s what they call vacations up here), or need to travel for any reason by airplane, they have some different options than us down in the US.  Here’s a list of differences I’ve noticed about the Canadian air travel experience.

1. Top Holiday Spots: England, Australia, India (or other Commonwealth countries), the Bahamas, Vegas and Cuba

That’s right, folks.  Canadians fly to Cuba all the time for an inexpensive, tropical vacation. Having never lived in a time when Americans could freely travel to Cuba – actually, it’s not illegal to travel to Cuba per se, but it is illegal for US citizens to have any financial exchanges with Cubans – it came as a bit of a shock to see how blithely Canadians travel to and from there, treating a trip there like going to any other Caribbean island.

Oh, and Canadians love Vegas.  I’m not sure why, but they do.  We have had several conversations with Canadians who tell us that it’s one of their favourite (I’m sorry, favorite) places to visit.

2. Airline Travel in and out of Canada is much more expensive than the US

When my husband and I were considering moving to Toronto, my dear friend recommended that we fly into Buffalo instead of Toronto, and I’m so very glad she did. Sure, it’s a 2 and 1/2 hour car trip one way and a border crossing, but believe me, it is still cheaper than flying in and out of the city itself.

Here’s a current comparison of prices I just found online for travel to say, Seattle, round-trip:

Toronto – SEA:  $418                   Buffalo – SEA: $337

And that gap in price is not nearly as bad as it can get during peak travel seasons.

I think one of the problems is the taxes that get charged for flying in and out of Canada.  To the left, is a sample of the kinds of advertising we see for flights all the time.

Do you see that small print next to the big bold prices in red?  That’s right!  A simple $49 flight to Orlando from Toronto includes an additional $222 in taxes!!!

And the taxes are like that all the way down that list.

Now you see why I haven’t flown in or out of Toronto since 1997!


3. Travel Agents Still Exist!

Believe it or not, they still use travel agents in Canada.  Yes, even in this age of internet airline deals and the disappearing travel agent in the US, the travel agency business is not only alive and well in Toronto, it seems to be thriving!  Nearly every shopping center or mall we go into has a travel agency there, usually filled with people looking for the best deals.  I don’t know why this is the case.  Perhaps because Toronto is so international that folks from different countries like the help of having a professional make their arrangements for them?  I don’t know, but it does make me glad that some service industries are still able to do well in this self-serve world.

So remember, folks, if you want to come visit us, (and we truly hope that you will!), make sure to check out the fares into Buffalo!  We’ll even come pick you up!

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How to Dress

As I’ve come to live during these colder days in Toronto, one of the main differences between how I live here and how I used to live in So Cal has to do with preparing to go outside.

Now, all you folks who live in climates where you experience actual “weather,” you may laugh (or feel envious) when I tell you that in So Cal, you almost never really worry about what you’re wearing before you go outside.  Usually, whatever clothes you have on will suffice, in general.  If it gets a bit chilly and you forgot a jacket, someone usually has a spare piece of clothing in their office, home or car that they can lend you to get by.

Here in Toronto, there is a whole ritual to go through before you go outside.  First, what exactly is the temperature?  How prepared do I need to be?  Second, you consider what you have on.  Will this suffice under my coat?  Do I need a sweater as well?  Will these socks be enough or is it cold enough today that I have to bring out the big woolly ones? Third, consider the extremities.   Do I need a scarf?  A hat?  Are these boots okay or do I need something more for snow?  Finally, as I don my winter coat, I check my pockets.  Are my gloves still there?  What about Kleenex for when my eyes start to water in the wind and my nose starts to run?

In So Cal, my biggest concern was how I looked.  Here in Toronto, it’s about whether I’m warm enough.  And you know what?  While fashion does exist, in general, folks don’t really mind what you look like or how bundled up you need to personally be in order to be warm. I really sense no judgment (or as they spell it: judgement), and that is actually a really nice thing.

So if you come to Toronto, don’t be afraid to dress like this:



No one will judge you!

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