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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Canadians and Fur

Hey folks!  Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted.  I was using this blog to help me acclimate up here.  Every time I saw something that I found amusing or baffling, I’d write a post on it.

But after a while, I wasn’t noticing as many differences as I had before.  They were still there, but I just didn’t register them as all that odd or different.  I think that means my acclimatization process has been going along really well!

Nevertheless, over time, I have gathered up a few more differences that have struck me, and now I’m ready to start sharing again!  So, thanks for the wait.  Now on to….


I’ve been shopping for a new pair of boots lately.  When the weather is this cold, it’s best to have something warm on your feet.  My quest took me to the local mall, where I scoured the stores looking for something that I both liked and could afford.

That’s where I really noticed just how many people in Canada have clothing that has fur on it.  I’m not sure if it’s all fake fur or real fur, but either way, fur is welcome part of the fashion up here.

Fur is definitely not very common in So Cal.  I mean, why would it be?  If you wear anything with fur on it in So Cal, you’ve definitely made a fashion choice to do so.  Here’s it’s just part of what’s available on the clothing.

I think the point really hit home as I was shopping for boots.  I was in a store with some teenage girls and as we were all looking at the possible selection of boots, we saw a pair not unlike these: 

I thought these were ridiculous!  I mean, who in their right mind would want their feet to look like Chewbacca?

Well, apparently, Canadian teenagers would!  They ooh’d and ahh’d over these furry monstronsities, bummed that they couldn’t afford them.

That’s when I really looked at what everyone around me was wearing, and I saw lots of fur – on the edge of coats, on the inside of hats, on the cuffs of gloves, and tufts sticking out of the tops of boots.  My own Canadian clothing even made the point, as the hood of my winter coat is edged with fur (fake, I think) and my leather gloves have some on the cuffs as well.

Is this love affair with fur also shared by other colder regions or is it more of a Canadian thing?  I’m not sure, but I do know one thing.  I don’t care how cold my feet get; I am not wearing those silly boots!

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Ketchup-Flavoured Potato Chips

Up here in Toronto, we’ll find that some restaurants advertise themselves as serving “Canadian cuisine.”  It sounds odd to me, and I’m not sure what Canadian cuisine actually is.  (I suppose “American cuisine” may also be a humorous notion to some, but at least I have a grasp on what they’re talking about.)

I generally have found most “Canadian” food to be not too terribly much different than “American” food.  But they do have their specialty items that we don’t have in the States or at least in So Cal.

Today, I offer one of those purely Canadian delicacies:  Ketchup-Flavoured Potato Chips!

You’ll probably notice the writing on the bag is in both English and French, as it is with all products here in Canada.

They have all kinds of flavored (or flavoured) potato chips up here, as in the States.  My personal favorite (or favourite) has always been barbecue.   But I had never seen one seasoned with “ketchup” before.

Here’s what a chip looks like:

It’s similar to a barbecue chip, but only a little bit redder.

And the taste?  Well, honestly, it tastes like a potato chip covered in ketchup flavored spices.

It’s so salty that I can see how people could get hooked on them.

But here’s my quandary: In the US – the land of all things junk food – why haven’t these little guys shown up there?  It’s kind of a mystery.

I’m glad I tried them, but I don’t think I’ll be buying them again.  Too salty, too fattening, and possibly way too addictive.


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Remembrance Day

Today, November 11, which is Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth countries, a day to remember those who died serving their countries.  Remembrance day is a provincial holiday in Canada, and is observed by all the provinces except Quebec, Manitoba, and Ontario – which is the province I live in.

It’s the same day that’s observed as Veteran’s Day in the States.

But just because it isn’t an official holiday here in Ontario, it doesn’t mean that folks don’t recognize the day.   At the beginning of November, folks start to wear pins of poppies here. Poppies are the Commonwealth wide symbol for remembrance of the war dead, and it started here in Canada.  During World War I, a Canadian military official named John McCrae wrote a poem called In Flanders Field:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Also, at 11 AM, folks stop for 2 minutes of silence.  This day marked the end of WWI.

I’ve already started seeing people wearing poppies and it’s quite moving.  May we all respect those who give the greatest sacrifice for peace.

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Music, music, music!

I think this is a Canadian thing in general, but I sense that it’s particularly strong in Toronto:

Music is really important!

You may not realize it, but there are a lot of really great Canadian musicians – like Barenaked Ladies, Cowboy Junkies, Diana Krall, Sarah McLachlan, Michael Buble, to name a few.  (Notice I left out Celine Dion and Justin Bieber who are, yes, also Canadian).

And there are a ton more great musicians that I’d never heard of, that is until I started listening to CBC Radio.  CBC is kind of like NPR in the States, with one major difference: CBC loves it’s music.

That’s one of the weird, but wonderful things about this seasoned NPR listener enjoying the CBC – right in the middle of one of their talk shows or even a news show, they’ll put on a song.  Not just a snippet of a song, but a whole song that they introduce on both sides of it.

It’s not like music is considered important, but relegated to its own show (like on KCRW at home).  No… rather, most of the shows I listen to on the CBC generally incorporate music – full songs! – into their broadcast.  And, most of it is really good.  They seem pretty strong on the singer/songwriter thing up here.

So, next time you’re listening to a recording of Glenn Gould sublimely playing Bach or the rich vocals of k.d. lang, remember to thank Canada and their love of music.

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