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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More Fun with Words!

Here are a couple more terms that have different meanings in Canada.

The Crown = The Government

This one is very British, I believe.  When I’m listening to a story on the radio, particularly about a trial of some kind, the reporter will inevitably say something like, “The Crown’s case against the defendant was based on solid evidence.” It makes it sound so high-flalutin’!

Arena = Ice Rink

Driving around the GTA (that’s Greater Toronto Area), I started noticing signs here and there for arenas.  I was starting to get impressed with the number of performance venues that all these neighborhoods seemed to have, until my husband pointed out to me that arena means hockey rink.  Suddenly, it made a lot more sense.

Marks = Grades

In Canada, grades are the level you are in at school, like Grade 1, Grade 2, etc.  Marks are what you earn on your exams and on your report card.  This is a simple one, but can cause a lot of confusion if you’re not aware.

And, finally…

remember, kids, up here this is how you spell the following words:

“Fulfil” and “Paediatrician!”

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Canadian Pride

I like talking to folks here in Canada.  When they find out I’m from So Cal, the first thing they inevitably say to me is why would I leave that wonderful So Cal weather to move to Toronto!  I notice that they have very fantastical images of California in their minds (and who doesn’t, really?).

But the other thing I’ve begun to pick up on is what the Canadians seem to be proud of, particularly over and against America.

1.  Their health care system

I had a feeling Canadians would feel superior here, and they really, really do.  It is a difference of value to them.  They feel that health care is an inalienable human right, regardless of one’s ability to afford it.  They hold this point with a polite, but firm righteous pride.

Some younger folks are under the misconception that they personally never pay anything for their health care – to which I point out that they pay through their taxes  And, I keep reading how Canadian health care debt is careening out of control.  Nevertheless, I have not heard one Canadian complain at all about their health care system.  In fact, most will defend it strongly to the end.

It’s so interesting, because back home, I hear a lot of horror stories about Canadian health care, particularly about outrageous wait periods or the ineptitude of doctors.  But here, it’s the other way around: folks talk about American health care likes it’s the worst thing in the world and nod at me knowingly, like they’re sure that I must agree with them from personal experience.  They’re so sure of their system’s superiority that instead of indignance, I experience a lot of pity from them!

The odd thing is that, so far we’ve found very little difference between the two systems personally.  There’s always a bureaucracy to deal with, and their forms and numbers and such.  An emergency room experience still involves a lot of waiting and wondering.  And, because we’re here under an international student study permit, we have to pay for our health insurance pretty much what we paid back home.

I was hoping that my experience in Canada would give me greater first-hand insight into the whole debate.  But, frankly, it’s just left me realizing that all the systems have their pros and cons, and that the perfect health care will continue to allude us all for a long time.

(Oh!  But it is true that Canada’s prescription drugs seem to be much less expensive!)

2.  Their diversity

America used to be incredibly proud of its diversity.  But lately, there’s been more concern about how to control our immigration issues than championing our strength in our different cultures.

Canada trumpets its diversity in a way that I kind of remember from when I was a youth in America.  It’s so much easier to emigrate into Canada, so folks do. Toronto claims to be the most diverse city in the world, and even in my short amount of time here, I believe it.  The countries represented in my apartment building alone boggle my mind.  I find all this really cool, actually, and miss the days when America really did want to welcome in “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”  That place now is Canada, and they’re very, very proud of this.


I’ve now run into to two, shall we say, white Canadians, who upon hearing about the area where I live, remarked with scorn that it is becoming more and more an “ethnic” area.

Hmmm….. So pride only exists if its NIMBY?

3.  Their statutory holidays

This one I don’t understand at all.  At least 3 times, Canadian folks have talked to me with great pride about their statutory holidays or “stat” holidays.  In Canada, they have a series of holidays legislated on a federal, provincial and local level where people get various days off of work throughout the year.

Generally, I find Canadians have a really good understanding of America and what we’re about.  But this one just baffles me.  Do they think we don’t have holidays in the States?  Do they think we work 365 days a year?

I thought that maybe they think they just have more holidays than we do, but looking at the list, I see 11 Canadian holidays (in Ontario), and 10 American federal holidays.  And, most of the time they even sync up, even if they have different reasons for the holiday.

So, if someone wants to explain this unusual pride to me, I’d love to hear it.

And, finally…

4. Tree-planting?

I had one wonderful guy tell me about his experience tree-planting one summer. He asked us if we’d ever heard about tree-planting in Canada. When we replied no, he said that taking time each summer to volunteer to go out and plant trees in the boonies is more of a Canadian tradition than hockey.

Hmmm…. I’m not sure I believe him on this one.

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Differences at the Grocery Store

Now I know I’ve written about the joys of my local Chinese supermarket, Tone Tai, but unfortunately, I also have to shop at a “regular” Canadian supermarket in order to purchase everything I need for our household and some of our meals.

We have a fancy market down the road called Loblaws.  (I know… all you Arrested Development fans will like that one.)  But it’s kind of like Pavilions back in So Cal: it has everything, but for a price.

Closer to my home is a discount market called No Frills.  They have a great gimmick where if you bring in a circular with a price that is lower than theirs they will match it!  No Frills is actually owned by the same company that owns Loblaws (another chuckle for my fellow Arrested Development nerds).

But here are a few of differences between Canadian markets in general and markets in So Cal:

1. No Bagboys (or baggirls)
That’s right.  No one will bag your groceries for you in Canada.  Not even in the fancy markets.  Everyone bags their own stuff, with possibly some help from the checker if you’re being really slow and he or she needs to move you along.  The reason why there aren’t any bagpeople in Toronto is…

2. You have to bring your own shopping bags.
The law that San Francisco has in place and all of California toyed with, but didn’t pass, is in full swing up here in Toronto.  If you want a plastic shopping bag – at any store, not just supermarkets – you have to pay 5 cents for each bag.  A lot of people just bring their own bags. But if you opt to purchase bags, you need to tell the checker how many you want, then pay for them.  So, folks become pretty adept at figuring out how much stuff can fit into one plastic bag.  The law is supposed to cut down on plastic bag usage and on the whole, it does. But I am often surprised at the number of people I see still purchasing bags at check out.

3. They lock up their shopping carts
A friend of mine recently mentioned how she remembers Canadians being so considerate that they tend to bring back their shopping carts to the store instead of leaving them strewn about in the parking lot.  I had the joy of telling her why that is now the case.

At both Tone Tai and No Frills, all the shopping carts are locked to each other like this.  You have to put a coin in the slot (25 cents at No Frills, a dollar coin at Tone Tai) in order to release the cart from its shackles.  The coin stays in the little slot, but out of your reach until you return the cart to the holding pen and lock it up to the cart in front of it.  That action releases your coin and you get your money back.

On the whole, it really does keep people from leaving their carts aboot (yeah, they really do talk like that up here).  And it does curb a bit the stealing of carts altogether.  However, I still see the occasional cart several blocks from its home.

Whenever I used to see a stray cart in So Cal, I’d just get annoyed that someone was so inconsiderate to “borrow” this cart and leave it unattended.  But, now, when I see a stray cart, I think…. hmmm…. do I have the time to return it and get a dollar?

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Black Squirrels!

This one was a little gift from God.

Up here they have regular gray squirrels, like this one:And, they have black squirrels, like these guys here!!

I haven’t seen black squirrels since my days up at Stanford!

We joked that the squirrels there were black because of the experiments they were doing in molecular physics with the Stanford Linear Accelerator.

They were so prevalent that they actually became the bane of most students existence.

Nevertheless, it has been many years since my undergrad days, so it felt like a little gift from God to be amongst black squirrels again.

And they are still a bit annoying: they love to tease my dog!

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More “What they say/What they mean…”

Thought about it and came up with a few more terms and phrases that are different here in Canada:

hydro = electricity

When we were looking for apartments, some were listed as “hydro included.” Thank God we had a Canadian helping us out, because my first guess at what hydro meant was water service.  She looked baffled at me when I said that. Though Canadians do get some electricity from other sources, such as solar, wind, nuclear and such, hydroelectricity is by far the largest electrical power source in all of Canada.  Hence: hydro.

Zed = Z

That’s right.  That last letter in the alphabet is not called “zee” here in Canada.  An American friend of mine told me that when she lived in Canada for school several years ago, one of the stores advertised their inventory as “everything from a to zed,” and for the longest time she wasn’t sure what they were talking about!

First Nations = Native people of Canada, such as Inuits and Metis

Folks who were in North America before the rest of us got here have been given all kinds of different monikers, depending on the politically correct current of the time.  Before the 1980s, Canadians called their Aboriginal people “Indian bands.”  “First Nations” is currently a rather ill-defined term, but one intended to give this minority population a sense of respect.

Timbit = donut hole

This one is all Tim Horton’s fault.  Never heard of Tim Horton?  Then you’ve never been to Canada!  Tim Horton was a hockey player (of course) who opened a chain of coffee shops that is the rage up here in Canada.  They are everywhere!  Put it this way: Tim Horton’s is the largest fast food operator in Canada – bigger than MacDonalds!  They have 62% of the market share for coffee up here, as opposed to Starbucks who comes in second with a measly 7%.

Tim’s is not only popular for their coffee, but also for their baked goods.  And, they call their donut holes Timbits.  Now most Canadians call all donut holes Timbits, even if they are not acquired at Tim Horton’s.

Canadian Spelling!

Now for an added bonus, here are a list of words that mean the same, but are spelled differently up here in Canada:


My husband and I still tend to pronounce these as we read them, such as “cen-trey,” “check-cue,” “lay-bore.”  I wonder if we’ll ever get over that.

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What they say/What they mean

There are several words and phrases that they use differently up here.  Here are a few that I’ve come across.

Washroom = Bathroom

My favorite encounter with this was when a young girl noticed that my dog had to pee.  She said sweetly, “I think he needs to use the washroom.”  I laughed as I thought of my little dog trying to reach a toilet or a sink.  Then I thought of us telling one another that dogs need to “go to the bathroom.”  It’s just as ridiculous, but you never really think of it that way.

Riding = District (or something like that)

It’s time for elections here in Ontario as well as in the US, but here they are voting to choose the mayor of Toronto and several MPs (members of Parliament) who represent a riding, like a district.  I heard them use this word a lot on the radio not knowing what the heck they were talking about.  They’d talk about an MP going back to his or her riding, and I thought they were saying “writing,” wondering how much writing MP’s had to do for their jobs!

12/10/2010 = 10/12/2010

This is really confusing.  A lot of Canadians – but not all of them – write the date in this order: day, month and year.  Others write it the way we do in America: month, day and year.  It’s kind of like the metric system here.  They use it sometimes and not other times, which I think only makes it more difficult to communicate.

post = mail

For this one, they’re just like the Brits.  I actually like sending stuff by post.  It sounds so sophisticated.


Primary = Elementary
Secondary = High School

This one makes sense, and sometimes in the States we’ll say the same thing. But here’s what baffles me about this one.  They have junior highs.  How can you have a junior of something if you don’t have the senior?

Grade X = Xth Grade

Folks up here talk about Grade 9, Grade 10, etc.  It means pretty much the same as our 9th Grade, 19th Grade, etc, but if you say it our way, everyone knows you’re American.

College ≠ University (or does it?)

Actually, my husband and I still haven’t figured this one out.  A college is not a university.  It can be part of a university or stand alone as a separate institution.  But some schools are both?  They have titles like “NAME University College.”  So which are you?  Now I’m just confused.

There are others, I know, but that’s all I can think of for now, as it’s getting late and I need to turn in.  Goodnight!

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