22 Things that Surprise Visitors to Canada

Published on November 17, 2021 by

Seemingly “normal” Canadian things and customs that first-time travelers find surprising and perhaps even mildly shocking. Could it be that they put gravy on their fries? Or that you see the Canadian red maple leaf logo just about everywhere? Do they really say “Eh?” all the time? Yes, it’s all of those things, and more!

1. Poutine
Fries with gravy and cheese curds.
Sold everywhere, including the Costco food court and Mcdonalds.
New York Fries

2. The money
It looks like monopoly money. It’s plastic.
There are no pennies.
it cost the government 1.6 cents to produce each new penny.
And they call their coins the loonie and the toonie
Not to be confused with the mountie — that’s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — aka FBI
If you pay by cash the price will be rounded up to the nearest 5 cents.
By card it will be exact. You can save 3 cents on every transaction

3. Canadians are really friendly
I found them to make more small talk than in the USA
At the cash register, with the waiter at the restaurant, at the hotel check in desk. Canadians like to make small talk.

Even the customs and security people in the airport were friendly.

4. Canada has 2 official languages
English and French
So many things are in both languages, from public transit, to boxes of food items in grocery store.

French is most commonly spoken in Quebec, where 95% of people speak French and 45% percent are bilingual. The majority of the Canadian population knows how to speak English, and 7.5% are able to speak French

Vancouver and Toronto have a significant British influence. The Western most province is called British Columbia after all. And Victoria the capital is often referred to as more British the British. Pretty good afternoon tea, scones, fish and chips. Not what I thought of Canada for sure.

5. The Canadian Flag is Everywhere
The USA is often considered the most patriotic country around. But Canada is quite patriotic slapping that red maple leaf on just about everything

6. The tourist season is really short
We say signs advertising a miniature golf course that is reopening in April.. in October! Or a sign to join a lawn bowling league in May.

7. The rain doesn’t bother people
People walk in the rain without an umbrella, at a speed and pace as if nothing was different than usual

In Socal the slightest bit of rain shuts the place down.

Extreme weather doesn’t seem to faze people either. In DC when there’s snow forecast by the weather people clear out the stores like there’s a pandemic coming.

8. Cities are very modern
The average visitor has that image of maple trees, barns, and polar bears. Yet the cities are very modern with tons of high rises.

9. Canadian cities are really clean
Canadians take pride in keeping their nation clean. Even Vancouvers rough Neighborhood was quite clean. Unlike downtown LA which is filled with garbage.
it is a big nation with a lot of space and a lot fewer people, but still clean.

10. Canadian English
Yes they really say “Eh” — more on the east coast then the west.. but its a thing.
It’s not a restroom, or a WC, it’s a washroom.
It’s not soda. It’s pop.
The Canadian ‘accent’ can be heard most easily in the following words: What’s that about eh?

11. Alcohol is only sold in Liquor stores
We were looking for the wine section at Whole Foods only to realize eventually that there wasn’t one.
And the legal drinking age is 18 or 19

12. Exotic meats at the grocery store
More than beef pork and chicken
Canada offers its people exotic meats like camel, horse, venison and ostrich.

13. Paying at restaurants is easy
They ALWAYS come over with a portable credit card machine.. and if you have multiple people it’s really easy to split the bill. In the US you often get eye rolls when asked if you want to split the bill, or sometimes told a max of 2 cards.

This is actually really nice.. no doing math to figure out the tip. Just press the 20% button.
The exception here is hotels with a room charge.

14. Toys R Us still exists in Canada
And they have 81 locations!

Target went out of business.. but Walmart is flourishing.. and I found the Canadian Walmart to be worst than the US Walmarts. Zero shopping carts at the front entrance.

15. They eat beaver tails for desert
OK.. not really.. Its a piece of fried dough that resembles a beaver tail.

16. They use the metric AND imperial system
Speed limits are quoted in kilometers
Room sizes are quoted in feet
Social distancing is both 2m and 6 feet

17. Blinking green traffic lights
But in British Columbia and the Yukon, that more relaxed flashing green means you’re at a pedestrian-controlled intersection and you should watch out for people crossing.

The light keeps flashing green until somebody pushes the button to change it.

When the button is pushed, it changes like a normal light: it turns yellow and then red to stop traffic so pedestrians can cross.

Then it’s back to a flashing green until the next time somebody pushes the button.

Other provinces have lights that stay green until pedestrians change them – but their greens don’t flash.

Drivers approaching a flashing green know that the side streets have a stop sign instead of a red light – so they know traffic could be cutting across

There are also blinking green traffic lights for turn arrows that are used everywhere else. In that case it means its an advance arrow, everyone else is still red, so it’s safe for you to go while it’s still green.

18 – The vast number of sushi restaurants
Counted three in one food court
Panda Express type restaurant selling it
Quan Jude

19 – Ice Water is apparently just cold water
I know this is particularly an American shock. But in the US water at restaurants typically has ice in it by default. I asked for ice water at every restaurant for a week and never actually got any ice.

20 – Stores and shopping malls close really early. Europeans won’t be surprised by this because I know all stores in Europe close up by like 2pm.. but in the US 9pm is the typical closing time.. Like 7pm seemed to be the typical mall and food court closing time. And some stores in the shopping malls were closing earlier like at 6pm. When do people shop? And the food court closing at 7pm.. does everybody eat dinner at 5pm?

21 – Speed limits are really slow
The typical highway speed is 100 km/h — or 60 mph. The typical residential speed is 50 km/h (31 mph). I drove on some country roads that were signed 50 km/h.. in the US that would’ve been 50 mph.

22 – Donuts at McDonald’s
And croissants

Tim Hortons has really average donuts — what’s the rage? How do they have so many locations?
But they did make a special Poutine donut to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. Now that’s awesome! complete with gravy, cheese curds and potato wedges


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