Random observations on Canadian culture

So, I just spent a couple of days in Canada and I have a few observations.

First, those peace arches at the border have it right. Visiting our neighbor to the north is like visiting a cousin. When I was a kid it took me two minutes to start treating any cousin like a best friend/sibling. I found I had a lot in common even with cousins I’d never met or hadn’t seen in years. As an American I have a lot more in common with Canadians than I have differences. That’s a given.

I hope our common interests go deeper than the many McDonald’s, Starbucks and Burger Kings everywhere we looked. But let’s get the obvious similarities out of the way. Canada is the only foreign country I’ve visited where the cars all seemed familiar and the road signs were easy to understand. Except for those crazy kph speed signs. Remember 100 KPH is not all that fast–it’s only about 60 MPH, which is what we do for in-town driving in Montana.

I didn’t go into a Starbucks in Canada, but I did notice there was no Americano on the espresso menus. One place I visited did offer Canadiano. I’d have tried it, but I’d already ordered my latte.

The streets are all amazingly clean–and this is by Montana standards. You can’t even begin to compare Vancouver to NYC, or even Seattle.

Let’s face it, Canadians can’t spell. I mean all those spare “u”s and the dyslexic “re” at the end of so many words. It’s “Harbor Center” people. I’ll give you theatre, okay?

Big cities in the U.S. tend not to be very friendly. This always throws me because I’m used to small towns where we say “hello” to people we meet on the streets, even strangers. Even on a crowded street I make eye contact and smile. But try that in NYC or L.A. and people avert their eyes and pretend you are not there. I suspect eye contact actually scares them. Not true in Vancouver. Even the street people are polite as they ask for spare change. Kind or reminds me of Missoula, which is a much smaller city.

Perhaps this explains the crazy raccoons in Stanley Park. I mean, in the U.S. we get constant warnings about raccoons. Watch out for them, they are probably rabid. Do not approach a raccoon. Most of the time you can’t approach a raccoon because they won’t let you. We have raccoons in our neighborhood. They seem to use the sewer tunnels for getting around. (This is smart–you almost never see a smooshed raccoon in Missoula because they don’t go onto the street). Approach a raccoon in my neighborhood and it might take a second to hiss at you before it ducks into the sewer. It is definitely not going to expect beg or pose for pictures. In fact, they don’t even come out during the day.

In the Lost Lagoon of Stanley Park, the critters were all around the trails looking for handouts.

From Vancouver 09 Part Deux

Maybe it’s the mild weather in B.C. that keeps people cheerful all the time. Maybe it’s the high quality beer. Or perhaps it’s the hockey. You see these people are crazy about their hockey. Witness the giant screen showing hockey right outside our hotel room.

From Vancouver 09

Here’s my theory. You watch a bunch of guys beating the heck out of each other on the ice. Yell your head off for your team. Then you can return to your mild mannered life. Have coffee and a scone at Tim Horton’s, smile and say hello to the folks you pass on the street. The secret is leaving that hostility out there on the ice.

Or maybe there’s something about throwing random “u”s into words. Perhaps we could learn something from our neighbours to the north.


  1. Yes. All very colourful. 🙂

  2. Oops, I mean French accent. His accent, my accident. Cause, effect–voila! 😉

  3. Great post, Terry–I never thought about the hockey venting vs. politeness connection. Makes complete sense somehow.
    But I did notice the very charming street people . . . I think I accidentally gave 20 bucks instead of one dollar to a homeless man in Quebec City. The beret, the French accident . . . charming, really.

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