Pleasantries and Culture: Living in small-town Canada (aka A funny survival guide for US expats, eh?)

Living in Canada (aka A funny survival guide for US expats, eh?)

Chapter 2 – Pleasantries and Culture

In this chapter I will endeavor to either enforce or debunk common US thoughts about Canada and her people.

First, Canada has two official languages, English and French. One misconception Americans have is that everyone in Canada is bilingual. Sure, there are people that speak French all over Canada, but the same could be just as easily said about German, Hindi, or Chinese.

For reference, the US has many small “states” while Canada has few large “provinces” each covering more land.

In the Western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and  Northwest Territories, few people speak French, though everything across Canada, e.g., food and warning labels, is given in both English and French.

Going further East, to Saskachewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nunavut, we find the same ratio, though I’m told some places half about French and half English speakers; perhaps these are where Celine Dion, April March, and Avril Lavinge (sp?) came from?

Farther along the Eastern seaboard, to Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick, and Newfoundland, one suspects to find more French and European language speaking people, however, the average per capita French aren’t in significant number.

So why have two languages? Thus far, reasons for this mystery eludes us. Perhaps at one time in history, there were lots of French everywhere, yet at some point they were victim to plague, war, or a medical experiment gone horribly wrong?

I can’t guess, but for now, all signs seem to point to a little province where French is primarily spoken: Quebec.

Quebec folks have their own ideas about stuff, which can be quite different from the rest of Canada.

The provincial flag of Quebec consists of four of those Fleur-de-lis emblems used by Louis XIV (as well US Boy Scouts, for reasons unknown to me) over a light blue background divided into quarters. That symbology says “France” to me.

Well that’s not bad, yet Canada’s national flag was formerly the Union Jack as used by Britian, because Canada is a republic of the UK (not France) after all.

Today we see the Union Jack appearing in the provincial flags of BC, Manitoba, and Ontario, while other flags contain other U.K. elements (e.g., Scottish emblems, St.Andrew’s cross, and the like)

Yet, Quebec is allegedly so French, the province would like to be its own country, even though most the national income comes from Alberta, and the capital Ottowa is in Ontario.

Nonetheless, if you are migrating to Canada, you will find the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship website has requirements for Quebec, along with those for ‘everywhere except Quebec’.

I have nothing against French speakers, just found this amusing. It causes me to ask, “Why would one province wish to separate themselves from the others to such degree?” — Given separation would be detremental to Quebec’s economy, it doesn’t seem logical, in fact, the idea seems baneful to Quebec’s infrastructure, if not Canada itself.

However, until something changes, that’s the way it is. Canada won’t let Quebec break free, and Quebec refuses to function in unison with other provinces’ methods.

Due to French influence, we can order escargot and poutine about anywhere in Canada (I touched on food in my earlier post). [ shrug ]

Moving on to the next myth..

If asked, an American’s description of Canada may go somewhat like this:

“Canada is a Wintery, frozen land of mountainous wild countryside, filled with moose. People don’t have guns or booze, mostly live in or make backyard igloos, and everyone either plays or watches Ice Hockey year round. Eskimos are commonly found riding across the vast tundra with dog-sleds, dodging polar bears. Canada is really good at making machines, like the arm on the space shuttle, as well many superior yet scrapped flying machines, such as the Arrow jet and a UFO.”

There is some truth to that, however, Canada’s native Americans are referred to as “Aboriginal” (like Australia, yes) or “First Nation” people (sounds more accurate than US’ “Indian” to me) — you will find various tipis, yurts, and longhouses, but not many igloos.

We have Inuit (and other tribal) people here, indeed, but you need to go looking to find them in historically natural environments; we are modernized, drive trucks, live in houses, shop for groceries and eat in restaurants like everyone else.

First Nations people have councils and get government assistance much like the US, if not more. There are native-run casinos like California has.

Overall, Canada has diverse population and geography (as you’d expect the world’s third largest country to), there are folks from every corner of the world; There are some mountaibs but also plains, forests, islands, lakes, rivers, tundra, barren lands, coastline, just no tropical rainforests or outright sandy deserts by what I know of these Nothern latitudes.

You wouldn’t expect everyone in Nova Scotia to wear kilts, brew whisky and play bagpipes, but yes there are Scotts there mixed in with everyone else.

Canadians love hockey just as much as Americans like baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.

Canadians are proud (in a good way) and patriotic, generally open minded, friendly and accommodating, don’t appear to have the sexual inhibitions Americans do, however are also genuinely respectful and aren’t prejudiced over sex, race, or religion.

Yes, ok, MOST people, not ALL people, depends who you hang out with, really.

If Americans were to learn something from their neighboors to the North, it may be equality and tollerance.

Of course, humans will be imperfect no matter where they came from or currently reside, so you will find a few disagreeable, mean, or stupid people of various sorts up here, in spite of everyone else who may indeed have proper manners, courage, intellegence, or other commonly redeeming qualities.

Canada has government-subsidized healthcare and educational systems. If you want to go to college, they’ll pay for it. If you get injured or sick, they take care of you (for the most part anyway).

Tax in Alberta is the National rate (goods and services, or GST) at 5% while other places like BC (which is at 11%) may be higher.

Drinking age is 18. Driving age is 16. You do the math beyond that 😉

Canadians generally greet each other the following way:
1- a hello
2- inquire about ones health
3- comment about the weather

And parting is generally the same
1- thank each other
2- well wishes, express concerns
3- invitations for next meeting

Here is a pretend greeting exchange between two Canadians:

‘hi, how are you?’
“good thanks, how are you?”
‘not too bad, thanks’
“it’s cold out there, eh?”
‘yeah, went for a jog around the block and my water bottle froze before I was done’
A goodbye may be:
“well, see ya later”
‘you betcha, take care hey?’
“thanks. you too! stay warm”
‘yep, see ya’
‘see ya’
Canadians don’t say “eh?” as often as Bob & Doug McKenzie of the film “strange brew” may lead one to believe, but the language is filled with colorful accents and sayings you will come to enjoy and use yourself, things like:

“You know what they say in Alberta, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes!”

Canadians have varying degrees of superstition, especially sea-faring people, but this (as most customs) may have originated in ancestral lands, then later brought over to Canada.

Well that’s about all I have for now.. Thanks for reading!

Your comments are welcome, let me know if you found this informative, spot-on, off-base, whatever 🙂

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