Celebrate Canadian culture with this light-hearted look at 10 things Canadians do. Discover the wonderful, idiosyncratic nature of Canada and its inhabitants.
1. Have Thanksgiving in October
On the second Monday in October, most Canadians devour a meal of turkey with all the trimmings, followed by pumpkin pie. The extra day off means many will squeeze a final weekend out of cottage season (see below). Like its American counterpart, there are parades and football, but the version that features in Canadian culture doesn’t hark back to Pilgrims feasting with native North Americans as the US version does. It’s more just an old-fashioned knees-up.
Pro: It fills a nice gap in the calendar about halfway between summer and Christmas.
Con: When you set your Facebook status to ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’ your friends outside Canada will be confused.
Read more: The strange history of Canadian Thanksgiving.
2. Line up for the bus
No list would be complete without mentioning one of the noticeably polite things Canadians do. This is a potentially friendly, but usually silent, social situation in which people wait for the bus in a line snaking down the block. The first people to arrive at the stop, and therefore those who wait longest, get on first and have first choice of seat. In many countries and cities, people wait as one blob of humanity where anyone around can touch or rob you, but in Canada there is an unspoken and unwritten rule — you line up instead.
Pro: It’s more difficult for weirdos to start talking to you while waiting.
Con: If you’re the weirdo, it’s more difficult to engage in conversation with strangers.
3. Put cream in coffee
You’ll learn quickly that Tim Horton’s is a crucial part of Canadian culture. Not content with options such as milk and sugar, many Canadians choose to put a hefty dollop of cream in their coffee. Visitors and immigrants may find this strange, but it’s entirely normal behaviour in the Great White North. A “double double” is a coffee with two creams and two sugars. In other words, it’s got a fair whack of calories to go with it.
Pro: Neutralises the bitter taste of percolated coffee.
4. Buy milk in bags
We’ve seen your milk drinking habits, Canada, and we think it’s weird. Actually this is more an Ontario thing, but Ontario is a lot of Canada . . . and a lot of Canadians. Knowing how to cut it open so it doesn’t spill everywhere is the third thing kids learn (after walking and skating), and the bag is then stored in a special milk jug. We’re not talking about neat little bags of milk here. No. Large-scale retailers will sell bags holding four litres of the stuff.
Pro: Cheaper by volume than cartons.
Con: Your lack of training means you’ll inevitably spill plenty of milk, probably more than you saved by buying it in bags in the first place.
5. Go to Cuba
It’s -15° outside, Christmas is over, and you have three months of winter to go. Doesn’t the idea of a week of unspoiled sunshine, sand, and mojitos for the price of three or four days of wages sound good? Flocking to the largest island in the Caribbean is one of those things Canadians do, particularly in winter. In 2010, Cuba received 945,248 visitors from Canada. The next highest number of visitors was from the UK, at 174,343. That’s a lot of Canadians.
Pro: Warm, relatively inexpensive, historic and beautiful.
Con: You can’t invite your American friends.
6. Apologise . . . a lot
Apologies as this is one of the more stereotypical things Canadians do. I wasn’t going to include this, but sorry, I had to. Sorry about that.
Pro: Basic manners are always welcome.
Con: If it’s instinctive, do they really mean it each time?
7. Drink Bloody Caesars
I feel the same way about Caesars as North Americans feel about black pudding. Its primary ingredient includes a broth/juice made from seafood.
Pro: Nothing. Ugh.
8. Grow playoff beards
This weird, superstitious part of Canadian culture involves hockey players who don’t shave during the end of season playoffs. It was begun by the New York Islanders in the 1980s, but quickly became a standard for the entire National Hockey League. Then other professional sports leagues aped it. After that, amateur teams followed suit. And finally fans got in on the act. Think Movember but potentially longer — with more hair and less charity.
Con: People might think you’re homeless.
9. Own a cottage (or have friends who own cottages)
Almost every middle-class adult Canadian owns a cottage or has close friends who are happy to have them come “up north” to their cottage. “Up north” doesn’t mean Nunavut, but rather Muskoka, Shawnigan Lake, or the Laurentians. From June to August, wholesome, patriotic Canadians will pile into cars, instinctively longing for the feeling of lake water lapping against their dangling toes. It’s one of those things Canadians do.
Not being invited to the cottage or cabin is the societal equivalent of not having a date for the prom, only for adults. Your Canadian friends will post photo albums on Facebook titled ‘Cottage Life’, in which they will be fishing, hiking, barbecuing, and other outdoorsy stuff. Weekend newspaper supplements will have sections dedicated to ‘cottage time’ and people will refer to ‘cottage country traffic’ on the highways.
Pro: Your friends invite you to their cottage.
Con: Usability is highly seasonal, and they cost thousands to maintain. But if you’re the invited and not the invitee, then who cares?
10. Display their Canadian culture with pride by wearing a maple leaf flag when travelling
Before travelling abroad, many young Canadian backpackers will iron or sew a small maple leaf flag onto their bag. Make of this what you will, but this part of Canadian culture certainly marks them out from the other 200-odd countries in the world. They could be more esoteric in their national statements (maybe they brought their own syrup or have a tendency to hum Nickelback songs), but the flag is a clear statement — I’m from Canada, not somewhere else (*ahem* neighbour to the South).
Pro: If everyone did this, hostel goers could confirm national stereotypes without having to ask questions.
Con: It’s like school uniforms, but voluntary and for post-adolescents.