Contemplating Canada: Part 3 – Canadian oddities


With my year abroad coming to a close I thought I’d drop in again to document some of the Canadian oddities that I’ve noticed over the last few months. With a note page open on my phone I’ve been keeping track of some of the strange habits and turns of phrase I’ve seen and heard in the classroom, on mountain trails and atop ski hills during my time here.

We might all speak English, but the language barrier between the Brits and the Canucks is very much alive and well. Years of watching North American films and TV shows definitely came in handy for adapting my word choice, but it seems like Downton Abbey hasn’t had the same effect just yet on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Please consider this list of customs and peculiar vocabulary to be handy guide for anyone crossing the Atlantic…

  1. I hear eh on a daily basis. This stereotype is so grounded in reality that some Canadians even put it in their text messages. A question, a turn of phrase, a confirmation… any which way, they’re very creative.
  1. Crisps are chips. Chips are fries. This was a shock when I moved here and it earned me some funny looks in the first few restaurants I went to.
Crisps are chips. Chips are fries.
  1. If someone strikes up a conversation about hockey, they do not mean the kind played on astroturf by our purple-clad teams in Durham. They’ll be passionately referring to ice hockey, the true love of every real Canadian. The Calgary Flames were my adopted team for the last 8 months, who, befitting their name, played in a stadium equipped with fire canons for every goal scored. I still pity the opposition.
  1. People really do say aboot instead of about and sawry instead of sorry. Yet another stereotype that shocked me in its accuracy.
  1. A regular coffee is not what you might think. At the beloved Canadian chain Tim Hortons, selling cheap donuts across the nation, a regular will earn you a drip coffee with one shot of cream and one of sugar. If you fancy upping the calories, a double-double will provide you with two of each, perfect for a hangover/ high cholesterol.
  1. Canadians from the province of Newfoundland, or Newfies as they’re affectionately called, are entirely unintelligible. Pretend they’re Irish and you might catch a phrase or two.
  1. One dollar coins are known as loonies and two dollar coins as toonies. A loony has a picture of a loon on it…I’d assume the latter gets its name for no reason other than the rhyme.
  1. A walk in the woods isn’t as simple as the New Forest or the Lake District where your worst threat is maybe a herd of cows or skittish deer. Almost every patch of nature out here is life-threatening in some way. Be it grizzly bears or mountain lions, you’re pretty much required to carry bear spray, a radio or some bells to announce your presence, even for a quick stroll. Campus isn’t totally safe either with packs of coyotes roaming the car park. At least the snow hares I meet on my way to lectures don’t attack.
    1. A beanie is a toque (pronounced two-k). I have no explanation.


  1. In lectures, everyone says “I don’t recall” rather than “I don’t remember”. It makes sense of course, but it surprised me how pretentious I sounded saying the same thing with a southern English accent.
  1. Socks and sandals are not only acceptable, but fashionable. A friend told me how she used to plan which socks she was going to wear during the week in High School, choosing the brightest patterns so that people would think she was ‘cool’. I was baffled.
Socks and sandals are not only acceptable, but fashionable.
  1. The locals do not get excited about snow.

Above all, the Canadians and Calgarians I met along the way have been just as polite and welcoming as promised. As a case in point, I once saw the subway train slow down to avoid hitting a Canada goose. The whole platform cheered as it safely flew away. I laughed but I knew I was in good company for a home away from home, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following along.

Photographs: zabrinating and Kathy1006 via Creative Commons and Flickr

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