I never get tired of noticing the little cultural differences that exist between counties and culture—I even have a blog tag dedicated to them! My mother and my brother came to visit us in July and I eagerly wrote down what surprised them, and what probably surprised me as well a few years ago.
You can find the first part of the article here: 5 Things my Mum Observed in Canada.
Now here is part two!
Cars and License Plates — First thing my mum noticed was the vanity plates a lot of cars have. But even regular license plates caught her eye. In North America, they are issued by provinces/states and they typically include original design or tagline (such as “Yours to Discover” in Ontario). In France, license plates are white or yellow and all have a common format and size. She was also amazed by the size of the cars, especially pickup trucks and SUVs. Finally, she noticed there was little incentive to take the bus since it’s expensive and the service isn’t great.
The People — My mum found people really nice and helpful. “They aren’t pushy or rude like in France”, she said. For instance, we attended the Canada Day celebrations together and my mum isn’t a huge fan of crowd, so she wasn’t sure whether she’d like it. Turned out she did because despite the impressive crowd, people were nice to each other and there was room to breathe. The way people patiently queue everywhere puzzled her. Finally, she noticed our society was very multicultural and people from all walks of life seemed to blend in.
The Language — Because I speak English daily, I forgot how hard it is when you don’t master the language. My mum and my brother both speak basic English and people in Ottawa helped them in French if needed. But I still laugh at the time my mum mentioned that she had been shopping for clothes and that she saw a lot of “that clearance brand”. “Is it a famous brand?” she asked. It took me a second or two to get it. “Mum, it’s not a brand, it means it’s on sale” said, laughing. Similarly, she had trouble understanding the name of the streets the way locals pronounce them in English. For instance, “Lyon” isn’t pronounced like the French city of the same name, which is confusing. Same goes with “Orléans”, “Catherine Street” etc.
Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls and Montréal — She hadn’t pictured it that spread out but my mother loved Ottawa. I can see why: it’s a picturesque city and it’s gorgeous in the summer. We have so many parks right in the downtown core! Her favourite places were the locks and the walk by the river. When we visited Montréal for a day, she noticed the difference between Ontario and Quebec regarding the people, the language and the culture. She hadn’t imagined Toronto that big (the view from CN Tower is quite impressive!).
Cost of Living — At first, she didn’t find the cost of living in Canada so low, even though I’m pretty convinced that living in Canada is cheaper than living in France. But that’s mostly because for the first few days, she shopped like a French person, looking for cheese, imported brands etc. Once I showed her some local products, she did find the average grocery trip much cheaper than in France, especially for fresh products. She also was surprised to learn that there are sales all the time—in France, the government sets certain times of the year when shops can put their merchandise on sale (usually summer and winter).
What little cultural differences did you notice when you first went abroad?