5 More Things My Mum Observed in Canada

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Canadian Inventions, Ottawa, June 2011

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 Montreal — 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 Montreal 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?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Zhu,

    It is true that Canadians are nice people; but when I went to liv in France I found them extremely polite (compared to the Portuguese) – my first sentence was “damn, Portugal is such a jungle!” LOL…*nodding*…but today my fellow-citizens are much better, I must admit.

    In Portugal, sales are in August (Summer sales) and February (Winter sales); but now you can find some sort of sales (which they call “promoções” since the law does not allow sales more than twice) all year round.

    Well, the first time I went abroad I was too little to noticed any difference (I was 1 month old lol); but the second time (I was 4 years old) when I went to Canada, Toronto, I remember finding people much nicer than in Portugal and the fact that clients had options (i.e. in Portugal, we only had, at that time, one brand of cereals, one brand of chiclets, we didn’t have Coca Cola everywhere [and my mum was used to it, because in Mozambique it was drank like water] etc) and I got to learn a new language, of course, because in Portugal English was not that popular yet.

    I hope your mum and brother had a really nice time.

    Cheers

    • They did enjoy the trip, thank you.

      I don’t think French (or Portuguese, or Chinese) are more rude, it’s mostly a cultural thing. For instance, Chinese have a different conception of personal space, and French don’t think the customer is always right. But hey, these differences make life more fun!

  2. As I mentioned in my interview, there were no big cultural differences coming from Mexico since we are very economically and culturally tied to the US and Canada. It used to be cheaper to visit the US (still is) and Canada (before the Visa requirement and the Canadian Dollar surge) than the rest of Latin America. One big difference that I enjoy is that at least in the Maritimes drivers stop when they see that you are about to cross the street, actually I think some pedestrians abuse that. In Mexico you would never see a car stop to allow you to cross the street, you better run for your life 🙂

    • A lot of people can speak French and government signs, packaging etc. are in both languages. But it’s still an English city, more English channels on TV and the private sector is mostly anglophone.

  3. I smiled while reading you Mother’s observations about Canada. It’s always interesting to hear or read about about visitors’ or immigrants’ perspectives. I am a Canadian living abroad and, naturally, I am constantly confronted with cultural comparisons between Canada and the country I am living in. Going abroad in very enriching in that way…you have the opportunity to learn about a new country but you also have the chance to learn a great deal about your own!

    • Hi and thank you for stopping by! I follow a number of foreigner bloggers living in France because I enjoy the way they see my birth country, they make me notice things I’ve always taken for granted. Cultural differences is a fun topic!

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