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5 More Things My Mum Observed in Canada

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 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?

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 :)

  3. That’s some good obser­va­tion about the van­ity plates :)

  4. I thought Ottawa is bilingual?

    • 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.

  5. 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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