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5 Things My Mum Observed in Canada

Oh Canada Cook­ies, Byward Mar­ket, Ottawa

In July, part of my fam­ily (my brother, who is 19, and my mother) came to visit us for three weeks. It was the first time we had vis­i­tors in Canada and it was their first time in North America.

I loved walk­ing around with them because they noticed a lot of lit­tle Cana­dian quirks I don’t even see any­more. I changed over the years—I became more Cana­dian. Two pairs of fresh eyes was all I needed to redis­cover the city and some aspect of our culture.

So, here are five things my mum observed in Canada:

Por­tions are huge! — After we picked them up at Mon­tréal air­port, we stopped at Tim Horton’s on the way to Ottawa. My mother asked me to get her a cof­fee. I ordered the small­est one, yet she looked at it with wide eyes: “it’s huge!” “Yep”, I agreed. “And believe it or not, this is the small­est size.” A far cry from French cof­fee, which is usu­ally three drops of espresso in a thimble-size cup. For­tu­nately, I remem­bered there was a size smaller than “tall” at Star­bucks (“short”) and my mother got used to a lot of caf­feine. Like most French, she doesn’t put milk in her coffee—Canadians usu­ally throw away half of the cof­fee to make room for tons of milk and sugar.

Shops are always open — Still on the first night, I had to go pick up some gro­ceries at the super­mar­ket. I offered my mother to come with me—on a warm sum­mer night, I enjoy walk­ing to the nearby super­mar­kets. “What super­mar­ket?” she asked. “It’s 10 p.m.! And it’s Sun­day!” Well, in Canada, unlike in France, we can shop pretty much any­time, includ­ing late at night and on Sun­day. The cus­tomer is king, right?

Miss­ing: cheese, yogurt and other dairy prod­ucts — I had told my mum many times that I barely eat cheese in Canada. Good cheese (read “imported cheese”) is expen­sive and rel­a­tively hard to find. My mother was sur­prised to see that we didn’t have a lot of vari­ety when it comes to yogurt: it’s either plain or with fruits. In France, the yogurt and “crèmes” selec­tion is huge. It’s a treat for dessert: caramel flan, choco­late mousse, sophis­ti­cated lemon meringue flavour are a sta­ple of the French diet. Sim­i­larly, the sour cream and but­ter selec­tion is pretty lame here com­pared to France.

North Amer­i­can food — They had the chance to taste a lot of new North Amer­i­can spe­cial­i­ties: pecan pies, but­ter tarts, car­rot cakes, banana bread, cream cheese, bagels, good burg­ers (not fast food!), onion rings, muffins, pan­cakes… over­all, they were pleas­antly sur­prised.  Food in North Amer­ica is pretty tasty and local spe­cial­ties make up for the num­ber of fast foods per square metre.

The dis­tances — I warned my mother right away: do not assume you can always walk from point A to point B. I made the mis­take when I first came here. I had sev­eral appoint­ments on Bank Street and I thought I could just walk from one to another—why not, after all, since I’m on the right street? But Bank Street is over 40 km long, and so are Base­line, Merivale and other main streets in Ottawa. And I’m not even talk­ing about Yonge Street—the longest street in the world is 1,896 km long!

Did your fam­ily ever visit you abroad? What did they observe?

19 comments

  1. Salut Zhu,

    I may sur­prise you; the first visit of fam­ily in 20+ years was my cousin this year. My imme­di­ate fam­ily has never been moti­vated to come.
    That is won­der­ful for your family’s visit! Super!

    My cousin just adored Paris! My cousin & girl­friend found it of course, roman­tic. They also liked being able to walk, enjoyed tast­ing the cui­sine and the gen­eral ambiance. I don’t remem­ber hear­ing any really neg­a­tive feed­back. They want to return in the future!!

    P.S. — When I return to N Amer­ica, I always for­get in the first few days that stores are open late and on Sun­days. It always comes as a bit of a shock, then I relax & get back into the swing. :)

    • It’s good that they enjoyed Paris! I’m glad to see the city still lives up to people’s high expectations.

      It’s not always easy for friends and fam­ily to visit us abroad, I can under­stand that.

  2. My par­ents vis­ited me both years that I was in France, and I think for them the biggest dif­fer­ence was the size of the roads and the cars. They loved hav­ing all the dif­fer­ent bak­ery and cheese options, got used to pub­lic trans­porta­tion in Paris, and had a great time.

    I def­i­nitely feel the same way as your mom about the dairy prod­ucts! The other thing I’ve noticed is the lack of dif­fer­ent kinds of fresh juices. In France there were all kinds of dif­fer­ent Trop­i­cana juices and lots of mixed fla­vors, and here ee have orange juice, apple juice, and lemonade.

    • I think we have more kinds of juice in Canada, includ­ing grape­fruit, my favourite. I didn’t drink juice much in France so I didn’t notice. But I do miss the selec­tion of dairy products!

      Roads are tiny in France, aren’t they? And all twisty!

  3. Given that my par­ents are diplo­mats and have lived in many dif­fer­ent places, it’s hard to come up with things that are “new” or “dif­fer­ent” for them. But there are still some. The fol­low­ing are a few of the things they remarked when they vis­ited me and my sib­ling in New York City in 2009.

    1) They were amazed that Europe (by this, they mean Czech Repub­lic, Aus­tria, and Hun­gary) was “more advanced” than the USA when you’re in a restau­rant and you’re pay­ing by credit card. In the USA, they take your card away and swipe it, in Europe, they bring this wire­less device to the table and swipe it right there.

    2) My mom loved Net­flix! Seri­ously, it’s a genius of an idea to have a sys­tem where you rent DVDs through the mail.

    3) Pub­lic trans­porta­tion sucks. In cities like New York City, it is fine, but other cities are not geared for pub­lic trans­porta­tion. They never had to use taxi­cabs when they trav­eled in other Euro­pean cities aside from get­ting to or from the air­port, but when they spent a few days in Wash­ing­ton DC, they remarked that the metro sta­tions were spaced too far apart, and so they took cabs there.

    • I haven’t tried Net­flix yet because the selec­tion isn’t that great in Canada, but some peo­ple rave about it.

      I wish we had bet­ter trans­porta­tion sys­tems in North Amer­ica… in most cities, there is lit­tle incen­tive to use pub­lic transit.

      It must have been inter­est­ing grow­ing up in such a cos­mopoli­tan family :-)

  4. Hi Zhu!

    Just wanted to stop by and say Hi. Nice to meet you over at Barbara’s blog!

    I’ve never been to Canada, but every­one (and I mean every­one) who I’ve meet who has ever vis­ited there has noth­ing but RAVES about it.

    The Shops are always open”

    How won­der­ful, because here in Philly most places close at 6 or 8 at night. All, with the excep­tion of restau­rants and pubs. Philly is more like Europe, every­thing shuts down early.

    Love your blog! I’ll be back. Have a super day!

    • Hi Ron, nice to meet you! I was at your blog ear­lier today fol­low­ing your guest post at Barbara’s too :-)

      I’m sur­prised to hear that Philly is more like Europe. I guess it’s an old city by North Amer­i­can standards!

  5. I love caramel flan! It is very pop­u­lar in Mex­ico. I agree with you about get­ting good cheese here, there aren’t as many vari­eties here as in other coun­tries. As per the stores open­ing on Sun­day, here in New Brunswick every­thing is closed after 5 pm :(, but on the other side, the super­mar­ket opens 24 hours the rest of the week, quite impres­sive for a small city, and con­ve­nient. :)
    I still can­not get my head around abut how peo­ple are able to eat dessert at any restau­rant after eat­ing the huge por­tions from the main course. My wife and I are usu­ally stuffed after the meal and have no room for dessert.

    • I love flan and I remem­ber hav­ing some in Mex­ico, you’re right!

      I always never have dessert in North Amer­ica, I just don’t have room for it. Only if a bunch of us share a spe­cialty then I’ll grab a few spoon­ful! Besides, most desserts in restau­rants aren’t made from scratch, they aren’t that great, just fatty.

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