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?