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10 More Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Canada

Canada pillow on an Adirondack chair in a store, Ottawa, June 2017

For Canada Day and the country’s 150th birthday celebrations, the national capital is the place to be—for weeks, I’ve been hearing stories of hotel occupancy at an all-time high and Airbnb apartments listed and rented at triple the normal rate. However, “urban camping” spots on municipal property didn’t sell well as people apparently saw it the cash grab. No bonfire, no alcohol, $70 a night to pitch a tent in a field next to a recreation centre and up to $170 to park a RV … yeah, not exactly a great deal.

No matter whether you’re coming to celebrate Canada Day with us or if you’re reading this months or years after the event, here are a few more tips to enjoy your time in Canada!

If you need help, just ask. Seriously. Canadians are very accommodating and if no one is around, don’t hesitate to talk to the police. We have very few trigger-happy officers here. The emphasis is generally put on safety and prevention rather than on repression.

Tipping is an expected social norm, especially in restaurants. Don’t feel obligated to drop coins in every single tip jar—unless someone was particularly nice or helpful—tipping is very optional in fast foods, coffee shops or on takeout.

Other social norms include respecting personal space, staying (relatively) politically correct and keeping an open mind (we are a diverse country!). Oh, and don’t forget many Canadians are bilingual or multilingual and may understand what you’re saying out loud in your language! I can’t tell you how many times I overheard French travellers bitching about Canada in public—eh les mecs, we can all understand…

You’ll probably be glad to know that public bathrooms are usually clean and easy to find. Good places for a quick break are public malls and fast-food chains (no purchase necessary). For those travelling with babies and toddlers, note that changing tables are usually provided in both male and female bathrooms.

We have many franchises and chain stores—you’re probably familiar with some of them because of this newish thing called “globalization”. While patronizing them is somewhat comforting and occasionally mildly interesting (“wow, McDonald’s in Canada has the McLobster!”), consider checking out small business and independent stores. Seriously, please, do so. I’m going to go crazy if ten years from now, we are surrounded by strip malls with the same handful of franchises at every corner.

Venture beyond stereotypical “Canadian food.” Sure, there is nothing wrong with poutine, maple syrup, ice wine, beaver tails, Nanaimo bars or sugar pies. Once you’ve gone through the list, consider deeply satisfying basic dishes done right. If you only had burgers from McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks or Quick, go to a local greasy spoon and taste a real burger—a thick patty cooked on the grill, fresh veggies, tasty toppings. Sweet potato fries, a hearty pea soup, strips of bacon, a freshly toasted bagel with cream cheese, game meats, fiddleheads or wild blueberries are less gimmicky but amazingly tasty.

Yes, you can visit Canada year-round—please don’t all show up for July 1! If I had to rank the seasons for tourism, I’d say fall (amazing colours, warm temperatures and cooler nights, Canadian traditions like Thanksgiving and Halloween), summer (hot and sunny, many festivals, tons of outdoors activities), winter (unique scenery, winter sports) and spring. Sorry, spring, but you’re too inconsistent in Canada—weather can be very cold, wet and slushy.

Look out for “several weather” warnings! I know I make fun of our national obsession for weather forecasting, but there is a reason why we check the Weather Channel so often—it matters! Temperatures can be extreme (from -40º C to 40º C) and we also experience dangerous meteorological phenomena like hail, wildfires, blizzards, ice rain, strong winds, snowstorm and heat waves.

If you want to avoid crowds, keep in mind popular local holidays when Canadians tend to travel. These include March Break (one full week in March), Easter (Good Friday/Easter Monday in March/April), Victoria Day (May), June 24 (Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Quebec), Canada Day (July 1), Civic Holiday (first Monday in August), Labour Day (first Monday in September), Thanksgiving (October) and Christmas/New Year.

Don’t be surprised if complete strangers start a conversation with you. Canadians love small talk and 99% of the time, the person isn’t hitting on you, scamming you or trying to sell you something. Popular topics are the weather, your background and your opinion on Canada.

Enjoy your stay!

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