The bag and I at Starbucks

My fingers are frozen, my feet are frozen, my brain is frozen. I’m still stuck in this weird post-travelling mode where I’m looking for a new routine while tackling an ever-expanding to-do list. Oh, and of course, winter. Fucking Canadian winter. The cold drains all my energy. It still amazes me that the country is functioning through the long months of winter. How? And mostly, why? Why do we put ourselves through this misery? Why don’t we just hibernate and call it a day?

It shouldn’t surprise me. Some people like winter even though I’m deeply convinced that most Canadians just go through it for the brag factor and this imaginary “True North” medal you get after shovelling your driveway over and over again for months.

Yes, coming back to Canada after a long trip means wearing my Canadian clothes again, literally and metaphorically. I’m no longer a backpacker—I’m a responsible mother, a hardworking freelancer, a proud resident of our national capital.

I’m still on autopilot but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been there for so long now that many things no longer surprise me in Canada, including…

Getting through major winter snowstorms

The minute we get a winter storm warning (yes, we all subscribe to severe weather warnings), we switch to survival mode. Everybody is talking about forecast snow accumulation, people shop, stock up on the grocery, wrap up work projects just in case we are really snowed it. Then we all close the door. Tight. Wind blows, snow falls, the streets feel like the most inhospitable place on earth. Then you wake up to a shitload of snow and bitch about it while shovelling your way out. All day, the mess is being cleared, plowed, blown away, piled up neatly in empty lots. And then comes the “calm after the storm.” Sure, snow piles are a bit higher but the city is driveable and walkable again… until the next snow storm.

Seeing kids playing in the snow when it’s -20°C

The above-mentioned piles of snow? Winter playground for kids. I speed by wearing a hat, a giant scarf, gloves, boots and a jacket and still freezing, and there are gremlins, fresh off the school bus, wearing the latest in winter fashion and burying each other in the snow. Back on my continent, we did that… at the beach, with sand, in summer. Who the fuck enjoys playing with snow? Canadian kids. I will forever miss the snow-is-fun gene.

Having to prepare a lunch box

Talking about kids, I’m back to preparing lunch boxes and hesitating between string cheese and yogurt for the perfect healthy snack. Honey or jam sandwich? Rice or pasta? Broccoli or carrots? In France, Mark would eat at the “cantine,” here he brings his food, lovingly prepared by me. The goal is very easy: packing a lunch box that screams “eat me, I’m delicious!” and “I’m a mother who care about the environment and nutrition!”—ah, good luck in achieving both goals.

Remembering allergies and special diets

The other day, I almost packed a peanut butter sandwich into Mark’s lunch box. My eyes were scanning the shelves for possible spreads for a slice of tasteless chewy white bread and my eyes stopped on the jar of Kraft. I grabbed it and paused. There was a reason why I rarely… oh fuck, yes, allergies! I sighed. Crisis averted. Putting allergens such as peanuts into a lunch box here is the equivalent of a declaration of war. Phew. Strawberry jam forever.

Living in a vice-free world

You know what else is frowned upon in Canada? Booze and smokes. Welcome to alcohol-free supermarkets and to smoking away from the public eye and at least 9 metres from doors. Enjoy overpriced wine at the LCBO and THINK OF THE CHILDREN! Don’t ever let them see that you are human!

Attempting to take buses that run every 45 minutes

You know the definition of irony? Waiting for the bus in the cold right by a car dealership. I saw two couples driving away with brand new GM vehicles while my OCTranspo bus fail to show up. The message? Drive. Public transportation is for suckers.

Hearing “sorry” all the time

It started in Rio, at the airport. We were queuing at the Air Canada counter when a tall guy walked by and almost bump into my backpack. “Sorry!” he said in English. Eh, Canadian spotted! I hear people apologizing for absolutely no reason at least five times a day. Even Mark says “sorry” before screaming “I WANT it because I NEED it!”

Seeing fitness addicts in action

The world loves to make fun of North America’s couch potatoes and these Homer Simpsons who supersize everything and barely move a finger. However, paradoxically, North America is also home to fitness addicts who care about their nutrition, their diet and their activity level. There are dozens of yoga studios in Ottawa, plus gyms, weight rooms, running rooms, fitness centres, etc. I’m always both impressed by and incredulous at so many people training for marathons—running is huge here, and yes, it’s common to see runners pushing past their limits in a blizzard. Go figure.

People eating anywhere, anytime

North Americans love snacks, some even claim it’s healthier to eat smaller portions often throughout the day. So you see people eating and drinking anywhere, anytime—muffin and egg at the wheel, a donut while filling the cart at the supermarket, a handful of almonds when shopping, Greek yogurt at the library, fried chicken at Chapters (yes! Seriously!), etc. I think half of the aisles in the supermarket are dedicated to snacks. In some countries, I can guess what time it is by looking at what people eat. Here, I really can’t tell.

Shopping easily

If you need to buy something, you’re in luck, shopping is easy here. Giant malls with ample parking and even a few buses that stops by, stores closing late, excellent customer service, special offers, coupons, store credit cards… What? You don’t need anything, you’re just warming up, waiting for your bus? BUY, you goddam socialist! Don’t make the economy collapse!

No, if you don’t mind, I shall go warm up. No, I ain’t going for a run outside…


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  1. Martin Penwald March 4, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    I deliver a load yesterday in Houston, Texas. It was 30° when I left. It is awful to work under this heat. Yet, it is not very comfortable either to work at -30°. The best is between -5° and 15°, with no wind nor rain nor snow.

    1. Zhu March 6, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Eeekm still too cold for me. Although I agree with you with “no wind”. I hate wind.

      1. Martin Penwald March 6, 2016 at 10:54 pm

        If you do a physical work outside (strapping a load, chopping wood, moving furnitures, etc), the efforts will keep you warm but you won’t overheat.

        1. Zhu March 7, 2016 at 7:32 pm

          True. If you live like Leo in The Revenant, then cooler temperatures are best. 😆

  2. Holly March 6, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Ha ha ha, yes – all of these things!! I don’t get the whole playing in snow thing either, our kids all play on the big snow piles and bury themselves in it. There is nothing safer than a kindergartener in Canada in winter though – all that padding, it is like wrapping them in bubblewrap!

    1. Zhu March 6, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      I don’t know, I’m always afraid there could be shallow rocks under these piles of snow…

  3. Gagan March 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Whenever you mention “Cantine”, I go straight back to my school canteen where we got samosas, those were the days 🙂

    Maybe, just maybe, shoveling snow might give me a perspective; for now I am on the otherside 🙂

    1. Zhu March 7, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      Believe it or not… the first time I ate a samosa was at my French cantine in high school, we had a “around the world” menu! 😆

  4. Lexie March 14, 2016 at 12:01 am

    Ca y’ est il fait plus chaud! Je suis même sortie en pull ce matin. Ca ne m’amuse pas du tout ces histoires de lunch box je sens que ça va me prendre la tête. Quant au sorry, je suis ds mon élément je m’excuse tout le temps y compris qd c’est la faute de qqun d’autre 🙂

    1. Zhu March 14, 2016 at 6:30 pm

      Effectivement, les lunch box C’est pas mal de travail en plus. Y’a du pour et du contre (pas que j’ai le choix…), au moins je sais ce qu’il mange, ce qu’il aime, je peux varier et gérer les portions.

      Alors, c’est le printemps à Montréal? Vous nous avez piqué le soleil, c’est une journée froide et humide ici 🙁


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