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10 Things That No Longer Surprise Me in Canada

The True North blend at Starbucks
The True North blend at Starbucks

My fingers are frozen, my feet are frozen, my brain is frozen. I’m still stuck in this weird post-traveling 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 shoveling 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 shoveling 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 frown upon in Canada? Booze and smokes. Welcome to alcohol-free supermarkets and to smoking away from the public eye and at least 9 meters 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 are scheduled 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: 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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