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5 Subtle Daily-Life Differences I Found in Canada

Lone Coke Can, Toronto

You know how much I enjoy investigating cultural differences between countries, such as tipping, shopping, eating, chatting, money, holidays or slang. Even though I’ve been living in Canada for about 8 years now, I still discover new things every day. Immigrating is a never-ending adventure!

Indeed, when moving to a new country, cultural differences are both very fun to discover and very frustrating, because you can feel inadequate. Yet, most people adapt quickly, and after a while, they don’t even notice these little differences anymore. Immigrants go with the flow and embrace their new lives, it’s the only way to survive after all.

But there are these obvious, yet strangely subtle cultural differences you may have never really considered. Driving rules are different. You spend hours looking for household products at the supermarket. You are really not sure what the cashier is saying when he is asking if you have a dime. Welcome to the wonderful life of immigrants!


Canadians drive on the right side of the road, like their Southern neighbours, no big surprise here.

But did you know that you can “right turn on red”? In Canada, and more generally in North America, vehicles at a traffic light showing a red signal to turn right can turn right when the way is clear. Apparently, this law was adopted in the 1970s to save fuel during the oil and energy crisis. If you are a pedestrian crossing, even though you have the right of way, always pay attention because cars tend to turn pretty fast sometimes.

Another law you may not be familiar with is the school bus traffic stop law. For instance, in Ontario, vehicles going both ways are required to stop when a school bus has its overhead red signal lights flashing. Failing to stop results in heavy fines, so beware!


At first, you probably won’t be familiar with local brands and stores. It’s actually kind of fun because for once, you don’t feel influenced by advertising or peer pressure.

When I first came to Canada, I didn’t know most clothing brands and only bought stuff I liked or seemed good quality. I couldn’t have cared less about what was popular and trendy and what was not.

On the other side, when you are not familiar with brands and product names, shopping can become an ordeal. When I was in Hong Kong, I needed to buy clothes detergent. I had no idea how to say that in English (much less in Cantonese) and I wandered along the cleaning products aisle in the supermarket for ten minutes, trying to spot a familiar name. The only one that stood out was “bleach” because, believe it or not, it was the name of one of Nirvana’s albums. Doing laundry with bleach (well, I thought it was detergent!) was not such a good idea!


A few years ago, Feng and I were shopping in a very busy mall. We were wondering why it was so busy that day when I exclaimed “oh, but it’s because it’s Wednesday!”. Feng looked at me quizzically. “Well, yes, it’s Wednesday, kids don’t have school, no wonder they are at the mall with that weather”, I explained. “But… no. Kids have school on Wednesday, why wouldn’t they?”, he said, more puzzled than ever.

Turned out that was one of the many little cultural differences. In France, kids (usually up to high school) don’t have school on Wednesday, however, they have school on Saturday morning. In Canada (and probably in the rest of the world as well!), kids go to school from Monday to Friday. Similarly, you will discover a ton of new holidays in Canada, such as Thanksgiving (not on the same day as the American Thanksgiving), Canada Day or Boxing Day.


Obviously, you will have to get used to a new currency in Canada. But do you know the slang for it? Loonie for the $1 coin, toonie for the $2 coin. 1¢ is a penny, 5¢ is a nickel, 10¢ is a dime and 25¢ is a quarter.

Also note that Canadians love to pay with debit or use their credit card, even for very small amounts. On the other side, cheques are not that common, you mostly use them to pay the rent. This was a big change for me because the French just love writing cheques!


You will notice different expectations for social behaviour and many will be totally new to you. For instance, you will quickly learn Canadians value their personal space. Just observe people on the bus—if there is room, they each pick a different seat. Even in crowded places, people avoid touching each other, or if they do, they quickly apologize.

Tipping is another social expectation you may not be familiar with.

And even “fun” things, such as Baby Showers and Bachelorette parties may be new to you!

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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