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7 Questions People Ask Canadians Abroad

Ottawa, Wellington Street, March 2018

“Where are you from?”


An innocuous question, and an easy answer, right? And I’m not lying. I am Canadian—in fact, I chose to be Canadian. I live in Canada. I travel with a Canadian passport. I speak both official languages and a couple of unofficial ones, I produced a Canada-born son as instructed by Her Majesty, the Governor General and the Prime Minister to help solve the economic issue of an aging population, and I can shovel snow like a pro when needed.

Yet, I still feel self-conscious when I introduce myself as a Canadian. If the question comes from an American, an Australian, a British, a Canadian, an Irish or a Kiwi traveller, I’m afraid I don’t sound Canadian enough.  

And also, if I out myself as a Canadian, I know I’m about to be quizzed.

People have comments about France, but they sure have a lot of questions about Canada.

“I have a relative/a friend in Toronto/Vancouver, do you know them?”

There are an awful lot of relatives and friends as well as millions of people in Toronto and Vancouver, so chances are, I don’t. But I’m sure they are very nice.

Plot twist—the relative or friend may not actually live in Toronto or Vancouver but nearby. Since few foreigners can name other Canadian cities—Saskatoon is NOT a made-up word and yes, Ottawa is the capital—Canada’s most famous cities are often used as a shortcut for “I live in Eastern Canada” or “I live in the West.”

“Who speaks French in Canada?”

Not sure, we’re still trying to find out. Just kidding, c’t’une joke!

Canada is this place where the red octagonal traffic sign reads “STOP” in most provinces and territories, “STOP ARRÊT” in Ottawa, “ARRÊT” in Quebec and “STOP ARRÊT ᓄᖅᑲᕆᑦ” in Nunavut.

Canada’s language status? Com-pli-ca-ted.

Quebec is the only province where the sole official language is French, but there are also large French-speaking communities in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba—incidentally, there’s a large English-speaking community in Quebec too.

Many immigrants also speak French as their mother tongue (i.e. French, Belgians, etc.) or join French communities—Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Haitians, Ivorians, Congolese, Lebanese, Latinos among many others are likely to speak perfect French.

French is also taught in school and occasionally used at work, especially in federal agencies.

“How far are you from the US?”

Not far, but we don’t come too clos—DON’T SHOOT! I’M JUST THE NORTHERN NEIGHBOUR!

Given the cold weather farther north, 90% of Canadians live within 160 kilometres of the 8,891-kilometre-long US border. For example, in Ottawa, we’re only a 40-minute drive from New York state. Please, allow me to stress on “state”—there’s a big difference between New York City and New York State. New York City is Central Park (and Central Perk), famous landmarks and millions of people. New York State is pretty rural and not that cool.

Going to the US is straightforward for Canadian citizens, but most border towns aren’t worth a day trip—unless the dollar is at par and you plan to shop—and except for Vancouver/Seattle, Windsor/Detroit and Toronto/Buffalo, there aren’t many large, “exciting” US cities close enough for a weekend getaway.

Seriously, how bad is winter?

There’s a season called “winter” in most countries around the world, but in Canada, it’s unique for two reasons—winters are long and extreme and the season truly impact your daily life.

In most cities, you can expect temperatures as cold as—40⁰C at least a few times and—20⁰C often enough—that’s “fucking cold” in Canadian. There’s snow and rarely the way Hollywood portrays it—perfectly timed to fall lightly upon the city when you’re at home, sipping hot chocolate. Winter weather impacts your routine—you’re still expected to go to work but commuting may be difficult, school buses and classes can be cancelled, etc. It also affects your body (dry hands, muscle pain, etc.), drain your wallet (you have to budget for heating, warm clothes, etc.) and messes up your mental health (cabin fever is not a buzzword!).

Winter wouldn’t be so bad if it was just two or three months of cold weather, but it drags on forever. In Ottawa, you can be wearing the full winter outfit—coat, boots, hat, gloves—from late November to April. Snow often only melts in May.

Anyone can survive a few winters in Canada. The first year is an interesting challenge, the second one is more enjoyable because you feel prepared, and if you’re lucky, the third winter is a “warm” one. It gets tiring after a few years when you know the first snow on the ground will only melt six months later.

From experience, I noticed the two kinds of people who handle winter best are those who love the cozy side of the season (staying home, cooking comforting meals, etc.) and those who enjoy winter sports and outdoor activities (skiing, hiking, etc.).

Is it easy to immigrate to Canada?

Many countries are closing their borders but Canada still welcomes around 250,000 new permanent residents every year. This “open arms” attitude is more rational than generous—Canada needs young, educated professionals to deal with adverse consequences of an aging population, and rural or remote provinces or territories are always looking for skilled workers.

Immigrating to Canada is basically a matter of eligibility and patience. If you do qualify under one of the immigration programs—Express Entry, Provincial nominees, Atlantic Immigration Pilot, Start-up Visa, Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, Immigrant Investor, Family sponsorship, Quebec-selected skilled workers, Caregivers, Self-employed or Refugees—you’re welcome to apply for permanent residence. The process is slow (at least a year, often longer) and you will need savings to pay various application fees and cover incidental expenses (required supporting documents, trips to the nearest embassy, postage, etc.). However, you can expect a fair and impartial process (no luck or bribes involved!) and you don’t have to hire a representative.

If you’re not eligible for permanent residence, you can also look into work permits, student permits or programs like the Working Holiday Visa.

How is Canada different from the US?

Canada is an interesting mix of European and North American culture.

Because our southern neighbours are big, loud and kind of rule the world (… or so they think), many aspects of life in Canada and in the US are similar—the dominance of a car culture, a “super-sized” life, consumerism and credit card debt, the education system, business etiquette, etc.

However, labour relations, employment laws, the health system, the justice system, and the general outlook on the world is closer to what you’d find in Western Europe.

Is it true that weed is legal?

Yes, since October 2018. No, it’s not a cannabis leaf on the flag, it’s a maple leaf. Same goes for Toronto’s hockey team jerseys—they are the “Toronto Maple Leafs,” no “weed on ice.”

Gee, it’s like taking the citizenship test all over again!


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