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First Culture Shock in Canada

As I explained before, I wasn’t really expecting Canada to be that different from Europe. After all, I had survived China, a dozen of countries in Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand… Why would I experience culture shock in Canada?

I was wrong and naive. Canada was different—culture, architecture, people, society, politics… nothing worked like in Europe. Sure, European visitors don’t get the same “wait, what’s going on here?” feeling they would experience in China. But things get tricky when you actually move to Canada and try to adapt. And I wanted to adapt. I wanted Canada to be home. I wanted to learn to be Canadian.

So here are the five first differences I noticed when I came to Canada.

The weather

Everybody knows winter in Canada is cold. Really cold. So cold that Canadians like to brag about it. Endlessly. They also like to comment on the weather. Endlessly. Not that I have anything against weather discussions, mind you. It’s just that in France, the forecast is usually inaccurate, and commenting the weather is okay if you’re 80 years old. But here, not only checking the forecast is pretty much a requirement if you don’t want to be caught in a snow storm, but commentating it is a national sport. So be it. On the same subject, Canadian weather’s vocabulary is unique. In France, you have rain/cold/foggy/sunny. In Canada, you have cold/very cold/freezing/rain/freezing rain/ice/snow/vertical wet snow (I am not making it up!)/hail/snow storms/flurries/rain, etc. Wow.

Distances

Back in France, I had friends living on the other side of the city. A twenty minutes walk. Top. In Canada, there’s home, my workplace (a 25-minute drive from home), shopping malls (East side or West side, take your pick but a 30-minute drive either way), supermarkets (another 20-minute drive) etc. Never trust a Canadian claiming “it’s right next door!” To go to this “right next door” place (let’s say a shop in a shopping mall), you will have to:

  • Start the car
  • Drive for 30 minutes
  • Pull into the parking lot and look for a spot (5 minutes)
  • Walk from the parking lot to the shop (another 7-10 minutes, parking lots are huge)
  • Walk around in the mall to locate the shop (1st, 2nd or 3 rd floor? East or West?)

Hurray, you found it. Only took 45 min. It was right next door, wasn’t it?

The… hugeness

When I go visit in France now, I feel like I’m in Lilliput. Yep, that bad. Why? Because in Europe, average height is not 6 ft. I’m 5.6 ft, fairly tall for a French woman but barely average for Canadians. Everything is big. Streets take about 5 minutes to cross and you actually have to look both ways for cars. Cars are huge. Houses are… Well, let’s just say that if you’re used to the average Paris studio (bathroom + kitchen + living room + bed all in the same room), you might be lost at first.

Food

Food is plentiful and available everywhere. You will soon get used to see packed food courts in malls, regardless of the time of the day. Well, I can still understand, flexible work hours, etc. But food is… food is too much. There’s no way I can clean my plate in restaurants. In France, “very little food” means quality—French people are always happy to pay €30 for half a broccoli, two carrots and an inch squared piece of meat and then call themselves “full.” In North America, you pay $10 for the whole beef, three pounds worth of veggies and a huge dessert. Can’t finish? ask for a container and bring it home. Can you imagine that in a French restaurant? “Garçon, Aïe cannot finish my broccoli, pleeeze put it in a box for me, thank you beaucoup.”

TV programs

Back in France, my daily channel surfing might have looked like that:

  • Turning on the TV
  • Checking out channel #1, TF1
  • Finding the movie boring, checking out #2, France 2
  • Finding that debates about Roman literature was not that interesting
  • Checking out channel #3, with its 4 hours long Senate minutes
  • Checking out channel #6, M6. Too bad, it went blank, one more time.
  • Going to bed.

In Canada, it was more like…:

  • Turning on the TV
  • Cooking dinner during commercials
  • Icing my thumb because it wasn’t trained to switch from channel 415 to channel 34 more the 30 times per hour
  • Admiring the necessity of having a channel dedicated to weather, another to infomercial, etc.
  • Seeing people fighting, divorcing, having surgery, having accidents, having sex, having kids, dying, crying, falling in love, turned on, turned off, getting a job and losing it the “you’re fired” style, exposing every single inch of their—often pathetic—lives to Big Brother.
  • Getting addicted to the big eye on the world.

And that was only the beginning…

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