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When Canadians say…

Kensington Market, Toronto, September 2013
Kensington Market, Toronto, September 2013

Do you speak Canadian? Knowing basic slang words and canadianisms is a good start, but learning to read between the lines is also important.

Every culture has expressions that shouldn’t be taken literally. For instance, if a Latino tells you the bus will be there in “más o menos cinco minutos”, expect to wait at least an hour. If a French person reports that whatever movie is “terrible”, it likely means that it’s awesome, not awful. If a Chinese person says “你吃饭了吗?” (“Have you eaten yet?”), you are supposed to reply “yes” even if you haven’t—this is just a polite greeting anyway.

So, what do Canadians really mean when they say the following?

In customer service lingo, “It won’t be long!” often means “it will take a while”. Note the French-Canadian equivalent, “ça sera pas bien long”—the meaning is the same. Canadians are polite folks, they have been taught that the customer is king and they really want to answer your question and get back to you as soon as possible, even though they know it won’t happen. So they soften the blow with this statement.

When a Canadian says “pretty cold, eh?” usually means “it’s -45C, I’m freezing my ass off but I really want to show how tough I am”. Don’t be fooled. Canadians are human beings, they feel the cold. They lose feeling in their fingers, have tears freezing their eyelids shut and dripping noses just like you. They just won’t admit it.

This winter isn’t that bad, actually!” If you hear that sentence and if you aren’t particularly fond of long conversations about the weather, plan your escape immediately. Why? Because such observation usually calls for a lengthy story about that winter, years ago, the coldest ever. Oh, you weren’t here that particular winter? Well, you will hear all about it, and even more. Consider yourself warned.

At work, “I need a coffee” translates into “I will come back with a small coffee and a box of ten Timbits. And donuts”. Because let’s face it, when you are waiting in line at Tim Hortons and when you are stuck behind the guy who has twenty different custom orders and can’t find his change, all you can do is stare at the pastries on display and smell the freshly baked sugary goods. And by the time it’s your turn to order, you need sugar.

“I like the outdoors” doesn’t mean “I enjoy sitting on the patio sipping a glass of wine, watching the sunset”. When Canadians are into the outdoors, they are really into the outdoors. As in spending their holidays camping in the middle of nowhere, fighting bears and other wildlife animals, carrying canoes across rivers (there is even a word for that: “portage”) and driving from one huge provincial park to the other. Don’t laugh: some folks even head to the Artic. For their holidays. In the middle of the summer. No kidding.

At the cash register, “It’s $8.75” means “don’t get your change ready, you fool! The price is plus tax! And you may want to tip on top of that too.”

“How are you today?” is a polite greeting that just means “Hello!”. Whoever asked the question certainly doesn’t expect a thoughtful answer and chances are, doesn’t really care about your mood, the fact that you missed the bus or that your team lost the game last night. Do not go into details—the only acceptable answer is “good, yourself?”

Any other common expressions and sentences to add?

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