For the most part living in Canada is not much different than living in the US. A few words are spelled differently, such as colour, licence and theatre. There is a subtle but definite Canadian accent, but not all Canadians have it, and one is just as likely to hear non-Canadian, foreign accents. About 20% of the population is foreign born.
There is the odd bit of slang, such as “You’ll be laughin’,” which means, roughly, “You’ve got nothing to worry about.” For example, summer season is a tough time to find a rental here, so our search for long-term accommodation is not going very well. But come September evidently we’ll be laughin’ because all the vacationers will be moving out and there will be plenty of places for rent. Or so we are told.
We can still shop at Sears, Wal-Mart, Safeway and Costco, and eat at Taco Bell, Subway and McDonalds. Home Depot and Staples are the same on both sides of the border. But there are some popular Canadian-only stores such as Zeller’s, similar to Fred Meyer, and the beloved Canadian Tire, which is nearly an institution in Canada. I guess it started when tires were a major part of its inventory, but now, in addition to its auto section, it carries hardware, home improvement, sports gear (mostly hockey) and other things. I haven’t fully explored the store here yet, even though I’ve been there quite a few times already. It’s the kind of place that when you need something, chances are you’ll find it at Canadian Tire.
If there is one store that Canadians think of with pride besides Canadian Tire, it is Tim Hortons, which is pretty much just a doughnut shop. But they are everywhere across the country. There are two or three just in Penticton. The other day the couple we are renting from took us into the downtown “Timmy’s” and I had a maple doughnut (of course). That was my first time in Tim Hortons and the first time I’ve had a doughnut in years. It was pretty good!
So, sometimes I almost forget I am in Canada and not the US, and then I’ll see a speed limit sign, or hear a weather report. Canada is metric, and as much as I admire the logic and simplicity of the metric system, it is nearly impossible for me to understand metric measurements. For instance, when I see a speed limit sign with 80 on it, my foot is inclined to press a little harder on the gas pedal. Unfortunately 80 kilometers per hour is only 50 miles per hour. I guess I can be grateful they use hours here and not something else.
Gas is about $1.40 per liter. I still haven’t quite figured out how to change Canadian dollars per liter into US dollars per gallon, but I know that gas in Canada is expensive, about a dollar per gallon more than in the US, and it is going up rapidly.
Then there are temperatures. I heard some comedian say that Americans think Canada is really cold because by looking at a weather map they see that temperatures drop by 30 degrees north of the border. Americans use Fahrenheit, Canadians use Celsius. Freezing is 32 degrees Fahrenheit , but zero degrees Celsius. If it was just a matter of adding or subtracting 32 it would be relatively easy to make the conversion, but to get Fahrenheit from Celsius you have to add 32, then multiply by the Queen’s birthday expressed as a fraction, day over month. Or something like that.
Speaking of dates, that is another thing. In the US we put the month first, then the day and year. Canadians put the day first, then month and year. Christmas in the US this year will be 12/25/08, and in Canada (and most other countries, I think) it will be 25/12/08.
I don’t know what Canadians make of the nearly constant references to “9/11” in the US, but if they get a little nervous every November 9, that’s the reason.
Something else I haven’t figured out is the Canadian government. It is a parliamentary system. There are two major parties, the Conservatives and Liberals, which are similar to their American counterparts, but perhaps more centrist.
There is plenty of vitriol between those two parties, but the waters are muddied by the existence of two smaller, but still significant, parties—the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is more populist/labor oriented and considered to be left of the Liberal party—and the PartiQuébécois, which exists only in the French-speaking province of Quebec and is focused mostly on the issue of sovereignty for the province. To hear Canadians and Quebecers (or Québécois, as they say in French) go at it over this you would think it was Israel and Palestine.
There are several smaller parties, such as the Green Party, which does reasonably well in some local elections, and the Marijuana Party. The Marijuana Party doesn’t get as many votes as I would expect, but possibly it is because its constituency has trouble figuring out when election day is.
Technically Queen Elizabeth II of England is the head of state. The head of the current government , or administration as we would say in the US, is Prime Minister Steven Harper. (That is a bit of Canadian trivia with which you could probably stump 99.9% of Americans, right up to the highest levels of government.) Harper is the leader of the Conservative party.
I really can’t figure out how one becomes prime minister. As far as I can tell Canadians only get to vote for local or Provincial representatives, then the government is formed and the prime minister is selected by whatever party gets the most representatives elected to parliament.
But an entirely new election can be precipitated by a disagreement between the prime minister and the parliament. One prime minister (a woman!) only lasted six months in office before another election was called.
It’s very confusing. Until I am a citizen I won’t be able to vote, so I don’t have to worry about understanding all that. But when I do get citizenship I am going to join the Marijuana Party so I will have an excuse for still not understanding it.