Things I Don’t Understand – Canada Edition

You know, we’ve been living in Canada for just over a year, and there are still things we really don’t understand. So many things are done differently in South Africa–which makes sense when compared to Germany, but one would think that Canada and South Africa would share more similarities, considering that both have a strong Brittish influence.

And while some of the basic things are the same, there’s enough happening here in the far north to make us go wait, what? Besides, I really love comparison posts. I have one specifically about the weird and wacky in Germany, if you’re interested.

1. Loonies and Toonies

I’ve never lived anywhere where money had nicknames, but welcome to Canada. The one Dollar is called a loonie, because of the loon bird on the face of the coin, and a two Dollar coin is called a toonie, because it’s two loonies.

Apparently, a bunch of other names were considered for the toonie, including bearie (there’s a bear named Churchill on the two Dollar coin), bearly, or–my favourite– the doubloonie.

2. Milk Bags

Milk is sold in bags. You buy 4 litres of milk at a time, 3 bags of roughly 1.3L each, packaged in another large bag. True, this phenomenon isn’t nearly as popular in Alberta as it is in Ontario, but to this South African, it remains one of the strangest things about Canada.

Where I come from, bags of milk were available, but usually only in 1L sachets. In most places, at least one of the bags of milk had torn somewhere along the line, and all of the other bags were covered in souring milk. So personally, I avoided the milk bags like the plague.

Thankfully the bags are sturdier in Canada, and we’ve never had to deal with old, sour milk on our new milk bags. Another cool fact is that there are charities who reuse the milk bags to do all kinds of good stuff so they don’t end up on landfills.

3. Cellphone Numbers with Area Codes

This is probably one of the strangest things about Canada–the cellphone numbers tend to have the same area codes as landlines. I’ve been told this isn’t a Canada-wide thing, but in the bigger cities it’s in full swing.

In South Africa, each cellphone network had their own dialling prefix, regardless of where the subscriber lived. Germany is similar in this regard, with non-geographic dialling prefixes for cellphone users, though the numbers aren’t necessarily bound to a cellphone network.

Basically, what this means is I have a Toronto dialling code for my cellphone, so until I update that to an Alberta number, people living in Alberta pay long distance call tariffs to call me.

4. Pink Cream Soda

We had a good laugh when we first bought a bottle of Cream Soda. In South Africa, the stuff is green.

5. Prices Don’t Include Sales Tax

The price on the label was the price you paid in every other country we’ve lived or travelled. Not so in Canada. Sales taxes aren’t shown in the prices on items, so you always end up paying a little more than what you calculated in your head.

To complicate this even more, different provinces have different taxation laws. For example, we paid 13% sales tax in Toronto, but pay only 5% in Calgary, because Alberta doesn’t level a provincial tax, only the federal tax.

6. Burgers vs. Sandwiches

Now, the actual meat patty that goes on the burger is considered to be the hamburger in some Canadian restaurants. This means you order a hamburger sandwich, because it’s a sandwich with a hamburger on it.

Chicken burgers can be found only in select places, since a chicken patty isn’t a hamburger patty in the traditional sense of the word. So even in South African restaurants like Nando’s, it’s a chicken sandwich and not a burger, while the same thing was called a chicken burger in SA.

But this isn’t always the case. In all the time we’ve lived here, we can’t make sense of why some restaurants sell hamburger sandwiches, while others sell hamburgers, but all of them come down to the same thing.

7. All the Choices

On the topic of burgers (or not burgers). In all of the other countries we’ve visited, when you order a burger from a menu, it already includes all the toppings they planned to put on that burger. You can tell them to hold the pickles, but you don’t have to figure out what you want on the burger. If you order a number 5 on the menu, you get a number 5 with all its toppings, right? Right.

In many (again not all) Canadian restaurants, the picture of the number 5 on the menu is only a serving suggestion. Once you’ve placed your order, you get to pick all the toppings you’d like, and it will be customised to your demands.

8. Weather

My cousin once told me really tongue-in-cheek but also a little serious that Canadians have evolved to have more fine hair on their bodies to combat the cold. I laughed back then, but I’m starting to see the truth in this statement.

When it’s cold, under 5 degrees Celsius, some people walk around with short sleeves outdoors. At first, I thought these had to be people visiting from the Yukon or something, but it turns out some Canadians just don’t feel the cold.

Another thing I’d like to add to this point is something we get here in Calgary, called chinooks. This is basically a warm wind that blows in from the mountains and influences the weather to a great degree. We’ve experienced some of these now, and it’s been awesome. The weather will turn from in the minus degrees range, well into the positives for a few days.

Now, I know we’ve experienced a pretty moderate winter so far, so I’ll update you when we’ve seen what a chinook can do in really cold weather.

And that’s all I can think of for now. Do you have anything you’d like to add to this list?

Until next time.



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