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RVing to Canada? 15 things you should know about our cultural differences

Canada is a very popular destination for American RVers.

canadaflagAnd it’s home to several of the world’s best selling Class B motorhome makers.

So a lot is us travel there. Canada feels very much at home. It’s people are open and welcoming.

In the last year, I’ve made over a dozen visits to the Kitchener, Ontario, headquarters of Roadtrek Motorhomes. And while I am very comfortable in Canada, there are some cultural differences. I’ve been taking notes.

Here are 15 things to know about Canada

  1. It’s smaller in population. Canada has only 33 million people. Once you get past the cities, there is a lot of open space.
  2. They count and measure things differently. Your GPS may tell you Kitchener is 60 miles away but a roadside sign on the 402 says it’s 100. Huh? They use the metric system. Don’t even try to figure out fuel prices, which they measure in liters.Their money is different. Thankfully, they count it in dollars. But it’s worth more than ours. Twenty bucks U.S. is worth $20.10 Canadian. They have weird names for it, too. Canadians call their $1 a loonie and $2 a toonie.
  3. They don’t have as many freeway rest areas. Instead , at least in Ontario, they have Onroutes – widespread concentrations of fast food restaurants, fuel pumps and rest rooms under one roof. Canadians don’t clutter up the landscape with billboards like we do in the U.S. And except in urban areas, there usually are not clusters of gas stations and fast food places around each freeway exit.
  4. Yes, they do have Starbucks. And the good news is you won’t have to stand in line to get yours. That’s because, hands down, Canadians prefer Tim Hortons to Starbucks. Timmy’s, they call it. And I have to say…it IS better that Starbucks.
  5. In Ontario, the only place you can buy beer is at the Beer Store.  Seriously. That’s what they call the government stores that sell beer. Beer isn’t available at convenience stores, supermarkets and gas stations. It varies, I’m told, province by province.
  6. You know they spell differently, eh? In all candour, it sort of colours their written communications. Centre – center. Check – cheque. Favour -favor.
  7. They pronounce things differently, too. Not everything. Just a few things. Ask a Canadian to say out and about. Don’t laugh. They think YOU talk even funnier.
  8. Hockey is not a game in Canada. It is a religion. On their $5 bill is a scene of children playing pond hockey. Saturday night hockey on the radio was a tradition for generations. Now it’s on HDTV. Do not make fun of hockey. Ever. Canadians also like the sport of curling. Do not make fun of this, either. And yes, curling is a sport and it’s much more involved than it appears to most Americans. Trust me on this, do not ridicule Canadian sports. Especially in a bar.
  9. Canadians are very patriotic. More so than in the U.S. They are generally liked by other countries, terrorists are not trying to destroy it and violence – except on the hockey rink, is very rare. There’s nowhere near the polarization there is in the U.S.
  10. Unless they hunt, no one owns a gun in Canada. Canadians like it that way. They think people in the U.S. who are so adamant about owning guns are extreme.
  11. Canadians have two languages. English and French. In Quebec, of course, almost everyone is bilingual. But even in the other provinces, you will hear a French accent fairly often.
  12. You will find iPhones there, of course. But many Canadians prefer Blackberries. They’re made in Ontario.
  13. Canadian restaurants, particularly those in Ontario, are generally more high tech than many of their U.S. counterparts. The waitstaff have their own tablets and hand held computers that process your credit cards right at the table. And many credit cards issued by Canadian banks have chips built in which constitute an electronic signature, meaning you don’t have to physically sign the bill.
  14. In the U.S., we drink soda. In Canada, it’s pop.
  15. Canadians are healthier than us. Average life expectancy there is 81.2 years. In America, it’s 78.1, and the American life expectancy is dropping while the Canadian is rising. Americans are the most obese country in the world, with approximately 34% of their citizens obese (over 60% are overweight). Canada is the 11th most obese country with about 24% of their people obese and 55% overweight.

I like Canada, a lot. After so many visits over the past year, I’m starting to feel patriotic about the place, myself. The Canadians I’ve met are typically not full of themselves, as so many Americans are. They seem to be content and very sure of who they are, but without guile.  They laugh a lot. Sometimes at us. Especially our politics. And they’re very accepting of people from other places, who look different and talk different.

Just as long as they don’t make fun of hockey.

 


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14 comments

  1. Linda

    As a Canadian, I did enjoy your article on the differences, but it is obviously slanted from an Eastern Canada point of view. Canada, as is the USA, very different from one border to the other. Some areas are much more laid back than others, there are road side stops(rest areas) in other parts of Canada. Other areas do not have ‘Beer Stores’, they have liquor stores that sell both beer and hard liquor and they are often right next door to the food stores. Yes – we do prefer Tim Hortons to Starbucks and really miss it when we travel south.

  2. Karsten Askeland

    Pretty much hit the nail on the head Mike. Very enjoyable reading that put a smile on my face. I have to admit however that I have not heard the expression your referred to in #3. “Onroutes”. New to me … unless it’s new or something out of Quebec. I agree with Linda … I miss Timmys when I travel down south or west … although there are about 600 Tim Hortons now in the US … mostly the North-East. They have made it as far south as Ashland KY. Be sure to get the “Timmy ME app for your SmartPhone. It’s FREE. It will show you ever Tims location in Canada, and there are a lot of them … as well as the US locations.

    Welcome to Canada, EH!

  3. Mike – I was hoping you would tell us about what it is like crossing the border into Canada and then crossing the border back into the US with the Roadtrek. Does US Customs come inside to search? Is it just as easy coming back in with the Roadtrek or any RV as a car? I know now you need a passport or special ID card to cross back in to the US.

  4. Mike Wendland
    Author

    It couldn’t be easier, Robert. I cross at the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, MI. Have also crossed in Detroit at the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. You do need a passport…both on entry to Canada and entry back to the US…or a special pass for frequent travelers between the country. I haven’t felt the need to have that, but may someday. The signs above the lanes going and coming from immigration/entry checkpoints say “Cars and RV.” Get in it and follow the flow. You get to the gate, show your passport, they check your RV license plate through closed circuit TV, ask you where you are going and why, how long you’ll stay and you are on the way. No one has ever looked inside. Closest it has come is on the US when they ask “Is there anyone else in there with you.”
    Here is official Dept. of State info… http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html

  5. Sharlene Minshall

    Have criss-crossed beautiful Canada many times and have also found Canadians to be extremely friendly and helpful. Love our differences. As far as crossing the border, they have come into my RV several times, looking and asking questions, always polite, but very businesslike. Best bet is to go on the Internet ahead of time and find out what the list is of what they are not allowing at the moment. For sure, don’t take a gun across the border.

  6. Michel Simard

    Many big name or product are from Canada like Michael J Fox, Pamela Herderson, Thomson Reuters, BlackBerry, Shoppers Drug Mart, Tim Hortons, Bell, Bombardier ()Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo), Canadair, Maple syrup, Electricity surplus, Wood, Iron, Aluminum, Water, Blueberry, Québecor (ColorWorld Printing), copper, Roadtrek and more.

    Welcome in my country

  7. Thank You Mike for the great tips on Canada. I always enjoy performing for my Canadian friends that visit here in Hawaii. They are such fun when they are in my audience. I always reminisce with them about my love for Canada and how I always enjoyed going into Windsor, Ontario via the Ambassador Bridge or the Windsor Tunnel. I used to drive up from Flint, Michigan where I spent most of my younger years. If I ever get back, I definitely will not be driving my old HiIlman Minx. I’ll be driving a Roadtrek. I don’t recall though, ever needing a passport to drive into Canada (in the early 60’s). Reading your article brought back such great memories. Thanks again for all your on the road reporting! Aloha

  8. Christine Ducey

    My husband and I spent some time in the Portland area before driving into Vancouver Canada. We had visited some nice Oregon and Washington wineries and had about a case of wine that we intended to take with us to Canada. Fortunately my husband checked the the customs requirements before we left! We found a company that would ship our wine home. (We were able to keep a couple of bottles.) So the lesson is to check what you can and cannot take in advance. I think since Canada is our neighbor we are not as careful as when we return from overseas.

  9. Debbie Broadstreet

    Thanks for the info on RVing in Canada. We have not been yet, and were wondering about the details. Wow! You answered all our questions clearly…and with humor. Humor makes traveling more fun. You nailed it, Mike!

  10. Hi,

    I so enjoy your postings and your great information, but I must take issue with this entry. You are wrong about Canadians on many counts.

    I suspect you are doing what so many others have done and that is to decide on the character of all Canadians by the actions and words of a very few. Painting us all with the same brush, as it were.

    That is sad.

    Come west, young man (past Ontario)…and learn about the western Canadians who say “out and about” exactly the same way you do, who own not just ONE gun, but many, many guns…and who will use them just like our American counterparts use them.

    To clarify further, I have lived in three Canadian provinces and have never heard the term, “onroute.” What the heck is that?

    Yes, Tim Hortons rules…and those of us who are thinking Canadians cannot fathom the idiots who wait in a car line-up running their vehicles when they could hop out of their car (stop burning costly gas) and get their coffee inside.

    There are “beer stores”…but mostly there are “liquor stores” and they have all kinds of fun names like Liquor Barn and
    Sally’s Spirit Wine & Beer Shoppe. The outlets are open nearly 24 hours, 7 days a week, and are always located near other stores making it redundant to sell alcohol in convenience or grocery stores.

    “You know they spell differently, eh?” Yes, we do spell some words differently in keeping with our British heritage. But something we do not do (unless we are a dork on some comedy show) is say, “eh,” at the ends of our sentences. It is very low-brow and insulting to think that we Canadians as a group do so.

    BTW, we love American accents…all of them and only make fun of the ones that harken from Minnesota. :)

    To be blunt, hockey makes some of us want to spew our soup. A completely idiotic sport that pays men way too much money to slap around a piece of rubber.

    Canadians are an apathetic group…thus our international image of being peaceful. No, Canadians are not more patriotic than Americans; we marvel at the extreme patriotism of our neighbors to the south of us. You will never see one of us remove our hat and place our hand over our hearts when the national anthem is sung like you folks do. In fact, some of us don’t even stop and stand to attention like we were taught to do as kids when “O Canada” is played from the loudspeaker.

    Eastern Canada has two languages that are spoken regularly, especially in Quebec which is a French province, but in the west…you will hear many, many languages…from all over the world.
    But mostly you will hear English.

    Most Canadians I know own an iPhone; Blackberries fell by the wayside long ago.

    As to the average Canadian laughing at American politics, only if they say, “eh,” at the ends of their sentences. Otherwise, your politics are taken very seriously since we know that every move the American government makes affects Canadians in the long run.

    In short, the average Canadian is just like the average American. We work hard, we play hard, we celebrate victories, and we make mistakes, but mostly we enjoy the freedom vested to us by our dogged pioneer ancestors.

    Thanks again. As a newbie RV owner, I have enjoyed your articles and your adventures.

    Wishing you a blessed and happy life filled with wonderful adventures, new friends, and many great memories.

    Sincerely, eh! :)
    Sheree (one half of the Canadian Gypsy Turtles)

    PS It is also spelled, “twonie.”

  11. Andrew & Michelle

    Love this post – and the comments! Great information. We’re an English couple, planning a 6-month RV trip Round the US & Canada March-October 2014. Great to find out good places to cross over the border.
    Does anyone have any insight on RVing cross border with dogs? We are bringing our 2. They are getting rabies and other shots bere in the UK to get their pet passports which will get them into the US (we’re flying with Delta) but we don’t know how possible it will be to take them into Canada and back into the US again.
    Would be grateful for any tips.