Abroad (Uni)Life: Canadian Adjustments

I have been living in Canada for about 2 months now, and even though it is an anglophone, neighbouring nation to the United States, I have observed some notable differences between the USA and the Great White North. Sure.

There are a shit load of similarities like the everyday language, general standard of living, and a love of fattening food (poutine is life!). However, there are fun differences on the surface one notices after living a bit of time in this the county. Not surprisingly, subversive ideals abound in Canada that do not exist south of the border as well.

A snapshot of uni (clockwise): the Etsy fair in downtown Vancouver, a night in Kitsilano, the list of ingredients from this year’s Canadian Thanksgiving,
the line at Tim Horton’s that kills me every Friday, and a corner of my dormitory.
(Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Don’t believe me? Let us explore these topics (from most obvious to least). Shall we begin?

They’re Different Countries … Really!

Most Americans, I think, need to take this seriously – Canada is a different country and a great one at that. As their southern neighbours, we, Americans, enjoy certain privileges like generally fast border crossings and the acceptance of US dollars especially in the border towns. It seems sometimes like the customs checks are just a formality. Nevertheless, the United States and Canada are distinct! Look at their governments, holidays, and economies!

The most recent Canadian elections were in October (and can occur technically in any month), not just in November, and the Prime Minister, not President, can remain as such indefinitely as long as he or she receives the most votes in the election regardless of time already spent in office. Additionally, the topics of current political debate are dissimilar.

Marriage equality legalisation (well it used to be thankfully), police brutality/bias with minorities, and gun control are American discussions today while present Canadian politics surround conversations like economic expansion vs environmental degradation and the distribution of wealth with the agents involved, the acceptance of refugees, and even at times, First Nations’ sovereignty and self determination. Oh so different.

Holidays and such …

Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October as well. And, guess what? It actually is Thanksgiving. I did not take it seriously, so when I went to the store the weekend before (since it always falls on a Monday!), I was dumbstruck that I could not find all the ingredients I needed for my makeshift, ceremonial dinner. Thank you, cultural relativity I suppose …

Some holidays synchronise dates like US Veterans’ Day, which coincides with Remembrance Day in Canada. However, a celebration called “Family Day” exists in different provinces, and institutions will close on these days! I learned this the hard way when I tried to speak with UBC international admissions persons while applying last year.

Canada exports. Canada is all about its raw goods and resources and has been since its colonisation (and even before it). It is not the US when it comes to production. On a more visual and basic level, the money comes in colours; bills are not just forest green. Recently, a friend in my First Nations and Endangered Language class even remarked how big my country’s quarters are compared to hers. CAD and USD do not hold the same worth either, which is still currently in my favour thankfully …
The two nations do not sound so similar do they anymore?

More Please!

Everything may actually be a little bigger in America. One of the more subtle changes for me moving up here is how much I am eating. I consume less, partially because I am on a student’s budget, but also because you simply receive less food on your plate in restaurants. I have noticed portion sizes are generally smaller. A whole thing of chicken wings for example will not satisfy me like it would in the US.

It may be just that I lived in the Midwest where portions were generally larger even compared to the rest of the country, but whatever the reason is, I am eating a little healthier and notably fewer wings …

Let’s Talk People (Demographics)

Canada has a much smaller population than the United States, and the distribution of its people is also unequal geographically. The three main cities, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, have so many more  residents than Canada’s more inner and northern territories.

For this reason unlike in the United States where one can list off a lengthy list of universities from BU to Kalamazoo (quite literally), talk on this matter in Canada mostly revolves around UBC, U of T, McGill, UVic and maybe Concordia. Fewer people, lesser known schools.

You meet people from towns and cities with quirky names that are not spoken of often too. Regina (like vagina). I will never get over that one. Mississauga is another fun name that pops up occasionally. It is not just foreigners though; Canadians often find lesser known Canadian town and city names comical as well. Dildo (an actual name) comes to mind on this discussion.

More seriously, even if you meet a good amount of people, chances are they will be unevenly distributed from cities you have heard of or at least know a little about. I have noticed you do not meet many from interior Canada; the coasts have a tendency to overshadow.

Multiculturalism vs ‘Murica!

Both Canada and the United States are nations built upon immigrants upon immigrants (and Native peoples as well!), but the manner in which newcomers have integrated into each respective country have historically been different.

Canada loves its multiculturalism. Politicians mention this value rhetorically in speeches, but this notion is also visible in the day to day, especially in Vancouver.

Going out to a bar with some friends, we watched a hockey game during what happened to be Punjabi night on the station. When would that happen in the United States? I don’t know. Though federal Canada does little for its living indigenous languages, it does like to promote its bilingual French status, and Québécois identity is strong and autonomous. Not many are ever simply Canadian.

In contrast, the United States loves to indoctrinate its immigrants into the already established culture, americanizing them. Say goodbye to the old country and hello to the red, white and blue. Newcomers are encouraged to assimilate into the United States as fast as possible while immigrants to Canada do not relinquish their cultures as easily in the first generations. How different it would be if my family had come to Canada instead of the United States.

One of the draws for me to UBC and Vancouver in general is the prevalence and attention to Native (or First Nations as they call it here) issues and communities. I have learned that not all is well, and contemporary issues of land claims, representation, and missing persons particularly women are discussions often argued with or ignored by the White Canadian powers that be. But in general, there is far more exposure and acknowledgement of aboriginal culture and modern debate on these topics in Canada at least compared to the general atmosphere of discourse in the United States.

There are levels of reconciliation that Canada meets that the United States has not even come close to yet. The Canadian government, though some would say half heartedly, recently made an apology to the First Nations communities affected by the forceful implication of residential schools; I do not believe the US has ever made such a statement.

Canada is sounding pretty different now isn’t it? Do not misinterpret the implications of this statement. Canada isn’t a perfect country, but it does have a leg up, so to speak, on the United States in certain fields.

When I tell people I am from America, international friends who are not Canadian say they feel safer here at UBC than they would at a school in the US as a result of the amount of shootings that take place in my country.

However, many international students do blur the the two countries together at times.

Friends were confused that Thanksgiving was in October, assuming that it would be in November like in the United States.

Perhaps the US is just louder when it comes to spreading its culture and views …

Midterms are ending (thank goodness). I will be able to write longer, more in-depth articles soon! Get ready to learn more about Canadian life, Vancouver, and my upcoming trips to Rwanda and Israel. Did I forget to mention that last part? Stay tuned. Oh. And, happy Halloween!