10 Things About Canada the Rest of the World Finds Weird

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Oh, Canada! It’s the second biggest country by land mass, and it’s a diverse land with mountains, plains and the most fresh water lakes in the world. This weekend, 35 million Canadians will celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday.

Canadians are proud of their culture, which includes two official languages, and their heritage. And the one thing that they want the whole world to understand is that they are not Americans.

10. Why Do Canadians Say “Eh!” So Often?

Many countries around the world use the interjection “eh” as a replacement for “pardon?” or “huh,” or a question tag, like “right?” In Canada, though, the word is much more versatile. An assistant professor at St. Francis Xavier School in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, found there are 10 ways that Canadians use the interjection:

  1. Statement of opinion: The Leafs are probably gonna miss the playoffs again, eh?
  2. Statements of fact: There’s a Harvey’s on the corner, eh?
  3. Commands: Make my side of fries a poutine, eh?
  4. Exclamations: Roll up the Rim is back at Tim’s, eh?
  5. Questions: What are the Jays doing now, eh?
  6. To mean ‘pardon’: Eh? What did you say?
  7. In fixed expressions: I know, eh?
  8. Insults: You’re a real hoser, eh?
  9. Accusations: You took the last maple dip, eh?
  10. Telling a story [the narrative eh]: “So Gordy’s been drinking Pilsner and pounding CC for a few hours eh? and he goes and gets the key to the Zamboni…

With such a versatile word that anyone can say, what is weird is that other countries don’t use it more often.

9. What’s the Deal with the Tragically Hip?

Canada has given the world a wide arrange of musical artists like Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Nickelback, Drake, The Weeknd, The Arcade Fire, and Bryan Adams, just to name a few. While Canadians aren’t exactly proud of all those acts, one band that is embraced by a lot of Canadians is The Tragically Hip, or simply known as The Hip.

While they had some success outside of Canada, like appearing on the Billboard top 200 (but no higher than 129) and being on Saturday Night Live, outside of Canada they wouldn’t necessarily be considered rock stars. In Canada though, the band was worshiped.

Sadly, in 2016, the band’s charismatic front man, Gord Downie, announced that he had terminal brain cancer. On August 20, 2016, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired the band’s last show, commercial free, live from the band’s hometown, Kingston, Ontario. In total, over 11 million Canadians tuned in. That’s a third of all Canadians. The only recent events that were more popular were the last two gold medal hockey games in the Olympics when Canada was playing (and won, which Canadians like to point out).

So, what’s the deal? Why do so many Canadians love The Hip? One reason is that The Hip often sang about Canada and Canadian topics, like hockey, Canadian political figures, the changing Canadian identity, and small towns that Canadians didn’t know existed until The Hip sang about them.

Secondly, the band was a strange embodiment of Canada. Downie is a humble and soft spoken man, but on stage, he is quirky, expressive, and passionate. Their music was the same way. It was a mix of rock and folk, nothing too flashy, but soulful with a Canadian accent.

Another reason they were so loved in Canada probably stems from the fact that they weren’t popular in the United States, which made them Canada’s band. An ongoing theme you’ll see throughout this list is that sometimes Canadians look down their noses at Americans and many Canadians definitely want to be different from Americans, and The Hip is symbolic of that. It’s not that Americans rejected The Hip, it’s that Americans don’t understand them, just like they don’t understand universal health care and gun control.

Finally, it also doesn’t hurt that they have some excellent songs.

All of this comes together to make The Hip the ideal band for Canadians.

8. What’s Up Canadian Currency?

The Canadian one dollar coin is commonly called a loonie, because there is a picture of a common loon, which is a bird, on one side of it. So when the $2 bill was discontinued and the $2 coin was introduced and it featured a polar bear on it, following the same logic that a loon appears on a loonie, then a coin with a polar bear on it should be called something like a bearie, right? Nope! They call it a toonie. No real reason for it; the nickname just stuck.

As for what is on the other side of the coin, it’s the profile of Queen Elizabeth II’s head. The face of the reigning British monarch has appeared on Canadian coins ever since the Royal Canadian Mint started production in 1908. They do this because Canada and the British Monarchy have a rather complicated relationship that we’ll get into in the next entry.

Another confusing aspect of Canadian currency is that there are no pennies. It was eliminated in 2013, because it cost 1.6 cents to make every one cent piece. Also, pennies were only used to make change because the denomination was too small to buy anything. Instead of a penny, the price of something is just rounded to the closest 5 cent denomination. This is only for cash transactions. If you pay with credit or debit, then cents still count.

Finally, yes, their money is colorful. It’s also see through in some areas, contains braille, and it is supposed to be unrippable and unmeltable. That is because the money is polymer based and not made cotton and paper. And yes, on their money they have a picture of kids playing hockey. It’s found on the $5 bill.

7. Canada Has a Queen?

Yes, it does – Queen Elizabeth II. However, the relationship between Canada and the Queen is quite confusing to many people, including Canadians themselves.

Canada is an independent and sovereign country, as they were granted independence on July 1, 1867, but it stayed in the British Empire. Also, their parliamentary system is based on the Westminster system that was developed in the United Kingdom. The system has a British sovereign as the Head of State, so Canada’s parliament followed suit and put a British sovereign as the Head of State. As the years progressed and Canada continued to take steps toward sovereignty, they simply didn’t get rid of the British sovereign, even when they became a completely sovereign nation in 1982.

Today, the Queen, or whoever is the reigning monarch, is a symbolic Head of State and they have no real power. Also, to remove the British monarch as the Head of State would be a lengthy and ultimately expensive legal process. So unless something really drastic happens, Canada will probably have a British monarch for the foreseeable future.

6. Why is Milk Sold in Bags?

Throughout Ontario and Eastern Canada, the majority of milk is sold in bags. Usually there are three 0.35 gallon bags sold in one bigger bag. Bags in bags? Yes, it’s true: Canadians practice bagception. Anyway, the bags are then put into milk bag holders, often made of plastic, and then either one or both corners of the bag are cut off (some people think it pours better with two holes).

The reason they use bags instead of jugs comes down to one of the major differences between the United States and Canada, which is that Canada adopted the metric system in 1970. This was a problem because Canadian products, like milk, needed to be sold in liters (technically, litres in Canada) instead of gallons. However, major alterations needed to be made to the milk bottling machines to do liter quantities.

A solution to the problem had been invented in the 1960s, when DuPont discovered a way to inject milk into bags. The milk bagging machines didn’t need much in the way of alterations, and by 1978, milk in bags was the most common way to buy milk in Ontario. It grew in popularity because bags are easier to ship, less fragile, and less packaging is used. All of this saves money, making it the most economical way to ship milk.

5. What’s the Deal Canadian Sports?

In many parts of Canada, it can get very cold in the winter, and while Canadians will complain about the cold, they often embrace it and celebrate it. In fact, two of Canadians’ favorite games are winter games that are played on ice. The first, which should be obvious, is ice hockey. According to a national poll, 53% of Canadians are fans of the NHL. Compare that to the Americans and the NFL, where only 49 percent of Americans consider themselves a fan of the NFL.

However, what is odd is that Canada doesn’t have a national professional hockey league. They do have the Canadian Hockey League, which comprises of three junior leagues. Junior means that the players are between the ages of 16 and 21. But beyond that, they don’t have a place for professionals over the age of 21 to play, like the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Eurasia, or even the United States, which has the American Hockey League; a farm system for the NHL. There is currently only one Canadian team in the AHL, the Toronto Marlies.

Perhaps you’re thinking that isn’t that weird; Canada only has a population of 35 million people and maybe they can’t sustain a professional hockey league. Well, that may be true, but they do have their own professional football league and basketball league.

The Canadian Football League (CFL) has nine teams (that’s not a typo, they have an odd number of teams), and they play a 20 week schedule. Its rules are similar to the rules of the NFL, except the balls are bigger, the goal lines are 110 yards apart, the end zones are 20 yards, and they have one less down. As for the Canadian Basketball League, it was started in 2011 and has 10 teams.

The second winter sport that Canadians love is a game more boring to watch than golf. That is curling. There are a million people in the world that curl, and 90 percent of them are in Canada. In case you’re wondering, yes, some curlers are celebrities in Canada.

4. Why Does Canada Have Different Flavored Chips?

Yes, some Canadian brands of chips have flavors based on Canadian food like poutine and maple syrup, but they also have two flavors that are made by Frito-Lay that aren’t Canadian in nature, but are rarely found outside of Canada. These are ketchup and all dressed.

Ketchup is pretty self-explanatory, except that they don’t really have an overwhelming ketchup taste. They are sweet, but also very salty.

The reason that ketchup chips are popular in Canada, but aren’t found anywhere else is because, for decades, the bestselling brand of chips in Canada was the Canadian-based Hostess Potato Chips and one of their most popular flavors was ketchup. In the 1980s, Hostess teamed up with Frito-Lay, and eventually the Hostess brand lost its value, and their chips, which included ketchup chips, were re-branded as Lay’s.

The second kind, which was sold for a short time in the United States in 2015 (and can still be found in stores now and then) is all dressed. It’s a combination of paprika, tomato, salt, vinegar, onion, sour cream, ketchup, and barbecue, which gives it a sweet and salty taste that is hard to explain. Nevertheless, it’s quite popular in Canada. According to Ruffles’ website, all dressed is the #1 flavor of chip in Canada. Unfortunately, we could not find out why all dressed is only available in Canada. However, based on speculation alone, it could be because all dressed has ketchup seasoning and as we just mentioned, ketchup chips are usually only found in Canada.

3. Why Do They Always “Sorry”?

Besides “Eh,” another word Canadians use a lot is “sorry.” However, that can often be followed up with an “eh.” Also like “eh,” “sorry” is a versatile word to Canadians. In the book How To Be A Canadian (Even If You Already Are One), there is a whole chapter on mastering the word. They identified 12 different ways it can be used: simple, essential, occupational, subservient, aristocratic, demonstrative, libidinous, ostentatious, mythical, unrepentant, sympathetic, and authentic.

One reason that Canadians apologize is that it’s part of their culture of politeness, but it’s also a quick way to smooth over problems and keep relationships positive.

Another theory is that Canadians do it as a way to show that they aren’t Americans. As Joseph Brean from the National Post wrote, sorry is “…a totem of niceness, with a sly undertone of superiority. It announces both our presence and the fact we feel slightly bad about it. It also subtly asserts that, cultural appearances notwithstanding, we are not American.”

He also says that it is different from the empty “Sorry!” that British people say, which is where Canada inherited much of its language, and it is also much different than the American John Wayne style of forgiveness being weakness.

2. What’s The Deal With Poutine?

To many non-Canadians, or people who have never tried it, poutine can look pretty unappetizing. When Jay Pritchett saw it on Modern Family, he said, “Well, it looks like vomit, so I’m not pou-tine it in my mouth.” Fair enough. After all, it’s gravy made from animal fat, or even better, mushroom and root broth that is mixed with flour, and then poured over fries with cheese curds sprinkled on it. So yes, it’s crispy fries with a liquid poured over it, which sounds like a soggy mess. However, if Canadians even see a picture of poutine, some of them will start to drool like Homer Simpson.

Poutine is available at many fast food restaurants in Canada like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Harvey’s, which is a Canadian fast food chain. Even Costco serves in at their food court. Of course, there is even a chain of restaurants that exclusively sells poutine. Oddly enough though, you can’t get poutine at Tim Horton’s.

The origins of poutine is debated, but the adding of cheese curds to fries and gravy is often credited to Bernand Lachance of Café Ideal in Warwick, Quebec. In 1957, regular customer Eddy Lainesse asked for the cheese curds to be added to gravy and fries, and Lachance said, “ça va te faire une maudite poutine!” (that will make a damned mess!). From there, the popularity of the dish grew and it has become the most famous Canadian food. As for why it’s so popular, that’s because it’s delicious.

1. Why Are Canadians So Polite?

One stereotype you hear is that Canadians are always nice and polite. However, if you were to ask Canadians if this is true, they would deny it, or say the stereotype is overblown. (And then they’d probably apologize for potentially seeming curt.)

So is it true? And if so, why are they so polite?

An article by Cassandra Szklarski of the Canadian Press tried to answer those questions, but the problem is that measuring niceness across a country is really hard to do. In one attempt to measure it, researchers compared the language used on Twitter by Canadians and Americans. They found that the words used by Canadians were gentler, nicer, and more positive.

On the other hand, as we mentioned, Canadians tend to think of themselves as superior to Americans. They may not flat out say it, especially if there are Americans around, but behind closed doors, Canadians can stereotype Americans as ignorant, gun-toting, warmongering, religious zealots, who drink weak beer (they even have a popular country song about the beer part).

For example, on a segment on a satirical news show on the government subsidized CBC, comedian Rick Mercer would interview Americans and ask them about untrue and ridiculous things about Canada. For example, he would ask Americans to record a congratulatory message to Canada on building a dome over the national igloo. He even got then-Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee to say it. He also got George W. Bush, who was running for president, to thank Prime Minister Jean Poutine for his support. The segments were so popular it was made into a one hour special. Is that nice?

So, while it is debatable if Canadians are nice or not, what is even less clear is why the stereotype exists. One guess is something called the Fragment Theory, which is when a colonial country keeps some old world sensibilities. This made Canadians conservative and deferential, which could be construed as polite. A second theory is that the foundation of Canada was English, French, and Aboriginal people who coexisted with each other using tolerance and politeness, and those traditions have carried on into modern Canadian society.

Finally, it could just be because Canada is a vast place and the elements can be harsh. Let’s say someone’s car breaks down on some rural road in Northern Ontario, where cell service is spotty at best, on a cold winter’s night. The person has to hope that the next car that comes along stops to help or things could get really bleak. So perhaps Canadians are nicer because the elements of their country make them more dependent on their fellow Canadian, so being tolerant and polite to others was, and is, a matter of survival to Canadians because you never know who the next person coming down the road is.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website, or his true crime YouTube channel.


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5 Comments

  1. I can answer some of these. We call it a Toonie because it’s a TWO dollar coin but we spell it like Loonie. They’re talking about changing our $5 bill to a Foonie. Ha ha! Just kidding about that one. Our bills suck. They are made of polymer and when you unfold them, there are no creases…they just kind of curl. They’re a pain in cash registers because they’re all curling up and out. As for Poutine, yes it looks a bit gross but OMGITSFREAKINGDELICIOUS! Pennies were useless and they cost more to make than they were worth so buh-bye. We say Sorry because we are polite and when you bump into someone you don’t just ignore them. That’s rude. And we are polite because that’s the way people should be 🙂

    Speaking of rude, what’s up with Americans saying Uh-huh instead of You’re Welcome?

  2. Johnny Canuck on

    We’re not nice – we just recognize that at the end of the day – we’re all in this together, eh?

  3. The AHL fact is inaccurate. Canada had Toronto, Manitoba and St. John’s in the AHL last season, and for this coming season, they’ll have Toronto, Manitoba, Laval and Belleville.

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