Posted by: Kate | August 8, 2015

Canadian vs. American – It’s the Little Things

North America is a pretty unified continent. Here in Canada we watch 90% US television and movies, our bestsellers are generally the same, we eat mostly the same foods, listen to pretty much the same music, eat at most of the same fast food restaurants. Although as Canadians we like to think of ourselves as really different, if you travel around the world it is hard for most people to move beyond the stereotypes to tell you how those differences exist.

After traveling through 7 states, I have determined it is the little things that make the difference. Here are four, in no particular order.

How we measure. The US is on the imperial system, while here in Canada we are on the metric system. This makes figuring out the true cost of gas complicated (how many litres in a gallon, again?) and made it hard to judge time based on distance. Apparently I have a very good grasp of how long it takes to go, say 150km. 150 miles? Not such a good grasp! (Hint – it definitely takes longer to go 150 miles!) Speed limits weren’t a big issue, as our speedometer has miles and kilometres on it. But it was weird not seeing any signs with speeds over a hundred on the big highways (and yes, I know they are called freeways in the US – another word difference).

Where we stop to freshen up. In Canada, at least wherever I’ve lived or traveled, we refer to a bathroom, washroom or toilet. In the US it is universally referred to as a restroom. Which I find a little funny, because I don’t go in there to have a rest :)

Letters on the hillside. Please, one of my US friends, explain this to me. Does every town put its initial on a hillside nearby? We saw it in at least five of the states we visited. I’d really like to understand this one better. In Canada we do love our large and odd monuments (largest beaver, etc) but I don’t recall ever seeing the initials on a hillside.


Large flags. While Canadians are patriotic, and we really like our cool maple leaf flag, we obviously do not love our flag anywhere near as much as the people of the US love their flag. I had heard this before, but thought it was hyperbole. I was taken aback every time I saw a giant flag, and I saw a lot of them!

IMG_1527So there you have it. Some of the quirky little things that make you realize you’re not in your own, familiar country, as much as we all think we are becoming a part of the US culture. I assure you, based on my trip, we are not.

PS OK, one more thing. I know our money looks like monopoly money to a lot of other countries, but I’d never appreciated how it sure is easier to know what you are pulling out of your wallet when each of your denomination bills is a different colour! And getting pennies again was weird.



  1. Ah….YES. Of course coming from the other angle. I try to say that it’s harder working in a country that isn’t your own and people keep saying ‘but it’s Canada…which is basically the US’. Yes, but no. it’s the little differences that when I cross the border and get back to MY familiarity…it’s just easier.

    1. This is huge for me and while I still struggle a bit, especially at the beginning of a season…it’s harder to adjust than I ever realized. Kilometers instead of miles (although you still use the word mileage up here which cracks me up), gas prices by the liter instead of by the gallon (which to me is the ‘true’ price!), buying ziplocks labeled small, medium, large instead of pint, quart, gallon even though that’s what they are…and Celsius! It’s all what one is used to…
    2. No comment…I say bathroom even though I don’t go to have a bath. ;)
    3. This is really only common in the west that I’ve found. No idea how or why it started but it’s commonly a tradition for graduating seniors. Every year the students of the senior class will climb the hill and ‘freshen up’ the rock letter on the hillside to represent their town. Take a look at this link:
    4. I’m not exactly patriotic so the flag thing baffles me as well. If you think it’s bad in the west, never go to the south! ;)
    5. I have yet to learn the colors of your money so that one doesn’t help me. (although now that I think about it…i know them but generally ignore the color aspect since it’s so ingrained in me to look at the money). I used to hate that you had so many coins instead of paper money (but I LOVE no pennies!!!)…but now I’ve embraced that aspect because I treat the coins the same way as I do quarters etc in the states — throwing them in my cupholder. But a ‘pile’ of coins in Canada is worth way more than a same sized pile of US coins!

    I have many of these but here’s a couple of my own in retaliation. ;)
    1. it seems that there is a universal bump sign that covers all manner of road disturbances…from a tiny bump to an entire road section missing. I’ve now learned when I see a bump sign to slow WAY down because I may actually end up in a hole!
    2. Same brand, same company but in Canada, most things don’t have the easy pull top (like tortillas, packages of grated cheese etc…). You have to scissor them open. Working in the field without easy access to scissors, this drives me crazy…and I have to question…why the difference when it’s the same brand?
    3. Your peanut butter. Seriously? I have finally heard why it tastes so bad to us…Canadians don’t use peanut oil in peanut butter?!?!? I have learned to bring my own peanut butter every year.
    4. Why can’t companies put servings per container on their labels? We Americans are lazy and really hate doing the math! ;) Again — same companies, different labels,..what’s that all about?

    Okay, I’ll stop there but this is cracking me up. Us Americans (meaning me, John, and the gradate student) are constantly talking about these little differences and how they can be difficult…so it’s hilarious to me to hear the reverse!

    thanks for the fun!

    • Really? The peanut butter tastes different?! Wish I’d tried some down there now! Packaging – we noticed that ingredients aren’t always listed down there, but it’s a law up here. And the bump comment cracked me up, because we were constantly laughing at the giant bump signs posted anytime there was a slight bump in the road – I guess we’ve gotten used to finding any bump on our own ;-) So much fun to realize we have all these little oddities wherever we live.
      Oh, and for those of us who still remember paper one and two dollar bills, we also still feel like we get a major windfall when we empty the coin jar.
      Thanks for sharing from the other perspective!

      • it doesn’t say anything about peanut oil versus other oil…so that may be a myth…but this is interesting and written by a canadian…

        my guess is that we like what we are used to…so you may not like US peanut butter!

        and ingredient lists…huh? I thought it was a law in US too…the only thing I’ve not seen lists on was those small things that aren’t supposed to be resold as individual units. i’ll have to look more closely when I go home…

      • I realized that in my house we eat natural peanut butter anyhow – no added oil. And maybe junk food doesn’t have to put ingredients? I’m sure it was a bag of chips we were looking at.

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