Moving to the other side of the world was always going to be a culture shock. Although Canada is very similar to the UK in a lot of respects, there are plenty of things that have taken me aback, that I’m still getting used to, or that I just find a bit strange.
Some of them are big, some of them are small, and most of them are pretty random observations, but join me as we delve into some cultural differences in Canada vs the UK.
Adding tax onto everything
I know this happens all throughout the States too, but this STILL throws me off. In the UK, the shelf price is what you pay. I often count out my money and hand exact change over to the cashier. Here? I have NO idea what it’s going to cost. $1.90? I get my toonie ready. Oh no, that’ll be over $2, thanks.
But not everything even gets taxed the same, and then there’s liquor tax and other types of tax, too.
Banks are open until 7pm & open on Sundays
Now this was weird to me! Only in the past 10 years have a few, select banks in the UK started opening on Saturdays, usually only for 3 or 4 hours. During the week, they are pretty much open 9am – 5pm, or thereabouts. Here, not only are some banks open until 7 or even 8pm, but they’re open all day Saturday & Sunday, too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s REALLY handy, but very strange to me that they offer this service!
Another weird thing about banks? They (or at least CIBC) give you a credit card, even if you’re on a temporary visa. My advisor and I had quite a discussion about how crazy it is that people not really officially living in the country can borrow money without even asking to!
ATMs are indoors and not always open
When I moved into my new place, I researched where to get cash out. This in itself is weird to me because in the UK, we can get cash out at any machine, 24/7, because they’re outside the banks. I found that there was a CIBC right next to Commercial Broadway, and thought perfect. Well I go there at like 9pm, and don’t you know it’s closed. CLOSED! I CANNOT GET MONEY AFTER 8PM. I have to apologise to my brand new landlord and ask if I can pay him tomorrow! What the hell, Canada?!
So I had this discussion with my friend here in Vancouver.
“Why is it spelled Donair?”
“Because… that’s how it’s spelled? And we invented donair!”
“…………It’s spelled döner, and it was invented in like, Turkey.”
So what is donair and is it actually different to döner, and did Canada really invent it, and WHAT is he talking about!?
On some further research, I’ve found that it is just a Canadian variation, similar to Greek gyros, but other than that I have no idea what the difference is! And I may never find out, because I don’t really like kebabs – even when I’m drunk! (Am I even British?)
Fun fact about Donair: it’s the official food of Halifax, Nova Scotia! (Presumably only if it’s spelled like that)
So many rollerbladers
Along with being one of the major bicycle cities of the world, Vancouver seems to hoard its fair share of rollerbladers. I cannot tell you how many I’ve seen whizzing around Stanley Park, but I can tell you it’s more than I’ve ever seen, anywhere. In fact, I don’t really know anyone who’s rollerbladed since about 2003. So go you, Canada, for keeping a fun trend going that also keeps you fit and lets you get places really fast!
Okay, so I am one of those people who gets annoyed when people don’t tip. Although it’s not really customary in the UK, I think most people do round up, and I always tip around 10% (not the 20% that’s expected here in Canada). I was really surprised here to see that when you pay by card, it goes through all the options for tipping by percentage or by amount, and it even lets you select “10%” “15%” “20%” etc, with the amount it’ll add on. In my experience in the UK, if we pay for food by card, we pay the bill and then leave a cash tip.
Anyway, the one thing I don’t get here is tipping bartenders. I’ve never had to do that, anywhere in the world. (In the US I think I’ve only really had drinks with a meal, where I’m tipping anyway) It just confuses me that I go into a bar here and not only are the drinks pretty expensive as it is, you then of course get the tax added on and THEN you tip as well! So a $10 cocktail can end up costing you closer to $15.
Which brings me onto…
Paying for your drinks at the end
I have a confession to make. The other night, I had some drinks with some work friends after we’d finished. It was a hostel event and we even got some free drinks thrown in. One of my friends got a message just as we were catching the bus home: “you forgot to pay for your drinks!!!!”
By which she meant I had forgotten to pay for my drinks.
Thankfully, the bar is sort of part of the hostel and we know the owner, so the second I got into work the next day I ran down to the bar red-faced and apologetic. He laughed, but I realised how easy it is to do. I guess this is partly why so many quick-service restaurants in the UK get you to pay when you order now, but I am fine with paying for food at the end – because that’s what I’m used to. What I don’t understand is when you’re just having drinks – but then that’s probably what Canadians are used to. In the UK, you go into a bar; you order a drink; you pay; you drink; you leave. Easy.
Here, even if you just order one drink, they give you a bill at the end. I guess it’s just part of the culture. But I don’t understand in a huge, busy bar, how it could be difficult to just get up and leave without paying. I’m not going to try it – at least… not deliberately! But I assume they don’t do this in clubs (actually… they do in Portugal!), so why automatically start a tab just for drinks?
Weed shops… EVERYWHERE
Marijuana is legal in Vancouver, which despite being an anti-smoker when it comes to regular tobacco, I think is great. But it’s sooo weird seeing shops for it everywhere. Most of them act as medicinal dispensaries, but in reality you just have to show ID to get it. A bit like guns in the US, except more peaceful. (I’m not saying guns are medicinal, by the way. Never mind, you get the analogy. Ha ha. Move on.) My favourite is probably one that I pass on the bus that has a big A-board outside advertising “cannabis for dogs”. Like, LEGIT.
Oh, and this.
My first week included 4/20, which as you can imagine is a huge event in a place where it’s all legal, and all sorts of places were running 4/20 deals… including, for example, pizza places offering $4.20 pizzas! (Plus tax, presumably)
I’m becoming pretty desensitised to it all now that I’ve been here for a while, but it’s still pretty bizarre to me!
Some places ONLY take credit cards
I guess this is why they give credit cards to backpackers.
On my flight with Canadian airline Westjet, they didn’t take pounds and you could only pay by credit card. That’s how I’ve ended up carrying an extra £10 note with me, when a guy opposite me bought some food and handed over a debit card. He didn’t own a credit card, so he couldn’t get food on our 8 hour flight, soz lol. I was getting food too, so I added his onto my order and paid so that he could give me the cash. I found the whole experience so bizarre, but it wasn’t the last.
When I went to the cinema with my housemate a few weeks ago, we parked up and he suddenly goes, “oh shit, I have no money on me”. “That’s alright, I’ve got my card,” I said, cheerily. Naively, you might say. At that point, I didn’t have my Canadian credit card, and I hadn’t brought my UK credit card out with me that night, because, you know, I thought I probably wouldn’t need it. Want to park here? Credit card only, thanks.
He ended up having to drive somewhere else and miss the start of the film! (Oh, it was only Infinity War, one of the biggest hyped up movies of 2018, no biggie.)
I’ve also heard that BC Ferries, one of the biggest ferry companies in the world, doesn’t accept debit card. What is this shit? In the UK, it’s pretty much the opposite! Anywhere that accepts cards is more likely to take debit than credit.
Speaking of the cinema though…
You can’t book seats at the cinema
Unless you’re booking a special showing like the uber-posh 3D AAX AVX whatever movies, you can’t book specific seats at the cinema. Several conversations with several different people have revealed that it’s possibly the UK that is strange here, but in my eyes (and all the people I’ve talked to) it’s something we’re actually ahead on.
“So you’re telling me,” I said, in every one of these conversations, “that if I were to book three seats for a movie, we’d have to turn up and just HOPE we can sit together?”
“Well… yeah, that’s how it works.”
“In the UK,” I continued in a I’ll-have-you-know voice, “if I were to book three seats, I can pick the seats and then we can turn up whenever we like because we know we’ve got the seats.”
Trains that you can sit at the front on
Okay, I’m not gonna lie, this is pretty awesome. I need to actually sit in the front seat and make a little video of going into downtown. When you look out the front, it almost feels like you’re on a little rollercoaster! And it’s kinda cool when you’re underground and you can see the station getting closer in the tunnel. I dunno, it’s the little things sometimes!
Anyway, all the trains/metros in Vancouver are totally automated. I’m not sure how I feel about this; relying fully on technology rather than humans. It means the train is going to leave no matter if you’re running for your life for it, which the way people hurl themselves into trains as it does the little “ding ding diiiiiing”, I feel could cause loss of limb or something. Considering just how busy Commercial station gets, are we sure there’s time for the entire train to empty and then fill again?
However, it also means that the trains are pretty much always on time, which makes it very handy when I’m commuting for a connection with a bus.
It also makes it very unhandy when, on the way back, my bus is late and it misses the train – because the train don’t gon’ wait.
And on a related note…
How rude people are at train stations
Canadians, living up to their true stereotype, are so polite. On public transport, as that’s what we’re talking about, virtually everyone thanks the driver. It barely takes seconds for everyone to stand up to give their seat to someone. Strangers chat on the buses. In a city. What is this place, Fantasy land?
So why in God’s name is it so damn difficult to let people off the train first? In the UK, this is just common practice. You stand to one side of the door, everyone descends onto the platform, and then you get on the train.
Apparently this seemingly impossible nicety is not universal.
No, here I have to brace myself when I’m getting off a train. Yesterday, a middle aged man ACTUALLY WALKED THROUGH ME as he barged his way onto the train. The smarmy looking bitch behind him did the same because obviously it was really important that she get where she’s going and I’m just in her way. I was so shocked that I shoved both of them away from me just to get out, because now the crowd was piling up behind them and I was actually trapped. What the HELL, Vancouver?! Is it really that hard to stand to one side for two seconds? If Londoners can do it, I’m sure you bloody well can!
How can such a lovely collection of people turn into absolute monsters when getting on a train? I will never understand.
Not being able to find squash (juice) ANYWHERE
Back home, I usually drink the stuff you dilute with water – you know, the bottles that cost a pound or two and last for weeks. I could really do with that here.
Instead, I’m spending that pound or two almost every day on fruit juice or fruit flavoured water. Not only is it 10 times more expensive, it’s also 10 times more wasteful than what I use back home; something I’m really trying to cut down. Plus we have to pay a 5c deposit on each one, and do I ever get around to returning them? Of course I don’t.
There are so many other subtle differences I’ve found. Why is cheese so expensive? Why is DEODORANT so expensive??! And how cool is it that there are so many market shops with fruit & veg that’s cheaper (and usually better) than the supermarkets?
None of these have really impacted my experience here in Canada, they’re just observations I’ve made over the past few weeks. I find it fun finding differences between here and back home, too!