Travelling in Canada as a foreigner can be an eye-opening experience. There’s plenty of aspects that make Canada unique, however there are also plenty of similarities between the US and Canada, although this is a notion strongly denied by most Canadians you will meet. Being South African, most of the differences I found between Canada and my country of origin were quite extreme, but there were also a few minor details that could be missed by some when visiting the land of maple syrup, bears and hockey.
People from Africa are highly familiar with wildlife as there is a great abundance of it across the land. However, African wild animals are generally contained behind enclosed fences in game parks, while the smaller animals that run free are fairly reserved and steer clear of populated areas. Baboons are a regular sight in mountainous areas and you might hear a story of a leopard having ventured into a garden perhaps once in a blue moon, but on the whole you will need to go looking for wildlife. This wasn’t the case in Canada. We had numerous encounters with brown bears, some particularly close as I almost walked slap-bang into one when rounding the corner of a building. I also had a few run-ins with raccoons. One that sticks out in the memory is one evening having left my window open in the living room. While lying in bed I heard a crash. Being South African my mind immediately thought burglar, but when going out to investigate I discovered a raccoon going through my garbage.
For someone from a perceived plethora of wildlife I was finding Canada far more mammalian than I was accustomed to back home.
Observations on Canadians
Canadians are a proud bunch and thoroughly enjoy making their way out into their local bars and restaurants to enjoy a game of Ice Hockey while consuming beer, wings and nachos (I write here Ice Hockey because when asking a Canadian if it was ice or field hockey that he was referring to he was unaware that field hockey existed). I’ve travelled to a few countries around the world and found that Canadians are in general very responsible. There was never a time I visited a liquor store that I was not asked for an identification card. It was very common to be asked for ID at least twice before entering a club. But what really stood out for me was being denied entry into a bar due to all the seats being occupied. My protests that there was plenty of space to stand at the bar counter were brushed away, with the manager explaining that they have a restaurant licence, therefore the law required all patrons to be seated. I also had to laugh when I saw a mall assistant offering help to shoppers, a job occupied by a middle aged guy buzzing around on a pair of rollerblades kitted out with a bicycle helmet and every pair of pads known to man. The finishing touch was a flag similar to the ones you would see on a quad bike you ride in sand dunes attached to his belt so that people could see it above the heads. Any chance of a law suit had essentially been eliminated.
Lovers of Beer
Responsible they may be, but Canadians sure do love their beer. It was also a first for me to come across pitchers. While it is customary for the British to order a pint it appeared customary for Canadians to order one pitcher of beer and share it out. It was also the same with the nachos and wings. This led me to believe that it was a very sharing and welcoming nation. This can perhaps be seen by the melting pot of races and nationalities you see in Canada. While it is not alone in having areas where certain immigrants bunch, it is also unique in that more people all live amongst each other than all immigrants isolating themselves in respective areas in cities and towns. Having come from a country where race is still highly debated and remains a daily topic there was almost no mention of race on my entire trip. All religions also appeared to be highly respected, and you never got the impression that Canadians would criticise anyone of different origins to themselves. I once saw a Christmas tree being called a holiday tree in a supermarket in Toronto, and I assumed this was a generic term used to respect all religions.
The Great Outdoors
The sense of outdoor adventure is never far away in all areas of Canada. It’s a nation that is highly active and always eager to get outside. Smokers are almost made to feel like criminals in the country, with citizens never shying away from telling those puffing away on the border of the no-smoking zone to move further away. Mountain biking, hiking and visiting the parks are popular weekend activities. During the winter it obviously changes to winter sports in visiting the ski villages, while those on the flatter lands of places like Saskatchewan turn to sledding, hockey or ice skating.
People in Canada are just outright friendly and eager to help. The customer service is truly world class wherever you go. Perhaps this is a generalization, but I always experienced the highest efforts of shop assistants in trying to make my experience that bit better. I once had to ask a shop assistant to stop following me down the aisles as she was just so eager to help. From the tellers at the markets to the bus drivers, they always had a smile on their face when answering a question.
Africa is maybe years behind in terms of an online presence, but I have toured Europe and I was blown away by the ease of which internet is accessed. Most venues offer free Wi-Fi too instead of making you pay, while the people have really embraced their Internet age. Persons are seen skyping in restaurants, and while you still see commuters reading newspapers on busses and trains you’ll likely see more people on their phones and tablets. There is also no question of slow internet, and you virtually never without internet should you need it. We once visited a local casino, and as casinos are always packed in my home country we found it quite odd to see a casino floor almost empty. The dealer at the blackjack table seemed to think online casinos such as MobileCasinoCanada.ca were a cause for fewer people visiting land based casinos as the mobile age continues to rise.
Another reason for Wi-Fi being so accessible is that mobile data in Canada is really expensive. In fact, mobile phone usage is quite expensive in general. The most bizarre thing was having to pay money to your operator when people phoned you, and not only when you made a phone call.
People from Europe would probably notice the vast expanses of landscape in Canada. For such a geographically large country there is a relatively small population, leading to never ending horizons of uninterrupted views. There is just a feeling on peace when you’re in Canada. The country really has something for everyone, and the massive area means you can be travelling through mountains and then be driving along the flattest landscape you’ve ever seen. Winter can be unbelievably cold while summer could be better than any summer you’ve ever enjoyed.
The main thing that all foreigners will notice for every minute they’re there, however, is that they feel welcome.