Those of you who have followed my recent travel adventures through Canada will know that I have literally fallen head over heels with this country, and above all, its people. From some of the funniest and heart-warming comments all the way to some of the more thoughtful and reflected ones: Canadians have overwhelmed me with their wisdom, heart and respect for each other, as well as towards us visitors from abroad. Especially towards us, I feel! “That’s good to hear, Elena.” – “I am so glad you’ve had all these wonderful experiences here.” – “You are so lucky.” – “Oh that will be interesting to read your articles on the blog …!”
In the lead-up to preparing this post, I have talked a lot with my fellow travel mates, as well as new-found Canadian friends, on the little idiosyncrasies of being Canadian. That’s Western Canada speaking, as I have moved from Vancouver to Winnipeg during the first five weeks of my trip in North America. It will be interesting to see what I observe in the Eastern part of the country later on ..! 🙂
And after all: “Isn’t this the way it should be?!” Or: The absolute, utter, and indisputable friendliness, and hospitality, of Canadians at every turn.
Every time I talk to Canadians about just how friendly everyone is, and how easy travelling becomes in a country of such a positive attitude and welcoming nature, they all go: “Oh, we’re all pretty friendly here …” And also: “Isn’t this the way it should be?!”, in an almost wide-eyed, innocent way. Now I am not one to burst their bubble, as I generally do make a point of telling and sharing how beautiful the world is, but it does need to be said: Canadians are definitely over-the-mark friendly. And so genuine at that. Their openness, I believe, is never superficial, but always genuine.
And this is the very conclusion about the Canadian soul that always blows my mind on this journey: People are genuinely interested in you, in your journey, in helping you out, in going out of their way to make something possible for you.
No matter if it is taking the time to show you around APTN Aboriginal Peoples Television Network Headquarters in Winnipeg as their busy CEO, or reaching out in all warmth on Social Media and assisting with your travel plans in any ways possible: Canadians are likely to be found saying something like: “Well, I just thought you needed somewhere to stay, and we have plenty of room.”
“For sure, come and stay with us!” There is almost an insistence on having you stay with a local Canadian in their homes (and hearts).
What is more, the above is usually settled within a matter of five to fifteen minutes of conversation. Maximum! No matter whether this conversation takes place on Social Media (WhatsApp, Email, Facebook & the like) or in person, having or not having met does usually make no different for being invited into a Canadian family home. I have received the same gratitude, and openness, by people who I’ve contacted through a friend of a friend, or simply somebody mentioning someone to me, without knowing much at all in the first place. It is something that still blows my mind, every time I think of it.
“So when are you coming to Banff again, Elena? Second half of September? Oh you must stay with us, of course. We can’t wait to have you!” That’s who I now call, my beautiful Banff family, who have left a deep and profound impression on me, and make me want to go visit their homelands sooner rather than later again.
“Do you have a car?” … “You are taking the train across Canada?” – “You want to walk!?!”
Hahaha. This still makes me laugh, so much, at every occasion. Canadians, and close to US-Americans at that, do tend to believe you are nuts (!) at wanting to walk anywhere that is more than ten or fifteen minutes away. Especially in a city, I find! Now this must be a European thing, then, as we like to walk especially in our cities, what with getting a first feel for our surroundings and everything. So I always find myself smiling rather sheepishly at the Canadian in front of me, saying: “No no, it’s OK, trust me I do want to walk, it is fine if it takes 30 or 40 minutes, I’m from Europe, we like walking, it’s what I’m used to ..” Haha.
Of course, I first had to get my head round the fact that everyone in Canada describes distances in car driving minutes – not walking minutes. So beware if a Canadian points out that something is “only 10 minutes away”: It is usually driving distance, not walking distance they mean.
Then the train. As part of my Western Canada travel experiences, I have teamed up with the Canadian train company VIA Rail, enjoying an amazing trip across the Rockies as well as the Great Prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. “You are taking the train?!?” – “We usually fly. Or drive .. But the train?” – “Yes, we would easily drive somewhere for a night out to a place that’s two to three hours away. We would make it fun, and come back the same night.” – “Oh, you are going to Winnipeg? We used to drive there for the weekend .. After all, it is only six or seven hours away from my home town in Thunder Bay, Ontario …!” Yeah right, dear Adam. Still blows my mind every time someone like you says anything like that though. Must be a European, or essentially Austrian, thing about those crazy large distances in Canada, by comparison !!!
Why everything is always slightly more expensive than it seems.
Now here’s another word of advice, dear travelers to Canada. It might be a little thing, but let me help you out on not feeling quite as irritated as I did in the first days of arriving here: Canadians only add their tax money at the end of the bill. GST is never included automatically, as it is in Europe for instance. It means that, if something like a meal is advertised as $ 13.99, it will likely end up costing you, say, $ 15.75 on the final bill. And that goes with most items of purchase. The reason? “Oh, we have different taxes across Canada. Each province adds their own, in addition to the national taxes ..!” Ah … What?! Funny that, but if you want to learn more, you should consult my friend Eileen Chin from Vancouver, who is a certified tax consultant and knows to tell you all about it. Just for now, keep an eye on your budget and don’t be left wondering, why everybody always makes the bill seem more.
It is, however, also compensated by the likes of friendly bus drivers saying: “Just put whatever you have in coins in the machine.” (Never mind if you don’t have the exact spare change of $ 2.75 for a single bus ride in places like Kelowna, or Vancouver. Thank you, Mister bus drivers!).
The local lingo & other forms of cultural expression: Loonies, toonies, bunny hugs & “Oh, I’m so sorry. Sorry !!” And more …
In my head, “Canadian” still keeps swirling around, mixing up my common concepts of the English language yet again. There are many new, fun to remember expressions I pick up as I listen to my Canadian friends talking, as well as making out their references in a transition from the imperial to the metric system, talking feet & kilometres at the same time.
“What, do you think, is essentially Canadian?”, I ask my friends two days into arriving in Vancouver, eager to get some first, basic ideas. “Well, I guess we are very apologetic .. One of the ‘worst’ in the world. We would always say sorry, even if somebody bumped into us in the supermarket aisle, and it clearly isn’t our fault. Oh, sorry there ..!”
Other things, such as “Bunny hug”, can be more local terms (of the Saskatchewan province, in this case). And do you know what a “Bunny hug” is? It’s a … hoodie! Yes. Nothing saucier than that, there.
While we are at it, this one is “live from Saskatchewan: You can watch your dog run away for days.”
Essentially, Canadian. A Prairie thing at that! The country, I can now confirm, is so so flat, that you may really see your dog run away for days … Haha. I love that expression, one of deep meaning and trueness about this very special part of Canada. Read more here about my extraordinary journey to, and findings about, Saskatoon in Saskatchewan.
Live from Banff: “Big Bear Hugs back at ya!”
Oh, Banff. Every time I, or somebody else, mentions Banff, all of our hearts start to melt and our expressions merge into one and the same: How beautiful was it last time we’ve been there. And how soon can we go again? Lucky, then, to know some wonderful people who call this national park home, as both the towns Jasper & Banff have been established before the national park itself. Thoughts on my road trip through the Rocky Mountains, as well as the wonderful town of Banff itself, have prompted my friends there to say something like:
“Do I really live here? In a park? A back yard for people who refuse to stop playing, age only being recognised by vintage mountain gear and dog eared trail guide books? Even when the sun sets behind the mountains, there’s just enough time to layer up and put on your dancing shoes, because among all the stars that shine out here so brightly … you may just be the one who gets to dance with the beautiful Aurora Borealis. To showcase and invite all our brothers and sisters around the world to come and take wonder, inspiration and many photos, only leaving behind smiles and a desire to return. I’m blessed and humbled to call this mine as a homeowner and park dweller.”
Big bear hugs back to you in Banff, then !!!
This one is funny, but people say it all the time, most likely without ever noticing. All across Canada. So far, at least. A slightly peculiar, yet very interesting sound of approval that seeps into every conversation with a Canadian. Stress on the beginning of the second syllable, and say something like, “M-HMmm”, and you will find you start sounding like a true Canadian. Haha.!
Only a Canadian will travel across three provinces, 3.000 kilometres, just to “see a friend for a few days” ..!
“Last time I looked, my passport had zero stamps in it! Had I done the same distances and trips across Europe, it would be full with at least 30 odd stamps from all those different countries.!” That’s my friend Sasha talking, sitting next to me in the car and suggesting we go to his parents’ farm, as it is “only four hours northwest of Winnipeg”. Or who, at that, would casually “drive down to Las Vegas soon to go rock climbing for a while … once I went 1.900 kilometres in one go …” – “WHAAAAT?!”, I squeal in delight and utter fascination. “Yeah, it was pretty crazy, but you know, you do it .. for a good friend!”
Yeah right. Canadians are my road trip heroes !!!
“The easiest way is to wake up and say Thank you. In any way you can.”
The last little idiosyncrasy I’d like to share here, is this one. It has been brought to me by Bonnie at Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon, right inside the Great Prairies. As simple as her words may appear, they hold so much wisdom and truth to my ears. As do all of the teachings of the First Nation peoples in Canada for me.
“We are translators of the stars, and keepers of the elements. Listen out for the Seven Sacred Teachings …”
Find out more in my blog post about Winnipeg!
I have also produced a travel video that highlights some of my travel adventures in Western Canada, all the way from Vancouver to the vast open plains east of the Rocky Mountains. A fascinating, funky take on what has truly been a life-changing journey. Enjoy with sound & smile 🙂