So you think you know Canada, eh? Seven myths about our neighbors to the north

The United States shares a border with its neighbor to the north, Canada, that’s 5,525 miles long – or if you happen to be Canadian, that’s 8,891 kilometers – not that anybody really uses kilometers, mind you.  Did you know that our border with Canada is the longest unprotected border in the world? I’ll bet there are a lot of things you don’t know about our friendly neighbor to the north.

As someone who has been married to a Canadian for 25 years, I am an expert on appreciating the subtle cultural differences between our two nations. I continue to be surprised by how little most Americans know about the great nation of Canada. When asked, What’s the capital of Canada?, 55% of Americans guessed Toronto. Another 25% chose Montreal. And 15% responded, Could you repeat the question? The correct answer, of course, is Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Many Americans think of Canadians as beer-swilling, hockey-playing, toque-headed, parka-wearing moose-hunters, whose favorite food is a beaver tail pastry, covered in maple syrup. In reality, only a small minority of Canadians are moose hunters. Most prefer to hunt caribou. The true picture of Canada is much more nuanced and includes Royal Canadian Mounties officiating curling matches on floating pack ice.

The sad truth is that most Americans know next to nothing about our next-door neighbors to the north. Time to set the record straight. Here are seven widespread myths (only two of which I’ve been spreading) about Canada and Canadians.

Myth #1: Canadians are just like Americans. While it is true that the biggest compliment you can pay a Canadian is to tell them that they’re just like us Americans, the reality is that they are a mysterious lot and oddly different from the typical American. For example, Canada’s murder rate is less than one third that America’s (a paltry 1.6 murders per 100,000 vs. our 5.2) – most likely because Canadians are too busy trying to locate firewood to keep warm to have spare time for killing in-laws and skanky ex-girlfriends.

The USA ranks Number 1 in the percentage of people incarcerated, while Canada lags far behind at an embarrassing 128th. So while Canadians try hard to emulate Americans by attempting to speak our language and eating many of the same breakfast cereals, the truth is they are a freakishly pacifist, law-abiding, well-mannered society compared to America. If America is Homer Simpson, then Canada is Homer’s polite, well-behaving, slightly disapproving next-door neighbor, Ned Flanders.

Myth #2: It’s winter in Canada nine months of the year. Don’t believe the hyperbole. Have you ever been to Vancouver? This charming host city to the 2010 Winter Olympics often has more than four months with little more than a dusting of snow on the ground. However, it is true that for much of the country, they don’t see the sun between November 15th and May 3rd.

The nickname Frozen White North is a gross exaggeration – unless you’re talking about the following provinces and territories: British Columbia (excluding Vancouver), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Yukon, Northwest Territories or Nunavut. Prince Edward Island, on the other hand, is surprisingly mild – especially during the second week of August (if it’s an El Niño year).

Myth #3: By law every Canadian male must serve at least two years in the National Hockey League. It is true that Canadiaks love their hockey. But this “law” is simply a myth. Every year there are several thousand young Canadian males who simply do not possess the talent to get drafted to play at the competitive level of the NHL. These males must serve their two years in the CCA (Canadian Curling Association) instead.

Myth #4: Most Canadians live in igloos. Once again, this commonly held belief is wildly off the mark. Most Canadians live in homes remarkably similar to those of Americans. In fact you can hardly tell the difference. (Hint: The Canadian home is the one with the polar bear in the backyard.) It’s only Canada’s federal prisons that are made out of igloos. On a related note, recent studies have shown that prison escapes rise sharply during July and August. Prison officials are currently investigating possible causes.

Myth #5: The most popular form of commuter transportation is the Zamboni. Again, simply not true. To most Americans, the Zamboni (seen at right) is that truck on steroids that smoothes out the ice between periods at a hockey game. Admittedly, in many parts of urban Canada, the Zamboni is a popular form of transportation – but mostly just for short trips to the local store. Its horrible gas mileage and lack of a roof make it impractical for most commuters. Most Canadians simply ice skate to work – except for the RCMP, who prefer to go by horseback.

Myth #6: The elderly are left to die alone on ice floes. Yet another gross distortion (although true in Saskatchewan and parts of Labrador). Most Canuckalucks do not leave their elderly out to die alone on ice floes. They always make sure they are accompanied by their trusty sled dogs and are provided a nourishing last meal of a box of Tim Horton donuts, maple syrup, vinegar, and a case of Labatt Blue beer. Canadians are nothing if not civilized.

Myth #7: Everything in Canada must be written in both English and French. Mythe #7 : tout au Canada doit être écrit en français et en anglais. Okay, well, maybe that’s not a myth, come to think of it. Très bien, peut-être que ce n’est pas un mythe, à bien y penser. For goodness sake, that’s really annoying. Pour l’amour de dieu, qui est vraiment ennuyeux. Ok, just cut it out. It’s not funny anymore. Ok, tout simplement pour réduire les dépenses. Il n’est pas plus drôle. Shit. Merde.

The truth is there are worlds of difference between Canada and America. They are almost like separate countries. For example, we have states while Canada has provinces. Our temperature is in Fahrenheit. Canada uses some odd, obtuse system called Celsius. We know how to spell words like labor, favorite, neighbor, and theater. Canadians do not.

But there is one thing Americans and Canadians surely can agree on: Both sides would be delighted for Canada to become our 51st state so we can commence drilling for oil in their pristine national parks. America welcomes Canada to join us – but only on the condition you do away with that insufferable dual-language requirement. We simply won’t tolerate that.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. C’est la vue des gradins. Peut-être je suis de la base. Oh, cut that out!

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2012

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  • Published On Feb. 29, 2012 by TEJ
  • 10 Comments


    1. 2/29/12

      You didn’t mention how Canada is secretly taking over the US. Tim Horton’s are all over New England, threatening the very existence of Dunkin Donuts. Shocking.

      And anyone who grows up in upstate (that’s farther north than Westchester, you city folk) finds Canadian coins mixed in with real American money. They sneaky bastards, I tell you.

      Soon we’ll be eating poutine instead of cheese fries. And we’ll be looking forward to winter.

      We’ll really be screwed when they start selling us Esso gas.


    2. Fishful Thinking
      3/1/12

      Some unanswered questions in your otherwise informative article: First, if people from America are “Americans”, why aren’t people from Canada “Canadans”? There’s no such thing as “Alaskians” or “Montanians”. Second, why do they still use brooms in curling? Have they yet to discover vacuum cleaners? Third, with all that snow, why is Canada Dry? And, finally, how does living Canada compare with having a colonoscopy?


    3. Fishful Thinking
      3/1/12

      Sorry. That should have been “living in Canada”.


    4. Drew Fisher
      3/2/12

      Your charming post (as well as my Czechian brother’s trenchant comment) brought back memories of the 1988 Winter Olympics, which I anchored for the NBC Radio Network. The 1988 Olympics were held in and around the Canadian prairie city of Calgary (getting to either of the ski areas took a two-hour bus ride into the distant Rocky Mountains), and were memorable for the two speed-skating races in which Dan Jansen fell, the Jamaican Bobsleigh — not Bobsled — Team (chronicled in the movie “Cool Runnings”), and Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, a talent-free English ski jumper. The United States, which now routinely wins a thousand or more gold medals at each winter Olympics, won only six medals at the Calgary games, three of them bronze. The Calgarians were gracious hosts and tried valiantly not to laugh when we confessed a near-total lack of knowledge about curling (you might say we didn’t know “sheet” about curling) or even chortle when their cute little Liz Manley outskated our Debi Thomas for the silver medal in women’s figure skating. East Germany’s Katarina Witt took the gold, part of a massive national sweep, and we responded by erasing East Germany from the map before the next Winter Olympics (“Mr. Gorbachev! Tear down this Witt!”).


    5. Michele
      3/2/12

      I love what the online translator came up with for the French in your blog post:

      “For goodness sake, that’s really annoying” became “ For the love of God, who is very boring.”

      “Ok, just cut it out.” became “Ok, to reduce the expenses.”

      “Perhaps I’m off base” became “perhaps I’m on the bottom.”

      LOL!


    6. Kevin
      3/2/12

      Thank you for the wonderful article aboot Canada, eh? However, I find your assumption that Americans know nothing aboot Canada very patronizing. Millions of us have seen the highly educational “Royal Pudding” episode of South Park. You should check it oot too, eh? Hoser.


    7. mark gravel
      3/2/12

      Hey Tim, you know me, I wouldn’t take any offense…at least overtly…to a little jesting no matter how scathing these verbal assaults maybe and damaging to the long cooperation between our two countries.. I guess we have just come to learn that our good friends to the south are still not over the ass-kicking we delivered 200 years ago when we became the only power to have ever captured and burn-down your fledgling capital and then dared barge in to your restaurants without the decency of making reservations, or saying thank-you or leaving a tip.
      If we have not already apologized in those 200 years since then… we are sorry…we should have told you we were coming…no actually, come to think of it, if my recollection of history serves me..we did tell you we were coming but in several instances it was you that didn’t believe us and then failed to communicate to your northern outposts that the next time we’d be over for a visit it wasn’t going to be to borrow some tea.
      Oh well…everything has just gone downhill for us since then as you noted so astutely…damn!.. why can’t our banks fail like everyone else and why don’t we have a line-up of super- star politicians in the offing.

      WILL YOU EVER FORGIVE US!?

      Gotta go now ..gotta melt some ice to boil me some Moose-hoof soup..YUMMY!

      Ma>R<Q Gr^A –vell ik of the Nth


    8. Betsy
      3/3/12

      I’m an American and I know a lot about Canada, because I watched the film “Canadian Bacon”. I thought it was very funny, until I learned it was a Michael Moore film and thus a serious documentary meant to educate. Who knew?!


    9. Vicky
      3/6/12

      I can’t believe that I actually went to Wikipedia to learn all about Moose Jaw.

    10. Shania Twain is from Canada so things cannot be all bad up there. Plus Michele as a hottie. I am sure there must also be a cute ice skater or two on the Olympic team.

      Also my dad was born in Calgary, Alberta so I am actually eligible to “claim” my citizenship if I so choose. If that is the case then you will need to show a blended picture of me combining Homer and Ned.

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