In this series of posts I want to highlight, just for fun, the cultural differences of the place I used to live with the place that I live now. The reason for the alternate title is that some of these differences will be between the States and Canada while others will simply be between Southern California and Saskatchewan. For example, in Saskatchewan they call soda, “pop.” Where I come from it is either called soda or everything is a “coke” (similar to how we usually call tissue “Kleenex” and cotton swabs “Q-Tips”). However, this is not a difference between the States and Canada. When I lived in Chicago it was called “pop” and from what I understand in British Columbia (the west coast of Canada) it is called “soda.” I am learning that Saskatchewan is much like our states in the midwest. In fact the Saskatchewan accent reminds me of my relatives in Minnesota. So with this in mind, here is the first installment of interesting cultural differences that I have noticed between living in the States and Canada or SoCal and Saskatchewan. We’ll start with the grocery shopping experience.
The Grocery Shopping Experience:
When you first arrive you need to grab a shopping cart, as is normal in the States. What is not normal is that if you want a cart you need to have a “loonie” on you. A loonie is a one dollar coin (we’ll talk about money in another post). It is called a “loonie” because it has a picture of a loon on it (a type of bird that looks sort of like a duck). When you insert your loonie, the shopping cart you have chosen from the mass will release. Or is it that the shopping cart has chosen you, sort of like the sword in the stone. It sort of feels good in that way when the cart actually releases for you. But don’t worry, if you forgot your loonie you may use a basket for free. And if you are worried about your finances, don’t worry, your loonie will be returned to you when you return your shopping cart.
I have learned that this strategy greatly benefits the grocery store in at least two ways. First, it prevents shopping carts from being stolen because they are all locked up. And secondly, it ensures that shopping carts are returned properly rather than being left in the middle of the parking lot only to block parking spaces or worse roll and hit a car (I have at least 2 dings on my car from this, very annoying!). I think this locked up shopping cart thing is a good thing. I just get frustrated every time I forget my loonie. You can however purchase a special coin from the grocery store to keep in your car at all times (I think it’s a dollar/loonie).
Enter grocery store. Grocery stores aren’t that different on the inside. However, there are a few differences. You will find certain brands and products that you wouldn’t find in the States. For example, they have ketchup and dill pickle flavored chips here. They also have Tim Horton’s which is like their Starbucks/McDonald’s/Krispy Kreme all in one. Tim Horton’s is a hugely popular donut/coffee shop that is ubiquitous in Canada, and I must say they make a good donut and coffee. You will find Tim Horton’s in grocery stores, airports and every neighborhood. And it is almost always packed out. One more example of difference is that you won’t find Mac N’ Cheese here. “Gasp! How will I feed my family when I don’t feel like cooking?” No worries, here they have “Kraft Dinner” which is the same product disguised under a different name. I would really like to hear Kraft’s marketing strategy on the various names.
Besides new products and brands there is also the half English/half French labels. If you are having trouble finding canned stewed tomatoes you might be looking right at it in French. Sometimes cans are turned the wrong way (my apologies to the French). If you turn the can around you’ll be able to read it in English. I now have a bigger appreciation for grocery items with pictures on the packaging. It can also be confusing reading ingredients on labels and having to sort through the French and English descriptions. Being from SoCal it would probably be easier if it was half English and half Spanish.
Another thing that is interesting, and I think the States are similar in some places, is that many grocery stores here have everything you could want when you are running errands. You can buy groceries, lunch, clothes, electronics, furniture, etc. Everything is an all in one store, like a Super Wal-Mart. I wonder if this is because of the cold winters. When it is below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (I still need to learn how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius) it makes sense to have everything available in one store.
Also, everything is more expensive in the grocery stores here. This is really sad for me because it makes it harder to convince my wife to pick up some ice cream at the store when it is on average $6 instead of $4. Thankfully she is pregnant and has plenty of cravings that match mine. I don’t know what I will do when she is no longer pregnant. I might have to invest in an ice cream maker.
When it comes to checking out, in many of the stores you better bring your own bags (pronounced begs). If you don’t, the checker will ask you if you would like to purchase any bags, and if so, how many. They are 5 cents each. Like the shopping carts, I think this is a good thing (for the sake of the environment) but it takes some time getting used to. If you want, you can buy some bags that are more heavy duty to keep in your car. I have a few heavy duty Trader Joe’s bags from back home that we sometimes use.
This brings me to my last point. One thing that Canada desperately needs is Trader Joe’s. Oh how I miss you Trader Joe’s!