Canadian Life, Diary Posts

The One With Canadian Culture Shock

So I made it through my first attempts at class – and am now halfway through my first full week of education. It’s going pretty well all in all; like I promised myself I’ve dropped down from 5 to 4 classes (“this assignment will involve a 16 page essay on your favourite Canadian historian!!” um, I think no), and despite my hopeless first day I’m definitely learning my way around campus now. When I was researching Ottawa and my year abroad I asked a lot of questions about how ‘hard’ the academic work was in comparison to Exeter, but I can now appreciate now why that was a difficult question to answer. In general, it seems to be pretty similar? Perhaps a little less academically rigorous, but the same quantity of reading etc.

In other news I’m feeling in a bit of a strange limbo at the moment. This, I expected. In our pre-departure lectures at Exeter we were warned about culture shock, and I’m definitely hitting the ‘comedown’ from the excitement of moving in and finding my way around. (I just looked up exactly how long I’ve been here and I am in complete shock it’s only been 3 full weeks because it feels SO MUCH LONGER.) Jumping back into the never-ending cycle of reading for history classes as interesting as the content is, is a little depressing, and I’m still adapting to working things (ie eating and sleeping) around a very full basketball training schedule. I’m also definitely needing the every other day/every third day Skype home to offload to family. That being said, I have had some seriously lovely moments over the past week, from a super discount sale at Long Tall Sally, to a stunning sunset photo session over the river, to a chocolate fondue night with the basketball girls – so I’m feeling positive. It’s early days yet and I’ll get there 🙂

Honestly one of the most beaut sunsets I’ve ever seen

On the subject of culture shock however, I have been keeping a list for a while now of things that strike me as strange or different from the UK. In many ways the whole drama of ‘moving countries’ has been less overwhelming than I’d expected – I just keep finding myself being amused by the really little things that are different, and I thought I’d share them here.

Canadian Oddities

  • There is apparently no orange squash in this country. This makes me very sad. On asking people in local supermarket Loblaws (I know, what a weird name) I received slightly bemused looks and was directed to the vegetable section where the actual squashes are. No guys noooo.
  • 10 cent coins are smaller than 5 cent coins. And they’re both silver. Because that makes sense. (And don’t come back at me with the 1p vs 2p argument because that’s completely different.)
  • Green men on traffic lights are not actually green – they’re white. And you get a flashing countdown if you’re thinking of being slow.
  • Squirrels look the same as grey squirrels back home but are jet black and a little bit smaller (no less evil though.)
  • Paying by card is a hassle. Whenever you’re using a card machine you have to select your language (French or English), which account you’re using (Chequing or Saving) and then invariably have to navigate the awkwardness of tipping, which makes the process much longer than your simple tap and hold.
  • The toilets are ridiculous. 90% of Canadian public toilets are apparently designed for primary school children because the doors and partitioning walls between cubicles are stupidly high off the ground and stupidly low. Which means whenever I need to use one I have to duck down as soon as I close the door in my best impression of being 5’7” so I a) can’t see the people in each cubicle next to me doing their business and b) don’t make awkward eye contact in the mirror with someone washing their hands.
  • Milk comes in plastic bags. Or rather, that’s the most cost-efficient way to buy it. That’s where the ‘efficiency’ ends though. You have to cut a corner off and then put the entire bag in a jug which sits in the fridge.
  • More wildlife differences. Walking home in the evening you’re going to see racoons crossing the street as opposed to foxes or badgers. The novelty of this has not worn off on me yet.
  • Food pricing is strange. Fresh food at the major supermarkets is incredibly expensive, along with random things like deodorant (a Dove spray? 99p back home. Here? £3.90. Why). Meanwhile unhealthy options like multi-packs of chocolate bars and incredibly sugary juice is comparatively very cheap to the UK.
  • The anti-humanities vibe is much more prevalent here than it is in the UK. Or at least it is from the people I’ve spoken to. When I tell people I’m doing History I get a slight scoff and then an inane comment about being a teacher. Though this generalisation does still exist in the UK I feel it’s been getting better? As in people understand that as a facilitating, academically challenging subject History can lead into a multitude of careers; journalism, politics, business, civil service, anything-you-want as well as education. Anyway. That’s a rant for another day.
  • Pronunciation differences. ‘Leez-gure’ (rhyming with ‘seizure’) instead of ‘Leisure’. Weird. I love challenging people to pronouncing my hometown of ‘Loughborough’ too, because no-one ever gets it right.
  • Franglais!! Everywhere. I guess this is inevitable being in the bilingual capital of Canada but blimey it’s odd. This morning I was walking behind two students deep in debate (in French) most of which I couldn’t understand, aside from the fact so many random English words were thrown in mid-sentence: ‘wow’, ‘holy shit’, ‘anyway’, ‘yeah, I know right?’, ‘whatever, basically’. Example number two:
    • Shop assistant to friend: “Ahh salut! Ça va aujourd’hui?”
    • Friend: “Ouais, ouais – c’est trop busy this morning, non?”
    • Me: ??????
  • Canadian postboxes are pull as opposed to a simple push in.
  • The resentment of Americans is strong. I find this very entertaining as Canada shares both land borders with the United States and yet is so anti being associated with them. In my class on post-1945 USA history when discussing the Trump election, the general consensus was “I’m so glad it’s not us.” On a walking tour of Parliament Hill, our guide told us there were two key words to Canadian identity: Not. American. But when you look at the history of Confederation it’s not actually that ridiculous an idea.
  • ADDED TAX AKA THE BURDEN OF LIFE. I saved this till the end because honestly it makes me so mad!! Canada has a weird system of tax on items being different province to province so it isn’t allowed to be shown on the label on the shelf – but all that happens is that you think you’re getting a good deal and you’re not!! And you’re fumbling for change because you thought you had the right amount out to buy your things and you don’t!! It’s just blatant false advertisement from my perspective. And honestly one of my least favourite aspects about Canada (so generally, it’s doing quite well.)
My walk home from campus

uOttawa Oddities

(This may be Canadian universities in general or just Ottawa, but I’ve also noticed plenty of differences related to the university experience as well…)

  • TAs are a thing. TAs are not a thing in Exeter.
  • Classes last 1 and half hours and are generally expected to be just straight up lectures. I’ve found to have some professors who are into the whole class discussion thing which is much more similar to the seminar structure I’m used to back home.
  • Paper size is different. it’s more squarish and it’s weird.
  • You get marks for attendance in some classes!! Ah how I wish this were a thing back home.
  • The chairs in lecture halls are dumb. They’re connected to the desks and sort of swing out and it’s the most irritating and squeaky system ever.
  • The cost of textbooks is a Big Thing. Professors will post reading lists of books and they can add up to be very pricey for just a single class. Back home there is a big emphasis on getting books out of the library and having 90% of readings online, so I’ve only ever actually bought 2 textbooks in my time at Exeter. There is however an increasing push towards online reading here in Ottawa too, and whenever my professors told the class this was going to be the case, there was an audible sigh of relief from the students.
  • Professors are pretty ‘meh’ about reference systems. “Oh yeah, whatever works – Chicago is cool.” Coming from a background of losing marks due to incorrectly placed full-stops this is staggering to me.
  • Essay expectations in general are very, very different:
    • Exeter:
      • 2,000 words, 10% leeway over and under – potential cap at 40% if you don’t adhere to that.
      • Follow this bibliography system that has been devised by the College of Humanities and is used nowhere else on this planet on pain of death.
      • Due at 10am on this day. Cap at 40% if you’re a millisecond late. Sucks to be you.
      • Don’t put your name on essays – student number only to remove risk of favoritism.
      • All marked by your professor – with a second moderator mark.
    • Ottawa:
      • 14-16 pages, size 12.
      • List stuff you used lol.
      • Due in in class whenever; maybe 5% deducted per day it’s late (this completely depends on your professor.)
      • Make sure to put your name on essays!!
      • Some of this will be marked by the TA.
  • There isn’t enough space on campus. This isn’t really an oddity though as Exeter has the same problem; back home I’ve had lectures in the on-campus theatre, here I have class in the Catholic Church next to the library. (I kid you not.)
  • Construction is everywhereOne day uOttawa is going to be a beautiful, modern, efficient, university. Unfortunately, it needs a helluva lot of scaffolding and cranes to get there. Plus, you know what they say about Canada having two seasons: snow and construction. And there’s no snow on the horizon yet.
  • The culture around Varsity Sport is crazy. Honestly, I attended a 2 hour lecture on being a good representative of Ottawa with the other varsity teams and it was surreal; don’t take supplements, don’t take drugs, be prepared to talk to the media after games, you are the top 1%, the student population looks up to you etc. And don’t even get me started on the difference in the basketball training here to back home. Let it just be said they’re in different stratospheres.


We do #sportz (from the GeeGees athletes BBQ, which was actually really good fun)

3 thoughts on “The One With Canadian Culture Shock”

  1. Haha we’re still trying to figure out why our 10 cent coin is smaller than the five cent coin too. I enjoyed your lists of differences! The milk in a bag is only something we seem to do. Americans think we’re weird and wonder why we can’t just use a carton. And you’re right, the resentment towards them is strong. We’re friendly with them, but we’re so glad we’re not them.

    Oh and those seats in lecture halls are dumb and so are the cost of textbooks!


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