11 Things You Must Know About Canada

Lists: Frank Bures offers a primer for anyone headed to Vancouver for the Olympics. It's mordant!

02.10.10 | 11:35 AM ET

canada maple leafPhoto by Яick Harris, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I went to Canada for the same reason explorers have always sought the horizon: It was an unknown, a land of mystery. I grew up in a border state but I couldn’t tell you which province is directly overhead. Sure, I laughed when George W. Bush was stuck for the Canadian Prime Minister’s name. But now that W is gone, I can say what I secretly thought then: “Glad that wasn’t me!” I know more about Mexico than I do about Canada, and I’m not sure why. It’s like there’s a long black hole stretched across the 49th parallel.

Among the few things I did know about Canada before my recent trip: It’s cold. It’s inhabited by a morally upright people. They like syrup and hockey. Their beer is even worse than ours. These things, I can now report, are all true. But there’s more! Canada, I discovered, is nothing like Jack London made it out to be. And Vancouver, the city where I stayed, is a lovely place with cars and electric lights, which is good, since the Winter Olympics will take place there shortly.

So, if you’re planning to attend, or go north for any other reason, here are a few more things to know before crossing the border:

1) Canada is not a U.S. state. It’s a state of mind.

2) Ambient temperatures have no discernible effect on the customer service, which is quite good.

3) Canadians that have made great contributions to American culture include Frank Gehry, Kim Cattrall and Tommy Chong. 

4) Bryan Adams? Celine Dion? Shania Twain? Blame Canada.

5) Like us, Canadians love guns. But unlike us, they are too polite to use them at work.

6) If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a Canadian national animal, the majestic ... beaver.

7) Hockey was invented in Canada as a way to make use of that last inch of beer in one’s can, after it freezes.

8) In Canada, there’s a French/English dictionary on every bag of chips: “Mordant” = ZESTY. Munch and learn.

9) Canada has the fourth-lowest density of exciting things happening in the world.

10) Most of that excitement is concentrated in an alley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

11) For a brief time this winter, it will move several blocks south to the Olympic Village. Then, probably, it will move back.

Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.

14 Comments for 11 Things You Must Know About Canada

TheWordWire 02.10.10 | 1:06 PM ET

Wait, there’s cars and electric lights in Vancouver? I’ll have to tell my American neighbors - they may not know you can wire an igloo.

Your observation that Canadians love guns but are too polite to use them at work is my favorite. I’m Canadian-born but have spent most of my life in The States. Fall in love with Canada each time I visit. Have not yet seen any western provinces, but oooh and ahhh every time I see clips highlighting the Olympics on the news.

jenni 02.10.10 | 1:52 PM ET

I am Canadian and therefore am obliged to defend our beer. We have loads of local breweries in each province so no matter where you are, there is a yummy pint to help you on. Yanks just don’t like the higher alcohol content!

There are loads of things to love about Canada, our politeness and multilingualism is just the tip of the iceberg. Did I mention that our unofficial national dish is essentially french fries smothered in gravy and cheese?


Eva Holland 02.10.10 | 1:59 PM ET

I dunno, after spending a lot of time in the States over the last couple years I think I’m prepared to concede the beer point. Sure, we have some great microbreweries, but stateside there are a) many more of them, and b) they’re much more well distributed. In Canada, it’s pretty hard to consistently find good local beers outside of British Columbia and Quebec - the bottom line is, in my experience, it’s easier to avoid Budweiser in the U.S. than it is to escape the Molson/Labatt double-team up here.

jenni 02.10.10 | 2:46 PM ET

Maybe I’m just spoiled then since I live in BC right now!

Dave 02.10.10 | 4:21 PM ET

Im sorry but this beer point is pure ridiculousness! I would rather have a moosehead or a keiths (2 of the larger brewers that are available anywhere you can find a molson or labatt beer) over any american piss water brand anyday! Americans dont know squat about beer (amongst a multitude of other things)

jade macdowell 02.10.10 | 6:55 PM ET

Okay being Canadian and from the beautiful province of British Columbia (like a state in the U.S.) the stereotypical comments on temperature, backwardsness, igloos and beer just don’t cut it anymore.  It is a great country and although we live in close proximity to the big bad greatest most powerful country in the world let alone the galaxy we have maintained our unique Canadian identity. The fact that you didn’t know what province you lived below is so telling of what most Americans know about Canada.  There is so much more to Canada than what your somewhat funny list shows but I am assuming that is your humorous point.  Hopefully NBC doesn’t screw up the coverage and clearly shows the rest of the world what a beautiful city Vancouver is along with what a great country Canada is!  Come for a visit but god help us - don’t move here!

Nomadic Chick 02.11.10 | 7:05 PM ET

I think a few of my Canadian buddies sounded off about this on Twitter.  In terms of quality writing, it’s not always successful to bounce off stereotypes.  Yeah, they do exist - but some of these items skate on thin ice.  Every corner of Canada is diverse from beer to landscape.  Sure we have guns, but 90% of the population uses them for hunting, not irrational solutions to home security. 

Oh, and Bryan Adams.  What about Metric, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene?

I’m from Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside is tragic, not something to be put on a “humorous” list. 

I also hope NBC shows what an awesome country this is.

Mark 02.13.10 | 10:22 PM ET

Some of you don’t seem to have a sense of humor.

Nomadic Chick 02.13.10 | 10:49 PM ET

I’m Canadian, humour (that’s right, with an extra ‘u’) was beaten out of me long ago. :)

Travel-Writers-Exchange.com 02.15.10 | 11:23 AM ET

Vancouver is cosmopolitan city!  You can shop to you drop or take a stroll in the park.  If you love the outdoors then you’ll love Canada.  You can go running, hiking, biking, rafting, whale watching, etc…The views take your breath away.

Frank 02.15.10 | 5:22 PM ET

Yes, all that and free needles too!!!

David 02.18.10 | 11:50 AM ET

I spend about three months a year in Canada and could come up with a long list of things I like and a very short list of things I don’t like.  Almost all of the latter involve their intellectual and political classes.  Regular folks are the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  I think their beer is as good as ours, but if that’s a big deal for you why not just drink German beer and be done with it.  Bilingualism ghettoizes the Francophones and their new multiculturalism will destroy their civil society, replacing it with a Brave New World, but these are problems for another day: right now, it’s one of the world’s nice places.

Joyce 02.24.10 | 4:30 PM ET

enjoy reading the comments more than the article itself.  I’m also a proud Canadian,  living in San Diego.

james 02.28.10 | 12:06 AM ET

All those jaw dropping vistas your seeing of Vancouver on tv are not real. It’s all left over footage from Avatar. Vancouver really looks like Cleveland with mountains, and ocean, and beaches and…. okay live there and you can visit anytime, but you can’t live here.

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