The question I'm asked most often about life in Canada is this:
"What are the differences between Canada and the United States?"
I've now lived in the beautiful province of British Columbia for over a year, and I've made a few observations about the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between Canada and America. I've tried to avoid common stereotypes and generalizations (i.e. all Canadians love hockey and maple syrup, or all Americans are loud and ignorant) and just stick with the observations I've personally made. I tell people this: Canada and America are about 80% the same, but the 20% difference is incredibly subtle and significant.
Thus, here are ten differences between Canada and the United States:
1. Pronunciation. Everyone has an accent, both in Canada and the States. Different provinces and states have different accents, which is why a person from Atlanta sounds very different than a person from the Bronx, and a person from New Brunswick sounds quite different than a resident of BC. So, pronunciations are different depending on local context, but here are common pronunciation differences, with the Canadian pronunciation first, followed by the American:
- Borrow = borough vs. barrow
- "Z" = zed vs. zee
- About = a-BOAT vs. a-BOWT
- Foyer = foy-AY vs. FOY-yer
- Pasta = PAST-a vs. PAW-sta
3. Driving: Canadian driving laws (at least in BC) are more tightly regulated and keen on safety. Where teenagers in the states can get a drivers' permit at age 15, then a full license at 16, teenagers in BC get their "L" at age 16. The "L" is a learners' permit, meaning they can drive with a supervisor in the passenger seat after taking a written knowledge test. After 12 months with an "L" and passing a second test, drivers get an "N," which allows them to drive with one passenger in the car for the next two years. A full class-5 license can only be earned after a third test and zero traffic violations in the previous two years with the "N," meaning the earliest age someone can have a full license is age 19. Also, you need a special class-4 license to drive 12- and 15-passenger vans (this is an important detail to know as a youth pastor).
4. Health Care and Taxes. While socialized healthcare continues to be a volatile political issue in the States, it's the norm in Canada. Everyone pays higher taxes than in the States, which means everyone also gets (essentially) free healthcare. In BC, we do pay an extra monthly bill for medical services, but most people end up paying more for parking in the hospital parking lot than for a hospital visit. The government also offers monthly cheques to families with children, and most people get significant refunds come tax season. So, we pay more in taxes in BC, but we also see many of the social benefits to those taxes (e.g. never having to worry about medical debt or needing insurance).
5. Laws, Crime, and Guns. BC has decriminalized the use of marijuana, the drinking age is 19, it's essentially legal to download pirated music and movies, and there are far less handguns. Which means, of course, there's far less violent crime. The moral law is a funny thing; it seems to change with each culture.
6. PIN chips in banking cards. Also found all across Europe, credit and debit cards in Canada are embedded with a smart chip that requires a PIN (4-digit code) to be used by each user. That sounds similar to the States, right? But think of when you use your credit card: you hand your card to a stranger, it gets swiped, then you have to sign a receipt. Most stores don't check signatures, and smaller purchases rarely require a signature, meaning a person could steal your credit card and use it. Credit cards in Canada require a PIN, meaning a thief needs your 4-digit code to use your card. The card never leaves your person. You never hand a card over to a store employee or worry about the magnetic strip getting worn out. It's awesome.
7. Movie rating system. The United States has G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. Here in BC, it's G, PG, 14A, 18A, Restricted, Adult. The "PG" of Canada is somewhere in between the "PG" and "PG-13" of the states. "14A" is somewhere between "PG-13" and "R." Typically, the higher ratings are due to violent content, not sexual or language content like in the States. For instance, the recent film About Time is rated "R" in the States for language and sexual content; it's rated "PG" in British Columbia.
8. Food. Tim Hortons. Donair. Poutine. Swiss Chalet. Nanaimo bars. America doesn't have 'em. (Update: I've been informed that there are a few hundred Tim Hortons scattered throughout eleven states in the U.S.)
9. Same-Sex Marriage. Canada is the fourth country in the world to legalize gay marriage. It's been legal in all of Canada since July 2005.
10. Nominal-Christian America vs. Post-Christian Canada. I hope to devote an entire blog post to this cultural observation and the implications for youth ministry and the church, but for now, I'll keep it brief: the United States continues to operate under the moniker of a "Christian nation," while Canada is far more like our European counterparts in its lack of overtly-Christian influence in the greater culture. Americans can assume familiarity with Christianity, especially in certain regions (the South and Texas come to mind), and Christianity still holds significant political influence, though actual discipleship of Christ is lacking in many who claim the name of "Christian." While Christianity's influence is also different by region in Canada (BC is quite different from Alberta, more different than Manitoba, and WAY different than Quebec), the same assumption cannot be made--many, if not most people, lack direct experience with the doctrines and practices of the church. We're experiencing the decline of Christendom in the U.S., but Canada has already experienced it.
For those who have lived in both countries, any observations to add? Share them in the comments!