As a German who recently moved to Canada, I get asked many questions by people back home about what my new life here is like. Spoiler alert: My experience in two Canadian cities — Halifax and Toronto — is nothing like the romanticized view of Canada that many people have in mind. It’s time to clear up nine myths about Canada.
Debunking 9 Myths About Canada
1. Everyone in Canada is bilingual in English and French.
In theory, Canada is a bilingual English and French country. In practice, however, French is mostly just spoken in Quebec, the only Canadian province that has declared itself unilingual in French. Only 9% of Anglophones are able to speak French, which means that the likelihood of holding a French conversation outside of Quebec is pretty slim.
That said, bilingualism is prevalent in another way: Many Canadians speak two or more languages because they’re first generation immigrants or otherwise have a non-English-speaking background.
2. Canada is part of the U.K., or the U.S., or maybe France?
In colonial times, Portugal, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and France all laid claims to territories that are now part of Canada. So what happened from then until now? France gave up its claim on Canada with the 1783 Treaty of Paris. In the same treaty, Canada was invited to become part of the United States of America, which it declined.
So that makes Canada part of the U.K., right? Well, here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Canada is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy (what a mouthful!) under monarch Elizabeth II — yep, the same one that’s Queen of the United Kingdom.
There have, however, been several stages in the history of Canadian independence: Canada became a self-governing dominion within the British empire on July 1st, 1867 when the British North America Act came into effect. The Statute of Westminster in 1931 and the Patriation of the Constitution in 1982 cemented Canada’s status as an independent country. Still confused? Me too. Since Canada Day is celebrated every July 1st to mark the 1867 Confederation, I’ll just assume that’s officially the day they became an independent country.
3. Canadians drive on the left side of the road.
Since we’ve (mostly) established in the last point that Canada isn’t part of the U.K., I’ll make this one short: People in Canada drive on the right side of the road.
4. Everyone lives out in nature.
When Germans hear that I live in Canada, they usually rave about how amazing the vast, untouched nature in Canada must be. I get where they’re coming from: Canada’s 347 million hectares of forest can fit about 10 Germanys inside. To someone from a densely populated country, the idea of standing in a huge forest with no one but the animals around is hauntingly beautiful.
The thing about Canada’s vast and untouched nature is that it’s untouched because not many people live there. More than 80% of Canadians live in urban areas, which leaves only about 8 million people to populate the rest of Canada. For example, I live in downtown Toronto. From my home, I need a few hours (and a car) to see any of the amazing Canadian scenery. Needless to say, I don’t go very often.
5. It’s super cold all the time.
I can’t deny that winters in Toronto are long and brutal. But that doesn’t mean that:
- A) winter never ends, and
- B) the weather is the same everywhere in Canada.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, so the weather depends a lot on the location. For instance, Toronto has a humid continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Vancouver, on the other hand, has a moderate oceanic climate (occasionally bordering on a warm-summer Mediterranean climate) where average temperatures in winter don’t even drop below freezing.
6. Canadians say oot and aboot.
This is one of the most persistent myths about Canada. I think the origin of this cliché is the TV show South Park, which is why it feels redundant to stress that it’s just not true. I will anyway, just so we’re clear: No Canadian I’ve ever heard (and possibly no Canadian ever) pronounces “about” and “out” as [aboot] and [oot]. They do pronounce it differently from other North Americans, but the pronunciation is much closer to [aboat] or [oat].
7. ‘Eh’ is used all the time.
The other feature of a clichéd Canadian accent is to add an “eh” every other sentence. While there is a grain of truth to this stereotype (Canadians do say “eh” sometimes), it’s used sparingly at the end of sentences when asking for confirmation, similarly to “right?” or “you know?”
8. Healthcare in Canada is free.
It’s true that when you go to the doctor in Canada, you probably won’t receive a bill afterwards. For a lot you reading this, that might qualify as “free,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come out of your wallet: The healthcare system in Canada is publicly funded, meaning that it’s paid for with tax money. In my book, I wouldn’t call that “free,” since we’re all still paying for it. Semantics aside, it’s important to stress that many costs, like dental care or medications, are not covered by Canadian publicly funded healthcare.
9. Everyone is super nice all the time.
There’s definitely something true about this stereotype: Yes, Canadians on the whole are pretty nice. That’s not to say that they aren’t people who have bad days sometimes just like everyone else. Canada is a place filled with real people who live their real lives and have their real problems. I hope that you won’t let myths about Canada keep you from finding out who Canadians really are and what life in Canada is really like. It’ll be worth it, I promise — because most Canadians are super nice all the time.