Say what you want about Montréal’s flaws — and it certainly has many — I think we do a couple of things quite well: festivals and snow removal.
Now, some might argue we have too many festivals, while others are annoyed when the snow doesn’t get cleared fast enough, but when folks from other cities look at our city’s snow-removal process, they are usually quite impressed. Heck, after living here all my life, I’m still impressed at the whole process.
Streets are spread with abrasive/salt and plowed while the storm is happening, and once a minimum amount of snow has fallen — 2.5 cm or about an inch, in case you’re interested — the clearing operation begins, one side of a street at a time. When the special temporary orange no-parking signs go up after a snowstorm, I eagerly await the telltale sound of tow trucks coming around to tell drivers to move their cars out of the way of the incoming onslaught. (This part is definitely no fun if you don’t have a garage or a driveway.) An app, INFO-Neige (“Info Snow”), also helps us keep track of what streets are being cleared, when. If your car is parked on the street, you can enter its location in the app and get notifications to remind you to move it before the plows come by, to avoid getting towed.
Little sidewalk plows come by and push the snow onto the street, where giant plows three or four times the size come by and scoop it all up, blowing the collected piles into massive trucks. Multiple convoys lumber across the city, like rows of ants on an unstoppable mission.
But wait — there’s more! The plows often come by a second time, picking up any remaining small bits of snow that the first convoy didn’t grab. This round is particularly satisfying to watch, as the plows scrape the edge of the sidewalk, in attempt to have a thorough cleanup.
The trucks take all the amassed snow and either dump it down sewer chutes, or unload it at various surface snow dumps around the city. The piles are so massive that if you happen to go by one in May or June, the snow still might not be melted!
Apparently I’m not the only person fascinated by snow clearing in Montréal. If you do a search on YouTube, there are plenty of videos showing the operation in detail. Enjoy, if this sort of thing is your cup of tea. 🙂
At the 2016 Automattic Grand Meetup (GM) in Whistler, British Columbia, I did a joint flash talk for the first time, with my awesome colleague Laurel Fulford. Since we were hosting 500+ colleagues in our own country, we used the opportunity to share eight minutes of Canadiana with our co-workers. And now we’re sharing it with you!
We’re really excited to be hosting everyone here for the GM this year and we wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about Canada. I’m Laurel and this is Kathryn, and we’re both members of the Theme Team. [Audience cheers.] Woo! And we’re both Canadians, or Canucks. I’m from just west of here on Vancouver Island, and Kathryn’s from 5000 kilometres east in Montréal, Québec.
To start, there are some stereotypes about Canada that you probably are familiar with – and some of them are even a little bit true. But it’s a big country, and even the ones that are true are not true everywhere. With that in mind, let’s go.
Metric Mixup, or How to measure up to Canadians!
Let’s talk a little bit about the Metric system. In 1970, Prime Minister Trudeau began a process called “Metrication,” which attempted to convert Canada over to the metric system.
But by 1985, we’d only gone about half-way, so the government kind of gave up.
As a result, we use a total mix of metric and imperial measurements, in a very Canadian sort of compromise.
We can tell you the temperature in Celsius – but don’t ask us how tall we are in metres, or how many kilos we weigh, cause we can only tell you that in feet and pounds.
Gas and milk are sold by the litre – but we still talk about mileage.
Canada in Writing, or Use your “U”s, love your “L”s
Similar to the whole metric/imperial thing, we also mix up our spelling. Like the UK, we love our U’s! So we use them as much as humanly possible. We also share some other spellings with the UK. But to make it confusing, we follow the US, as well. And as you can tell, our accents are closer to our American neighbours than not.
Canadian Food, or Friendly refreshments to eat or drink
Looking at food, Canada has some unique food items, with some pretty passionate advocates.
One you might have heard of is poutine – a concoction of fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Delicious or disgusting? You be the judge! [Delicious!]
We’re not the only country with Kraft Dinner (or KD) but the we do tend to use the term interchangeably with any macaroni-and-cheese product.
And what about satisfying our sweet tooth. We’ve got butter tarts, which are little sweet, gooey pies. We also have Nanaimo bars, which are chocolate, custard, and coconut – named after a town on Vancouver Island.
How about some uniquely Canadian booze terminology? Here we have a Caesar, which is kind of like a Bloody Mary… but with clam juice! We also have the term Mickey – which doesn’t refer to this guy – but it’s what we call 375ml of alcohol.
Now let’s say you pick up a case of 24 cans of beer – that’s called a two-four. And let’s say you happen to pick up that beer on the national Victoria Day holiday weekend in May – that makes it a May Two-Four.
Getting away from the booze, in parts of Canada – not here – you can buy your milk in a bag. And if you’re looking for whole milk, we don’t actually call it that. It tends to be called homogenized milk.
Canada is a little bit obsessed with Tim Hortons – you might have stopped off there on the way from the airport. It’s our national doughnut chain named after who else, but a hockey player.
We’ve got Timbits, which are little doughnut holes, similar to munchkins from Dunkin Donuts. A coffee with two creams and two sugars at Tim Hortons is a double-double. And don’t forget to “roll up the rim to win”! Also, this is real, you can get a Tim Horton’s Double Double credit card.
Canadian Money, or Canuck Bucks
Let’s look a little bit at Canadian money. It also has some unique characteristics.
We used to have one-dollar and two-dollar bills, but we got rid of them and replaced them with coins. So now we’ve got loonies – because look at the loon on the front! And then a couple of years later, we came out with the toonie… because it rhymes with loonie. We also got rid of our pennies fairly recently. So don’t be surprised if your change gets rounded up or down if you’re paying for something with cash.
We still haven’t gotten rid of the five-dollar bill, but take a look in your wallet, you might find a “Spocked” five if you’re lucky.
If you happen see one of these things, this is called Canadian Tire Money, which was an early loyalty program from our beloved national hardware, auto parts, and sporting goods chain. You used to get “cash back” in the form of this little funny money, but they got rid of that too, and now they use a refillable card like everyone else.
Canadian Words, or Creative Canadianisms
There are some words Canadians use that tend to make other English-speakers raise an eyebrow.
The first one, we’re kind of infamous for – it’s the toque, instead of a wool hat.
We don’t get into the queue or line, we join a lineup. Look at this long lineup! (Even if we’re not being accused of committing a crime.)
Instead of parking in a parking garage, we use a parkade.
Look at this kid, what a keener! He’s doing his homework during recess. Keener. Not even sure that word even has an equivalent.
I’m not sure you’ve noticed here, instead of restroom or toilet, we tend to label it as a washroom.
And the pièce de résistance. This is not a garbage disposal, at least that’s not what we call it. We call it a garburator. I’m not making this up! This is what we call it, not a joke!
Canadian Music, or Rocking out to “Oh Canada”
Canadian artists have produced a lot of great music over the years, you might be familiar with some of it, from Neil Young to Joni Mitchell to Arcade Fire.
But if you listen to the radio, you may notice a lot of Canadian music. That’s because of a regulation called Cancon, which tries to protect and promote Canadian culture. Commercial radio stations must play at least 35% Canadian content every weekday from 6am to 6pm. Because of this, every Canadian here can probably sing you any top-40 song by a Canadian artist from the past 30 years. [That’s Bryan Adams, by the way.]
Canadian Sports, or Competitive apologizing
Most people associate two sports with Canada: hockey and curling.
But actually, our national sport until quite recently was lacrosse, which is an aboriginal sport that’s been around – at least documented – for almost 1000 years.
In 1994, hockey was added as our national sport of winter, but our national sport of summer is still lacrosse.
Sorry about that, Eh?, or The True North, Strong and Apologetic
Some of the most well known Canadian stereotypes, true or otherwise, can be summed up in three words. The first one…
Canadians apologize a lot. We’re really sorry about that. We can’t help it, it’s compulsive, as soon as we have the opportunity, even if we’re not at fault, we bust out the “S” word.
“Eh” is a handy little multipurpose syllable and we use in many different ways. So let’s look at some of them.
Statement of opinion – La Banquise has the best poutine in Montreal, eh?
Statements of fact – P2 or it didn’t happen, eh?
Questions – Not an awesome idea to deploy on Friday at 5pm, eh?
Exclamation – Best meetup ever, eh!
In fixed expressions – I know, eh?
Telling a story [the narrative eh] – So I deployed this big commit, eh? And it brought down all of WordPress.com, eh? And we had to this really big revert, eh?
So, now we come to about.
No, we don’t really say “a boot”
But there are areas of Canada that pronounce “out” a little differently than your ear might be used to, and it even varies across the country.
So we conducted a highly scientific study, looking at a cross-section of our fellow Canadians to see how they say “About.” Based on the results we are confident in our conclusion that “Peak About” is located in none other than Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the vowel sound is most pronounced.
We hope this gave you a good intro to some of the things that make Canada unique. And if you have any questions, you can ask any of these Canuckamatticians and they’ll be happy to answer for you.