It’s only a matter of weeks before thousands of tourists from around the world flock to Canada for the highly anticipated Victoria Day celebrations. And while much of the travel advice will be focused on the top places to observe the hatching of the scones and how best to avoid injury during the Running of the Victorians (general tip: well-lubricated bloomers), it’s important to remember that you’ll get the most out of your visit to Canada by interacting with colorful local Canadians — or as they so charmingly put it: “colourful.”
Here then is your guide on having conversations with Canadians.
Approaching a Canadian
History makes us who we are, and it’s important when talking to Canadians to remember their history of colonialism: they don’t have one. Canadians have never been colonized. (Yes, the First Nations people, but it’s very unlikely you’ll meet one of them during your visit because Canadians have made sure to keep them and their history very, very, very, very well hidden.)
Consequently, Canadians have no real concept of strangers. This makes them overly trusting. Without indication otherwise, they will likely assume you are a distant relation who wants to borrow money. It’s tempting to take advantage of this misconception until you discover that Canadians are the most indebted people in the world, so good luck squeezing a buck out of your average Joe Louis.
Instead, you should initially address Canadians at a distance so that they can’t make out for certain whether you have Uncle Archibald’s perpetually flared nostrils. Next, extend your passport and say, “I am visiting your country. It is very nice,” to which they will likely offer the traditional Canadian reply, “Don’t worry, dear, no one takes a good passport photo.”
Maintain eye contact
Canadians believe that the eyes are the window to the beer fridge, so it is important to maintain eye contact as much as possible throughout your conversation. Do not look a Canadian in the chin, as this implies you think they are from Hamilton, which is a great insult.
At this point, your new Canadian friend will likely address you with the traditional greeting, “Blessings and high-speed internet to you,” to which you should respond, “Your kindness is as great as a pot-luck broccoli salad. May you be overflowing with real bacon bits.”
Topics to avoid
You wouldn’t think it, but Canadians are quick to take offence. You will be able to tell you’ve offended a Canadian when you hear from a mutual friend three months later that your new Canadian acquaintance “wasn’t impressed.” This can also manifest itself in the Canadian purposely avoiding the aisle you’re in at the grocery store.
While it’s impossible to ensure you will never offend a Canadian (by federal law, Canadians must take offence a minimum 3.4 times per year), you can reduce the risk by avoiding these topics:
– The non-Canadian Great Lakes
– Lloyd Robertson’s alleged colorblindness
– Flathead screwdrivers
– Scone control
– Poorly bound paperbacks
– 3 downs vs 4
– Politics and sex (at the same time)
Canadian vocabulary and dialect
For the most part, English-speaking Canadians employ standard North American usage, but there are differences in both vocabulary and delivery. For example, Canadians have no word for “train” and instead refer to it as a “wheel snake.” The word “beverage” means both “something to drink” and “that corner of the property you can’t see from the house.”
You also need to be aware of how Canadians incorporate body language into their speaking. For example, many older Canadians continue to employ the tradition of finger quotes when not in fact suggesting irony or figures of speech. This can lead to confusion for the unprepared when told, “I have to go home and [finger quotes] let out the dog.”
And while Canadians do all tend to have similar speech patterns due to the Great Homogenization of 1883, there are regional dialects. For instance, people from New Brunswick pronounce the word “butter” as “bathurst.”
Useful Canadian phrases
– “Don’t worry, I’m not from Red Deer.”
– “That is a surprising beaver.”
– “Excuse me, is this mukluk taken?”
– “Pleased to meet you, Bryan Adams.”
– “Waiter, may I have another moustache?”
– “I insist you repair my Diefenbaker!”
– “Où sont les caribous?”
Speaking of French, what about Quebec?
Victoria Day does not exist in Quebec.