Saturday, December 06, 2008

americanisms vs. canadianisms


speaking of differences between my old and new homes, i was amused to find this post in my early archives. i hadn't even been married for a year yet and was, at the time, shocked to find that there still were differences in the american language that i hadn't found out about yet. oh, if only i knew the discoveries that were to continue for years down the road! just the other day, while telling josh the one last thing i wanted for christmas, i mistakenly referred to it as a "housecoat". josh, who was reading the paper at the time didn't even look up from the article he was reading; he just said, " i have no idea what that is." i'm used to this happening from time to time, so i searched my brain for a translation and the only word that came to mind was "bathrobe". sure enough, that was the magic word that made sense to him. i had to clarify that i wanted a fluffy bathrobe, though. in my mind, bathrobes are those terrycloth type things you wear after a bath or at a spa. a housecoat, on the other hand, is something warm and cozy that you put on over your pajamas on christmas morning.


along with learning new words for things, i also have been corrected many times by mispronouncing certain words. the funniest ones i can remember are "jujubes" and "decal" (down here they say "dee-CAL", which always makes me giggle). then there's also "asphalt", "southern", "process", "again","shone", "diesel", and, of course the very obvious "about".


and while we're on this whole topic of differences, may i dare to address the differences in etiquette? keep in mind that i know i have a lot of american readers and i am definitely NOT trying to make it sound like canadian manners are superior. i'm generalizing here when i say "american" because i've only known this small corner of america so intimately. there may be other places in the unites states which say and act quite differently.


okay, so the first thing that i still can't quite get used to is the whole shoes in the house scenario. i don't understand the reasoning (besides laziness) for wearing one's shoes in a carpeted home, but here it is done in nearly every home without a second thought. its always fun when i have canadian visitors staying over because i get a kick out of the little row of shoes that they leave near the door.


the other one that i hope i never grow accustomed to is the use of the word "huh?" instead of "pardon me?" kids often ask "what?" if they want something repeated and i've noticed that if i say "pardon me?" to most children here, they have no clue what language i'm speaking!


the last sort of etiquette-type difference that shocks me the most is the lack of knife usage while eating! i think that people here mainly use a butter knife for buttering bread and a steak knife for cutting steak. other than that, its forks or fingers (usually both). we were invited to a neighbor's thanksgiving dinner last week and the table was set with ONLY forks! i still have no idea how to eat with only a fork, its a special feat that i have yet to accomplish. i sort of looked around to see others sawing away at their turkey with the side of their forks and scooping the last bit of mashed potatoes onto their forks with their fingers. when nobody was looking, i stole the butter knife that was resting on the butter tray and used it for the remainder of my meal.


i must add that, however proper and tidy canadians seem to be, there are two things that americans win at hands down: friendliness and food. i've heard americans say that people in canada are oh-so friendly, but i've got to say that i've found it the other way around. perhaps its because i moved to a small town which definitely has its share of small town charm, where the people are warm and welcoming. the food, well i tell you i don't know what i was eating before i discovered things like carne asada and red beans & rice and jambalaya and cornbread and in-n-out burger and the lettuce wraps at pf changs! okay, so there sure are things i miss about food in canada, but the variety here is really spectacular and i can tell you right now that you haven't even tasted real mexican food until you've had it this close to the border.


and so, when i found out that the word "housecoat" isn't used here, i subtracted it from my vocabulary just as i've done with countless other words. i've traded in pop for soda, buns for rolls, wieners for hot dogs, chocolate bars for candy bars, celcius for fahrenheit, postal code for zip code, zed for zee, garburator for garbage disposal, cutlery for silverware, icing for frosting, icing sugar for powdered sugar, summer holidays for summer vacation, serviettes for napkins, toques for beanies, timbits for donut holes, chinook for santa ana, pablum for rice cereal, eaves troughs for gutters, homo milk for whole milk, brown bread for whole wheat bread, soother for pacifier, runners for tennis shoes, and washroom for bathroom. (and i'm sure i missed a whole bunch, not to mention the irreplacable words like eh and loonie) but the thing that i love the most about changing bits of my language is the ability i have to change it all right back within days of stepping foot on canadian soil. i just can't seem to manage the canadian "about" any longer. :)

17 comments:

Kristal Sawyer said...

OH man, you hit this RIGHT on the head. I think only us former Canadian residents, now US residents will only fully understand.

And I too have omitted SO many words from my vocabulary. Just today, at our church's Christmas Tea I was reading the passage where it says the star shone bright. And the American shone came out. I can't believe it. I guess I'm slowly becoming one of them...

Shannon said...

YES YES YES!!!

One time I told my landlord that my garburator was not working. You know, that hole in the second sink that makes noise and sucks up nasty water...
oh that conversation was fun, and my husband laughing in the background.

I have become one of them. But do switch back very quickly when visiting. Being in the midwest though it is harder to kick the accent. I am a little more hillbilly than you fancy west coast folk.

nicanddiana said...

I love this post! You have said everything I feel about being an American in Canada, only backwards. Its crazy the differences. Just tonight, my MIL said "register" when I looked at her like what? She looked at me back like I was acting wierd. I finally found out she was talking about the heater grate on the floor.

Goodness, the difference are so crazy!! And I think it never ends, I will always learn something new up here. And I can't believe how many people think I have an accent. We had a speaker at our church last night from North Carolina, and they were commenting on her accent. I didn't hear it at all!!

I've also had to reavaluate the kind of shoes I buy up here. I'm not used to taking them off everytime I go somewhere, so I'm finding that I need slip on shoes instead of laced up shoes, cause it takes too long to put them back on!!

I think I could go on, but your so right about everything you said, just the other way around for me :)

Lovella said...

Oh so fun. . .fabulous writing and oh so entertaining. I found myself mouthing the words. . .and nodding my head. ..and smiling knowingly. . .it would be so interesting to read what an American would say living in Canada.
Oh. . .and I don't get the "about". . I keep saying it and I don't get what is different. If you leave a comment here to clue me in. . .I'll come back and check. .

heidi said...

lovella,
the canadian "about" is very subtle. i could never hear it until i had lived here for awhile. americans often say that canadians pronounce it "aboot" or "aboat" but that is not really true. americans just pronounce it with more of an "ow" sound than canadians do. with the word "southern", the canadians use the "ow" sound while the americans tend to say it more like "suthern".

diana, haha register!! i forgot about that one. yes, josh looked at me very funny when i called our heating vent a register :)

umakegoodcookies said...

Ok, that was such a funny post! I also found myself nodding to a bunch of stuff you said!

I LOVE to say Rice Krispie squares in front of Josh...just to irk him. I actually saw a show on the Food Network about the creation of them. It is an American show, and the first recipe was written as "Rice Krispie Squares" not treats. Ha!! :)

umakegoodcookies said...

Oh ya, and don't even get me started on "beenies"!! ;)

Unkempt Mommy said...

This is such a fun post! I had no idea there were so many differences. All I know is that I used to love watching shows like "Degrasi Junior High" and "You Can't Do That On Television". I loved their Canadian accents and wanted to be just like them! :)

running wildly said...

Super great post. Love this one. Sigh.....oh, how you have conformed to the dark side. (grin)

Anneliese said...

I try to be very careful to remember all the right words when we're there (visiting Kristal). What always gets me is that when I hear the way it's "supposed" to be said (there) it's not a new word! Why is it a new word for Americans, when we use a Canadian word? Oh,and I don't get the "about" either. And I don't really like the word "eh?" =)Thanks for a fun post, Heidi. I will keep learning too, because I do need my grandbabies to undertand me.=)

sarah_dickenson said...

Hilarious! It always icks me to see people not taking their shoes off when they go into a home on american HGTV shows! Carpet & shoes don't mix!!

Anneliese said...

Another one of those words that I always wonder if I'm saying it right is "sorry". How do you say it? . . . sary?"

heidi said...

YES! i forgot about that one, thanks anneliese! canadians say sorry, just like its spelled. americans say it more like "sarry". i totally slip up on this one sometimes still.

Jennifer said...

Nobody here can pronounce anything remotely close to the french language.

I came here to say I miss frugal fridays.
And I thought your pic was cute.

Sara said...

I just found your blog through my friend Cara's mom. This post was good for me to read. I'm from Missouri, but now live in BC. Words like decal, produce, basil, and others sound so different than where I'm from. It's a good thing I don't have the official certifications Canada requires to teach elementary school up here like I did in Missouri. I'd be messing up a whole generation of children in the alphabet and phonics department. I have had to learn to be careful not to generalize Canadians though, because there are so many things unique to a certain region. (In Missouri, we'd say soda, but in Indiana, we'd say pop. In Missouri we say hat, but in the south they say toboggan. To me a toboggan is something I use for sledding, and not something I wear on my head. So many differences....)

And I too had to adjust to the shoes deal, which always makes me think twice about my socks and the style of shoes I'm wearing when I'm going to someone's home. (I don't think it's laziness in the States across the board. For my family in Missouri, I think they keep their shoes on because they don't deal with the constant mud and pine needles and slug guts that we deal with here in the lower mainland. But that's just my thought on it.)

It was harder than I imagined adjusting to Canadian/BC/lower mainland culture after coming from the Midwest about three years ago. Even forming friendships and knowing what conversation topics are appropriate is different. It sure is an adventure though, and I'm learning to meld the best of both cultures. I'm also learning to shrug off the constant teasing I get from friends here when my "American-ness" shows up glaringly.

Both countries have such amazing things to offer in terms of culture and resources, and I'm glad to have experienced both. Honestly, I will always be American and will love it as my first home. But I have grown to love BC, and look forward to the day when I get to be a dual citizen who can vote and really participate fully in this country that is now my home. And the funny thing is that I'm now catching myself defending some of Canada's uniqueness to my family and friends back in the States.

Anonymous said...

Just happened on your blog...somehow...loved the post as I am a Canadian living in the US since the age of 12, but I so remember all the words you shared and it made me laugh. One word difference I remember also is elastics in Canada are called rubber bands in the US and how Chesterfields are sofas or couches. I remember in Jr High after just moving to Oregon, someone asking me,"Why do you say 'EH' all the time?" I think I I promptly stopped! Terryl

natashakay said...

Jennifer is so right about the french language being completely bastardized here! I nearly laugh out loud every time I hear someone try to say "boulanger" (the bakery chain)...they say "boo-lan-jer"...instead of "boo-lan-jay"...soft r people! Soft r! I think it's even more funny that French is such a soft language and the Americans make it hard-edged and all hick-like. (no offense to anyone here!).

But seriously -- I can't really mock them too bad because I once asked someone where "La Jo-la avenue" was when looking for La Jolla -- instead of "La Hoy-a"...(soft j -- d'oh!). My lack of Spanish is equivalent to their lack of French, I guess!