Calgary Observations and Common Canadian Misconceptions

I’ve been here nearly three months, and I love the transit system. Thay may sound silly, but I didn’t grow up with a major public transportation system… at least not a full-on train system in addition to a bus system like here. I get all excited when I have to travel downtown for something and I get to take the train in. I’m a people watcher; I enjoy watching all different kinds of people, and the train is definitely the place to see a wide variety of people. I went downtown the other day to meet with Lucas for his lunch break, and the trip home was no exception to the rule of interesting people.

It seemed like it was going to be a pretty quiet ride home considering it was the middle of the day and the train wasn’t that full. Then the singing began. A girl, probably around my age, had started to sing aloud with her headphones on. She seemed completely oblivious to the other 15-20 passengers aboard this particular car, and continued to belt out the rest of the lyrics to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” as if she were a contestant on American Idol. Everyone else was trying not to be too obvious as their eyes searched the car for other passengers to make sure they weren’t the only ones hearing her. I exchanged giggling glances with a few of my fellow passengers, and some just openly started to chuckle. A young couple and another man actually got up and moved in annoyance away from the girl. She paid no attention, but instead continued to sing the ending of the song and then grew quiet as the song finished. We came to the 3rd Street stop and a few more passengers got on, unaware that they were going to witness Calgary’s C-Train Idol. Some sat in the seat across from this girl, and the rest of us continued grinning around at each other. The train headed out of downtown and suddenly she was back in full swing as the next track of her mp3 player started up. The look on the two men who chose to sit across from her was priceless as they suddenly realized why that section of the train was mysteriously empty except for her. They, too, got up and moved. I never laughed so much on one train trip before, and I was actually disappointed when my stop came up and I had to get off the train during her encore performance. It’s funny how one silly thing brought an entire train of strangers together for a few minutes in laughter.

Some people take the train because they don’t have a vehicle, and some use the transit system because it’s a lot more cost-effective than trying to park downtown during the week. I also secretly think it’s got something to do with how insane Calgary drivers are. I mean no disrespect to Calgary in general, but it was a rude awakening to me the first few times I drove downtown. People here have no qualms about cutting others off, for example… they all seem to have this common understanding that as long as they throw in the all-important “hand wave”, it makes their bad driving excusable. I’ve decided that drivers in Calgary went to a completely different driving school than the rest of the world. At least the rest of the world I’ve experienced so far. Their cars are either not equipped with turn signals or they were never taught to use them. And the same driving school that taught them signals aren’t necessary instead taught them that a hand wave fixes every driving infraction they make. While this irritates me to no end, I’ve gotten used to just anticipating the worst from every Calgary driver I come within boundaries of.

Speaking of vehicles in Calgary, another observation I’ve made is the Alberta license plate. It starts with three letters, then a space, then ends in three numbers. I’ve made a game out of trying to find words in peoples’ license plates, and I’ve decided that most of the license plates in our area start with the letter “E.” You may think I’m crazy, (it’s not the first time it’s been hinted at) but I see more license plates that begin with “E” than any other letter around here; it’s my official obsessi… erm, observation. I’ve actually come up with a fairly detailed theory on why there’s so many “E” license plates around here, (it’s a conspiracy) but that’s a story for another day because you’re already looking at me strangely enough.

While I’m on the subject of Calgary, I might as well broaden my topic a little because I’ve had a lot of Canadian misconceptions put to rest after being here for awhile. Since being here for a few months, I’ve had a lot of people from back home ask me things like “Does everyone really live in an igloo?” or “Do they really use dogsleds to get to work in the winter?” The answer to both questions is no, by the way. Believe it or not, it’s not cold year-round everywhere in Canada, either. We’ve had several days here in Calgary that got into the 30 degrees celcius range, which is roughly in the 90 degree Fahrenheit range at home… most definitely not cold in the summer here. The police here are not all Mounties dressed in red uniforms; they look the same as American cops. Most people think hockey is Canada’s national sport, (including me at first), however, that’s not true. Hockey is considered the national pastime, but their national sport is Lacrosse. Apparently Canada invented baseball and basketball, too. News to me!

Another thing I learned is that there’s no such thing as “Canadian bacon.” At home, I’ve always referred to the small round ham on pizza as Canadian bacon, but here they laugh and just call it “ham.” How that misconception got started, I have no idea. I did get into an argument here about what the candy “Smarties” are, though. To me, Smarties are small, round aspirin shaped pieces of candy made of sugar that taste kind of tart. They come in a roll with approximately 20 different pastel colored pieces in it. Here, Smarties are completely different… they’re basically a larger version of M&Ms. Same concept of M&Ms at least; chocolate inside and a hard outer candy shell, but Smarties come in a wider variety of bright colors than what M&Ms do… in comparison to the color contents of a typical M&M package, anyway. The biggest difference to me is the taste between the two. Smarties are wannabe M&Ms and just don’t taste quite as good to me, but that’s probably because it’s what I’m used to. I’m convinced, however, the reason I prefer M&Ms over Smarties is because the Smarties candy shell is too sickeningly sweet. The chocolate inside Smarties tastes better than the chocolate inside M&Ms, but that icky candy shell flavor just ruins Smarties for me. Give me “M’s” over Smarties any day.

And now to the one thing everyone always jokes about.. you knew it was coming, eh? The phrase “eh” at the ends of sentences. A lot of my friends from back home have joked about adding “eh?” to the end of every sentence now that I’m in Canada. That is the one thing that I’ve noticed isn’t really a true misconception… I hear it all the time! Of course not everyone adds “eh” onto the end of every sentence, and to suggest that an entire country does it is silly, but I have noticed that people around here really actually do it more than they’d like to admit. I guess it’s because I’m not from here that makes it so easy for me to spot, but I do hear it a lot, eh?

Our calendar has been very busy lately. Oliver attended his first dog-friendly party, we had Dutch pancakes (pannekoekens) with Caley and Kali at this great Dutch restaurant, and we spent an afternoon at the Telus World of Science (similar to our Children’s Museum) over the weekend. Caley and Kali’s wedding is coming up soon, and plans for our big upcoming Pirate Pub Crawl party to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day are underway. Stay tuned!