Are you planning to visit Canada? Welcome! Did you bring your toque and a two-four?
Canadians may have a well-deserved reputation for being friendly, but that doesn't mean we're easy to understand. We've got a whole vocabulary of Canadian slang, not to mention some strong cultural preferences about how to have a conversation.
If you want to learn what to say to a Canadian when you visit, this article's for you. We'll explain the regional slang of Canada, how to be polite to Canadians, and everything else you need to know when learning how to speak Canadian.
How to Speak to a Canadian: Compliments We Love
Regardless of culture, everyone loves to get a compliment. If you're wondering what to say to a Canadian, why not start by letting them know how much you admire their country?
Canadians love to be complimented on our national accomplishments. We're proud of our prowess in hockey and our universal health care system, so be sure to mention those in your compliments.
We're also proud of our openness to newcomers and our multicultural nation. If you mention how nice it is to see people of different cultures living alongside each other in harmony, we'll take it very kindly.
We're always proud to see fellow Canadians recognized for their accomplishments, so feel free to tell us how much you admire Sid the Kid, Alex Trebek, Chris Hatfield, Celine Dion, Jim Carrey, Drake, Justin Bieber, Avril Lavigne, Michael J Fox, Pamela Anderson....big breath...Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds, Mike Myers, Ryan Gosling, Seth Rogan, Bryan Adams, Paul Anka, Will Arnett, Dan Aykroyd, Michael Buble...phew. And so many more. Wow Canadians are talented!
We have many historical Canadian heroes as well. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on the accomplishments of Tommy Douglas, Nellie McClung, Romeo Dallaire, Terry Fox, and Fredrick Banting — we love hearing about their incredible contributions to the world.
We're Different from America
Canadians are sensitive about being overshadowed by our close neighbour, the United States. Our countries may seem similar at first glance, but Canadians know that we have very different cultures, and we worry that our unique culture gets overlooked.
If you’re travelling to Canada, the best compliment you can give is acknowledging the cultural distinction between Canada and the United States. A simple, “Wow, things are so different here!” will bring a smile to your new Canadian friend’s face.
How to Be Polite to Canadians
Canadian politeness isn't just a stereotype. Research has shown that Canadians actually are more courteous.
Why are Canadians so polite? Maybe it's because our country is a cultural mosaic, and being polite helps us get along with so many different cultures.
Maybe it's because we're used to helping each other through the hardships of life, like the challenges of a cold Canadian winter. Maybe it's because we're one of the happiest countries in the world and we have lots to smile about.
Whatever the cause, politeness is a keystone of Canadian culture. If you're visiting Canada, you need to know how to be polite to a Canadian.
Say Please, Thank You, and Sorry
When you say "please" or "thank you" to a stranger in some countries, you're likely to be met with silence — or, at most, a curt "yep."
Canadians are different. We show our national love of courtesy by saying “please” and “thank you” at every opportunity. Most of all, we like to say “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry” is the all-purpose courtesy word. Use it for everything: when you realize you’re blocking someone’s way at the grocery store – sorry! When you accidentally interrupt someone – sorry!, Or when you have to get someone’s attention – sorry!
In Canada, you’ll even hear people apologize when someone else made a mistake. If you bump into someone else on the street, don’t be surprised if you get a “Sorry!” instead of a “Hey, I’m walking here!”
Canada doesn't have New York minutes.
Maybe it’s because Canada’s natural resource economy puts Canadians in touch with the slow rhythm of the seasons. Maybe it’s because Canada is a country made up of relaxed small towns as well as huge metropolis’s. Either way, rushing around isn’t Canada’s style.
If you don’t want to come off as pushy and rude when you’re visiting Canada, step into our slower rhythm of life. If a checkout line moves slowly, take a deep breath and resist the urge to push forward. When someone needs to cut in front of you in traffic, give them a smile and wave them on. Canadians are very courteous drivers.
Hold the Door
The quintessential act of Canadian courtesy is holding the door for someone else.
Hold the door for your friend as you both enter a coffee shop. Hold the door for a stranger as you head into a museum. Hold the door for your family when you come home.
It might not be talking out loud, but holding the door will speak Canadians’ language. It’s just one of the little unspoken acts of courtesy that make Canada so unforgettable.
Topics Canadians Love
In keeping with our love of politeness and harmony, Canadians don't gravitate towards divisive topics. If it's going to lead to an argument — or even a disagreement — we'll probably change the topic.
That means that politics, economics, and other charged topics such as religions, are out. Here's what to talk about instead.
The weather is the perfect small-talk topic. We're all affected by it, so it's relatable to everyone. Everybody has something to say about it, but it won't generate any uncomfortable disagreements. That's why Canadians have made talking about the weather an art form.
If you're not sure how to lead into the conversation, comment on the rain, snow, heat, or cold. After all, the weather's always doing something. As mentioned above, maybe one of the reasons Canadians are so pleasant is because we all bare the weather together. On the flipside of bad weather, it's not unusual to make eye contact with a perfect stranger and mention gorgeous weather (of which we have plenty of too).
Where They Are From
Canada is made up of distinct regions, each with its own regional traditions and pride. In Canada, asking, "Where are you from?" is normal.
If you’re not familiar with the regional differences in Canada, follow up by asking about what their region is like, because getting a Canadian talking about what they love about their region (including Atlantic, Eastern, Central, Western, or Northern Canada) is a sure way to help them warm up to you.
As well, Canadians love that question because it teaches us so much about other parts of the world from people who are now citizens. Could this be the reason we love to travel so much?
Things Canadians Love
Are you still searching for a conversation topic? There's no better choice than Canada's most well-loved hobbies. Here are a few topics that every Canadian can relate to.
Hockey might not be our national sport, but it's our national pastime.
You can ask about someone’s favourite team and how they’re doing in this year’s playoffs, or about their rec league. Talking about hockey might even lead to an invitation to get in on a local game.
Talking about hockey teams might touch off a heated argument about which one is the best. Be warned that the legendary rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens (also known as “the Habs”) always gets Canadians riled up. Don’t bring up the fact that Canada’s most iconic team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, hasn’t won the prestigious Stanley Cup in over 50 years.
Let Canadians talk about their favourite team and that time that they got to meet Sydney Crosby, and you’ll make friends in no time.
Canada's history of brewing suds dates back to 1643, and beer has been part of what it means to be Canadian ever since.
We’re not saying Canadian brew is better…actually yes we are. After all, everyone has their preference. However, Canadian beer has distinct qualities that keep Canadians loyal.
Whether you’re talking about a big-name brand like Molsen Canadian or a craft brew from one of Canada’s innumerable small-town breweries, Canadians will love to give you their opinion on the best beer around. From there, don’t be afraid to invite them to grab a cold one so you can sample it yourself.
From the Toronto Film Festival to Montreal's Just for Laughs comedy festival to the Calgary Stampede, Canadian culture is full of festivals. Whether you love folk music, film, athletics, jazz, comedy, or something else, ask your new Canadian friend what festivals are coming up, and you'll find lots to talk about.
Canada's culture, both rural and urban, is rich in creativity and music. We have folk music influences from our French Canadian roots, traditional music from our First Nations communities, and everything in between.
You'll also find lots of up-and-coming artists in any city you find yourself in. Whether you like folk, pop, or hip-hop, Canadians will have lots to say about the local artists you should check out.
There's Canadian slang, and then there's Toronto slang.
As Canada's biggest and busiest city, Toronto has a different culture than the rest of the country. It's the trendiest city in the country (which is why it belongs on your list of dream travel destinations), and it has its own ultra-cool slang dictionary to match.
It's pronounced "the six," and it refers to the Toronto area. It's a reference to our original area code, 416. As the city has exploded in size, we've incorporated many more area codes, but this piece of slang connects us to our past.
Example: “It's hot up in The 6ix right now.”
There's not much mystery about this one. Say, "what's going on," but say it faster. Congratulations, you speak Torontonian!
Your friend group, your squad, your fam. In Toronto, throw a "z" (pronounced "zed" in Canada) on the end of everything, and you'll fit right in.
Example: "Hey famz, wagwan?"
In some countries, it probably still refers to something easy or unchallenging — "that test was a breeze." In The 6ix, it's a verb that's best translated as "scram."
Example: "Breeze it."
Common Canadian Phrases You Should Know
Let's get the obvious one out of the way: Canadians do say "Eh," and if you make fun of it, you won't make many friends here.
You can throw "eh" into pretty much any sentence, but linguists theorize that its true function is to show politeness by inviting others to disagree or voice other opinions. Perhaps that's why Canadians use it so often (and why they feel uncomfortable when others laugh at it).
Example: "There's a bad storm coming, eh?"
Here are a few more common Canadian phrases to get you started:
- “I'm gonna go to Timmies real quick and grab me a box of Timbits.” Translation - “I’m going to Tim Hortons (our favourite coffee and doughnut franchise) quickly to grab a box of doughnut holes.
- "Double-double." Translation - 2 milk 2 sugar (either for coffee or tea)
- “S*it's hot up in The 6ix right now.” Translation - “Toronto is a very active and fun city.”
- "Two-four." Translation - a case of beer containing either 24 cans or 24 bottles.
- “Grab your toque." Translation - Grab your winter hat.
- “Just grab a mickey." Translation - Just get a small bottle of hard liquor.
- “Let's have a couple pops on the chesterfield.” Translation - Let’s drink a couple of sodas on the couch.
- “Look at those crazy Canucks!” Translation - this can mean two things. 1. Look at those crazy Vancouver Canucks (the hockey team from Vancouver, British Columbia) 2. Look at those crazy Canadians - we are often referred to as ‘Canucks.’
- “Her name starts with zed.” Translation - Her name starts with the letter Z.
- “There's a moose on the loose! Translation - There’s a very large forest animal running around somewhere it’s not supposed to be.
When you grab a double-double at Timmies before watching the Canucks game on the chesterfield, you'll know that you're fitting into Canadian culture.
How to Speak Canadian, Solved
If you're planning a trip to Canada, you'll find most Canadians friendly and polite. Knowing how to speak Canadian will help you fit right in with our courteous culture.
If you're visiting Canada, especially from abroad and plan to stay for a while, be sure to talk to us about Visitors and Super Visa Insurance. Get a free quote from Insurdinary to compare your travel insurance options and find the one that covers your needs.