Saturday, November 26, 2011

Toronto - What I Found Out From The Locals

When two of my friends relocated from New York City to Toronto, I thought it was time to revisit the city and see it the way a local would. They've been living in the city now for just over a year and they shared with me a wealth of information reflecting on their perceptions of a host of social and cultural differences between Canadians (or at least Torontonians or Ontarians as a whole) and Americans -- including Toronto etiquette. Here's what they told me:


• Talking about religion is generally frowned upon. That includes avoiding putting up the office Christmas tree. Even saying "god bless you" when someone sneezes is not done. Certainly a curious finding given the large number of churches in Toronto. But the idea is that they don't wear their religion on their sleeve.

•  Many office workers can expect three-day-weekends 10 months out of the year. That includes Family Day in February, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Victoria Day in May, Canada Day in July and a civic holiday in August.

• Even the most high pressure jobs generally don't have their workers putting in more than 60-hour work weeks. And, it's generally a lot less than that. In Ontario, the average hours worked per week is just about 36.

• On the roads, Torontonians tend to be a more courteous lot, allowing drivers to almost painlessly merge into traffic when you have your signal on. (Of course, there are always exceptions and, remember that my friends are comparing Torontonians with New Yorkers.)

• Just as Torontonians don't like to discuss religion, they also tend to steer conversations away from discussing mental health issues. So, while in New York City it would be very normal to discuss visiting a psychotherapist or filling your prescription for an anti-depressant, not so in Toronto.

• The Toronto courteousness seems to extend to customer service departments as well. My friends had to deal with the fact that their cable and then cell phone were both turned off because of late payments. (Because they hadn't gotten a Canadian-based credit card yet.) Imagine their surprise when,  after they simply said they intend to make a payment, their services were turned right back on.

• Toronto is very much a bike-friendly city with a large network of bike paths strung throughout the city. In a fashion, and certainly, much more than in New York City, bicycles rule.  Businesses try to promote cycling and the city gives out awards to businesses that encourage their people to cycle.

• The city is gung-ho about recycling. You'll find a myriad of different recycle bins all over the city. Even the lovely Leslie Street Spit, an urban wilderness, is built of recycled materials. (Plus, on weekends, it becomes a bicycle-only thoroughfare.)

• There are a litany of Canadianisms, including that all candy bars are referred to as chocolate bars -- whether they contain chocolate or not. 

• It seems that the city has gotten comfortable with the medical marijuana issue, whereby people who suffer from various conditions are legally allowed to smoke, including in certain cafes. But the curious thing is that other people, who are not violating any other law, are also allowed to smoke pot in these venues. (They can't be (or aren't) arrested for simply smoking pot, so I'm told, unless they bring in marijuana or try to sell it or try to smoke tobacco.) Plus, curiously, no one calls it pot. It's referred to as cannabis.

• Toronto is a beach town. Who knew? Bordering Lake Ontario, Toronto has numerous sandy beaches, including the community referred to as The Beaches on the east side of the city, where many take advantage of the long boardwalks and promenades.

23 comments:

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Very interesting that with the reluctance to talk about religion, they still take a holiday on Good Friday and Easter! Never realized there would be so many differences with U.S. customs.

JTravel said...

Hi Vera Marie, It certainly is curious.

Jane Boursaw said...

Toronto sounds amazing. A Family Day holiday in February and 36-hour work weeks. Most excellent.

JTravel said...

Hi Jane, I know. Pretty amazing, huh? That's why my friends are in love with the city and very happy about moving there.

Sheryl said...

These are things all new to me. And many of them (well, most of them) sound wonderful. A visit to Toronto is definitely in order. Sounds like a really decent place to live.

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

Canada is such a wonderful country - oh, I'm sure there are crappy little outposts and mean people SOMEWHERE in the great white north, but I have yet to find them. How can you not be charmed by a place that takes you at your word on utility payments?

kerry dexter said...

on Cape Breton and in Alberta, two places in Canada where I've spent a good amount of time, I've not found that reluctance to discuss religion. the courtesy and welcoming spirit, yes, indeed. I've yet to make it to Toronto but your reflections remind me that I should.

JTravel said...

Hi Kerry, I've never been to Cape Breton but it has long been on my list. Hope you make it to Toronto soon. One of my favorite things to do is visit the Toronto Islands and go cross country skiing.

JTravel said...

Hi Casey, I totally agree. Telling the phone or cable company in the U.S. that you intend to pay has never gotten me anywhere.

Living Large said...

Very interesting. I especially like not wearing your religion on your sleeve. I wish people in my region would take that to heart.

JTravel said...

Hi Sheryl, Yes, my friends adore living in Toronto. They're trying to encourage all of us in NYC to move to Toronto, too.

JTravel said...

Hi Living Large, I agree. It's certainly interesting that there are plenty of religious people in Toronto but they keep it to themselves.

merr said...

I've not been to Toronto but friends I've know who come from there did seem fond of it. I'd like to visit.

JTravel said...

Hi merr, Before this trip, I hadn't been in Toronto in a very long time. I'm hoping to return again. And I hope you have a chance to visit in the near future also. You'll totally enjoy it.

lovelyrita said...

As a native Torontonian, I really enjoyed your post. It's nice to see that outsiders appreciate my city as much as I do. Don't forget the wonderful Toronto International Film Festival in September!

The only thing I take exception to is the bit about referring to marijuana as cannabis. Only my doctor calls it cannabis (when she asked if I'd like a prescription for pain). Everyone I know calls it weed.

The comments on religion are spot on. We've known our neighbours very well for 15 years and yet we only found out recently that they attend church. It's considered personal and isn't discussed. BTW, no one bats an eye if they discover I'm Atheist. It's a personal choice.

Oh, and cans of soda are called pop. The only thing we call soda is actual soda water.

JTravel said...

Hi Rita, Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, I heard soda referred to as pop when I was in Toronto. And I know the Toronto International Film Festival has a stellar reputation. As a film buff, I hope to attend it maybe next year.

Mindie Homes said...

I really enjoyed my visit to Toronto last year. There are so many fun and diverting things to see and experience. Loved every bit!

MyKidsEatSquid said...

Interesting discussion, I've been wanting to visit Toronto. Following lovelyrita's comment, when I first moved to NY, I had to remind myself say soda, not pop (NYers scoffed at 'pop'). Now I live in the midwest and can't seem to go back to pop, soda just sound better.

JTravel said...

Hi Mindie, I wish I had more time in Toronto. It was only a long weekend. I could've easily have spent a week checking out all the restaurants, museums and greenspaces.

JTravel said...

Hi MyKidsEatSquid, I had a friend from the Midwest who says pop and when I would visit I found it hard to say pop. (I prefer soda.)

Anonymous said...

After growing up and living in Toronto for all of my life, I found most of this to be very accurate. Great article :)

Also, us Torontonians do refer to marijuana as 'pot' as well as bud, green, weed and mary-jane.

JTravel said...

Hi Anonymous, Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post.

pinkee said...

Toronto is great place to enjoy because every type of culture is exist in Toronto.

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