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A Guide to Canada From An American

First off, get your passport and go to Canada. It is a fun country, beautiful places and generally people are pretty friendly. Minus the French speaking province of Quebec, Canada is very similar to America or I call it America Lite.  Generally English is the main language, most American stores are there. Tim Horton is the McDonalds of Canada, they are everywhere. They generally watch the same movies and TV shows as we do. Politics and Religion is much like America, cities are more liberal and less religious and rural areas more conservative and Christian. Though Canada has more political parties, it is basically conservatives and liberals.

Provinces and Territories of Canada

Quick Canada Geography lesson:

Canada doesn’t have states but 10 Provinces and 3 Territories (which are all in the far North, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut)

#1 You need a passport to visit. Generally it is easier to get into Canada than to get back into America. I tend to get search and interviewed most times back into America. I find if I rent a car from a border state  such Washington or Maine I have no issues crossing the border and not needing anything additional paperwork. Trust me they know, often they will ask why am I in a rental even with out me saying so.

#2 Metric System – Canada was imperial system like we are and American and Canada was suppose to switch to the Metric system at the same time in 1975 when Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act but America bailed out and Canada continued in the mid 70’s. Road signs are kilometers for distance and for speed.

Common Canadian Roadway Speed Limits

Type of Driving  Kilometers per hour Miles per hour
Multi-lane highway driving 110 kph 66 mph
Most 2-lane highways outside cities & towns 80 kph 50 mph
Major roads in urban and suburban areas 60 – 70 kph 37 – 44 mph
Residential streets 40 – 50 kph 25 – 30 mph
School zones 30-50 kph 20-30 mph

When it comes to distance. 1 mile is equal to 1.6093km so when a Canadian sign says a town is 100 away, it is roughly 62 miles away.  I find most Canadian roads to be better quality / maintained over American roads.

I have a GPS and it tells the speed in mph and in miles so I find it very easy to get around. I know I’m a party downer but after awhile you get the hang of the speed even without cheating, almost all dashboards have the KM on the speedometer. So this might sound stressful but it really isn’t. Just don’t think that a speed sign that says 100 means 100 mph.

Temperatures are in Celsius in Canada. After as many trips as I have done I’ve gotten good at guessing general temps in F but the C temp. Here is the best advice 0 degrees is freezing, it is our 32 degrees and 100 degrees is boiling or our 212. In many ways metric makes better sense.

Below are the most common temps you will see in Canada during Spring – Fall. Most of my visits are in the Fall so somewhere from 8 degrees for lows and very low 20’s for highs is normal for most of my visits.

5 °C 41.0 °F
6 °C 42.8 °F
7 °C 44.6 °F
8 °C 46.4 °F
9 °C 48.2 °F
10 °C 50.0 °F
20 °C 68.0 °F
30 °C 86.0 °F


#3 Canadian money is cooler looking, they often ask how can you tell your money apart, it looks the same in the USA. Wait until you feel the money in Canada, it is so smooth. My favorite is the $20 bill.

Canadian Paper Money

A “Toonie” (on the left is $2) and “Loonie” (on the right is $1)

Canadian coins include the Loonie ($1), Toonie ($2), 25¢ quarter, 10¢ dime, 5¢ nickel Starting in 2014 Canada stopped the use of pennies and they round off to nearest nickle.

Coming from America you are in better shape as the Canadian dollar has been worth about 70 or 80 cents compared to one U.S. dollar. So American money goes farther in Canada but Canada seems to cost more and have higher taxes so it might all even out with international fees.


#4 Gas Stations or Petrol stations

This is a bummer, don’t get excited that $1.19 is per liter not gallon. One American gallon of case is 3.78541 liters. Also gas stations are not that plentiful as in America so if you are driving in rural areas then fill up often. Generally prices are not much different but rurals areas near an main highway seemed to the best priced. Still you are looking $4-5.50 a gallon in gas. $50-65 per fill up in Canadian money is not unusual for an average small vehicle.

#5 Language

Anything national level is bi-lingual English / French similar to America’s English / Spanish. I will go more in depth later but there is legitimate tension between the French speaking areas and English. Even in the French areas of Quebec about half are able to speak English to a basic degree. However in most areas of Canada English is all you need to know. They are British English so they spell things like centre, colour, favourite, tonne, and grey compared to American English but close enough for Americans to get the idea.

Canadians have an accent that I find cute, they say eh a lot and the way they say about and sorry is fun too.

One of the biggest language / cultural differences that comes to mind is the restroom/bathroom is called the washroom in Canada.

#6 Food

They  got Poutine (/pˈtn/;), eh, that is what it is about. Poutine is about is Canadian food dish as it comes and originated from Quebec. My nickname for it is a heart attack in a bowl. In the most traditional way, it is French fries covered in brown gravy with cheese curds.

Other than Poutine, Canada food is generally American. Although in some areas like Alberta mayonnaise is called Chicken sauce.

A Guide to French Speaking Quebec From An American

The Good Part: Beautiful cities of Quebec City and Montreal. Lots of history. I personally find the French language to be beautiful. There is a lot of beautiful nature in Quebec as well such as Jacques-Cartier National Park. Quebec is where Poutine originated from. 

Not necessarily bad but I feel Americans should understand the history and why there is tension between French speakers and English speakers so you can be sensitive to people of Quebec.  

Quebec was “New France” and the rest of Canada was at the time a British colony. Quebec felt that they were an occupied nation, because conquered by the British. Fast forward to mid-1960’s, American and Canadian businesses have moved into Quebec. People are speaking English all day at work fears of the French identity is being taken away from them. Quebec culture is very tightly entwined with the French culture. People are afraid they are becoming English slowly so the Quebec sovereignty movement happens where some people want to break away from Canada and form their own country. 

There was a book written called the White “n-word” of America, a book that correlated the black civil rights movement with the white French people in Canada. At the time French people were discriminated against, because most of Canada was strictly English, most people would not hire French people. So they often had lower class jobs. The french ghetto was similar to the black ghettos of America. French people held very little political power. 

Now days because the Canadian federal government is bi-lingual. Most of Canada only speaks English. In Quebec about 50% can speak English and French. The other 50% in Quebec is French only and those are more in the rural areas. So people from Quebec hold a lot of positions in government. They went from the bottom class to elite ruling class pretty fast. 

Some people in Quebec have told me just like Americans are with Mexicans with wanting them to learn English. Quebec feels the same way, if you come to Quebec why should they speak English when you be the one to learn French. So I highly recommend people study some French. It will come in helpful for reading signs and even if its bad french at least enough that you try. 

There is a legitimate snobbery with some people in Quebec where they feel they are superior to you because you don’t know French. Not all people, there are many French people in the tourist areas that will speak English and will be very friendly. Old Montreal is like that, most of the tourist there are English speakers. When you are outside the city though there is a chance they don’t know what you are saying and they can get frustrated. 

Quebec has a language police (Office Québécois de la langue française (OQLF) a.k.a the language police.) where it is actually illegal to have too much English in your business name, signage, all menus are required to be in French. Businesses can actually be fined for being too English in Quebec. All businesses have to be spoken and written in French which goes back to where a lot of businesses was in English and they were afraid their identity was being slowly stripped away. They have English menus upon special request though. So if you go into a place talking English loudly as most American tourist seem to do when I’m in Quebec, it does seem to irritate some people. They don’t know your American or just another Canadian that refuses to learn French. I can tell with some places I have been where there is noticeable annoyance that they have speak English with me. 

Quebec city is much more French than say Montreal where there are English sections. I found I could speak English fine in old Montreal and in most tourist areas of Montreal.

So I know all that sounds like a warning not to visit Quebec but learning some basic french and understanding the tensions of French vs English will help make the visit go well. Every tourist destination I have been too will have English and French signs. 

Right turns on a red light

Turning right on a red light is permitted in Québec, except in Montréal and where prohibited by signs posted at intersections.

Flashing green light or green arrow (flashing or not)

This type of light is commonly used in Québec. When the green light flashes or a green arrow appears, this means that you have the right of way to turn left. The vehicles on the other side of the intersection are not allowed to move forward, since their light is red.

I would say it would important to learn common road signs in Quebec. As of 2018 many signs are French online leaving you to have no clue what to do as an English speaker. In the future they should be bilingual or pictograms. Some road signs on the highway would say. Entrée interdite quand les feux clignotent (No entry when the lights are flashing), or Respectez les feux de voies (Observe the traffic lights) or ralentissex zone de travaux (slow down work area).

Common French Signs and Meaning

Arret = Stop Sign

Rue = Road

 Ouest = West Sud = South Nord = North Est = East 

stationnement = parking 

stationnement interdit = no parking 

Ne pas Entrer = Do Not Enter

In Quebec time is in 24 hour format and days of the week are: lundi (Monday), mardi (Tuesday), mercredi (Wednesday), jeudi (Thursday), vendredi (Friday), samedi (Saturday) and dimanche (Sunday).