5 things that surprise me about canadian culture
gastown, vancouver

gastown, vancouver

Moving from a perenially hot country to a perpetually cold and rainy one has meant quite a lot of adjustment on my part. Layering up is fun, but it does get rather troublesome, and I’ve already misplaced my favourite beanie in the process :(

Something else that I’ve had to adjust to is the culture of a different country, and there were a number of things that surprised me when I first moved to Vancouver. They still do at times, and I often wish that Singaporean culture would be a little more like this.

Here are some of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Canadian culture:

People say “thank you” when they get off the bus.

One of the first things I was shook by is that people would shout “thank you” to the bus driver while alighting. How courteous can Canadians get?! Saying thank you really costs us nothing, yet it seems so difficult for us to do it in a Singaporean context.

It makes me wonder how I can show more appreciation for the “invisible” people who toil around us in Singapore daily, whether they’re bus drivers or cleaners or construction workers.

Bus drivers here are also typically pretty friendly; most of them say hi or acknowledge you with a nod.

And yes, if you’re wondering: I do say “thank you” too ;)

Elderly folks/the handicapped/women with children board first.

Another observation I’ve made while taking public transport here is that elderly folks, people in wheelchairs, and women with children in strollers are ALWAYS allowed to board the bus first. And if others try to rush ahead, the bus driver will usually stop them from doing so.

Back in Singapore, it’s such a chore to get onto a bus or train, and people jostle and fight all the time (I’ve seen two women quarrel right in front of me while we were packed like sardines in the MRT). I really admire how Canadians have this unspoken rule to let older people or the disadvantaged get on board first.

Strangers actually talk to each other.

Face-to-face interaction is something that I think Singaporeans tend to shun. On one hand, I do get it: Who wants to engage in small talk after a long and difficult day at work? A lot of the time, we react suspiciously when a stranger comes up to us, and brush him/her off quickly. And more often than not, we bury our noses in our mobile devices while taking public transport in a bid to shut out the world around us.

On the other hand, a surprising random conversation may really make your day sometimes. A woman spoke to me while I was walking through the park once, just to say how beautiful the day was. Two strangers seated next to each other on the train started talking to each other about travel plans in Vancouver. A lady complimented my outfit while she was going up an escalator (and I was going down another). And you won’t believe how many times I’ve chatted with dog owners here :p

I remember that in Singapore, I was walking to the MRT station after work when a man said something random and I responded, and his next question was: “Are you from Singapore?” I was bemused, but I do think it’s quite sad that his question already speaks volumes on what he thinks Singaporeans are like.

Nobody will ask you how old you are.

Inevitably, questions regarding age will worm its way into conversations back home. There’s nothing wrong with it, I’ve come to expect it, and heck, I myself even ask that of people sometimes.

It’s normal in Asian culture I suppose, but in Canadian culture, hardly anybody will ask about your age. I guess it might be rude/intrusive to do so? It’s something I had to remind myself not to ask, and it also makes me question why it’s such an important thing to find out anyway. I guess in Singapore, it helps us to “place” someone in relation to ourselves. But it isn’t the case here.

They won’t ask you about what you work as.

Another question that will slowly but surely pop up back home: what do you work as? Our jobs do, in some way, help a stranger to understand us better. But sometimes I think it pigeonholes us too. So I’m grateful that questions like these don’t come up as often, although it tends to be on the tip of my tongue (again, something that seems so natural is rather “taboo” here).

In some way, the lack of a question like this helps me see that I am not defined by my work or my job… and it’s a freeing sensation. Maybe we can replace this question with ones like “what do you do for fun?” instead, whenever we meet someone new. Maybe, too, we can all learn to stop “ranking” people based on the type of jobs they do, and learn to appreciate them for who they are.