Map of Canada showing Ottawa and Montreal.

Canada and the U.S., Very Different Neighbors

They're neighbors, and so they're very similar, right?

Canadian flag

There are some big differences between Canada and the United States. As someone who has always lived in the U.S., I certainly notice these differences when I visit Canada. The U.S. has a frightening number of mass shootings, in Canada they are much less common. Canada, like most other developed nations, provides health care for its citizens, while the U.S. does not. Let's see, what else?

Canadian milk packaging.

In Canada, milk comes in bags.

Heavily armed milkman.

In the U.S., the milkmen are heavily armed.

Yes, Canada, your bags of milk fascinate me. I mean no disrespect. But it gets me speculating — in Canada, you would have to own a milk pitcher. When you move into a new home, buying a milk pitcher for it would be a significant step. A milk pitcher might be an ideal house-warming gift, or wedding gift.

Bags of milk in Canada.
Bags of milk in Canada.


Or maybe there's some special technique for managing slippery bags of liquid.

Bags of milk in Canada.
Bags of milk in Canada.

Canada Labels Things in Three Languages

English, French (or at least Québécois, which isn't Loire valley French), and Aboriginal syllabics.

Aboriginal syllabics, English, and French.

There is No Aspirin in Canada

At least not under the name of "aspirin", which is a Bayer trademark in some countries. Acetylsalicylic acid, please. Or ASA for short.

ASA or acetylsalicylic acid on sale in Canada.


ASIN: 2019124637

Acetylsalicylic acid molecule, from Wikipedia.

Acetylsalicylic acid

Acetylsalicylic acid molecule, from Wikipedia.

Acetylsalicylic acid

Canada is Modern

In the U.S., you give your credit card to someone who disappears for a while to do who knows what. Copy all the data, quite likely. In Canada, you never hand over your card, they bring a card reader to you.

If your card is from a U.S. bank, it prints a paper slip that you have to sign.

If your card is from a bank in a more financially modern area of the world, it does "Chip and PIN" and is reasonably secure.

Chip and PIN credit card machine.
Chip and PIN credit card machine.

Canada has Poutine

Some places in the U.S. have poutine. But it's not the same.


ASIN: B01N301R07


Canada is Unafraid

Airports in the U.S. are filled with constant booming Fear Announcements. We are told every few minutes to watch for swarthy foreigners asking us to carry their packages.

But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.

— Aldous Huxley
Brave New World Revisited

Of course those wily foreigners might leave their bomb-filled packages lying around inside the terminal. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on airport security, but it is widely assumed to be worthless because foreigners could carry their bombs out to the airplanes. So, we need to constantly watch for unattended bags, because they're probably bombs.

Canadian airports also don't have frequent loudspeaker announcements telling everyone to give thanks to and for a brave military that is just barely holding off constant attacks on the Homeland.

Squeezed in between the Fear Announcements in U.S. airports are constant reminders that just in case you left your car parked right at the entry doors of the terminal, you need to move it.

These constant announcements are carried over loudspeakers out in the airport concourses where you board the planes, so they assume that someone parked at the curb by the entrance, and has checked in and gone through security.

The moving belts carrying people through airports in the U.S. have loud announcements as you near the end, repeatedly telling you to be careful, don't get hurt, you're approaching the end of the belt and you will need to step off, so don't hurt yourself.

The U.S. assumes, for good reasons, that its citizens are dim-witted children prone to losing their automobiles and hurting themselves. Canada doesn't do that, nor does anywhere else I've been.

Canada Can Deal With Winter Weather

I went to Ottawa in February to teach a class. I arrived the Saturday before, when the wind chill was -39 °C. On the first day of the class, Ottawa set a new record for single-day snowfall in February.

On the way back to the hotel that afternoon, I noticed a narrow lane between the sidewalk and the street. It was only partly cleared.

Snow in Ottawa almost closes the bicycle lane.
Snow in Ottawa almost closes the bicycle lane.

It was the bicycle lane. The next day at the same time, it was cleared better. And it was in use.

Yes, there's a Starbucks in the above picture. But that's in the Lord Elgin Hotel, which is aimed at business travelers and Americans. A proper Canadian breakfast comes from Tim Horton's, like I got every morning when teaching a Linux server course to the Ottawa city government:

Breakfast in Canada: doughnut and Tim Horton's coffee.
Breakfast in Canada: bagel with smoked meat at the By Ward Market in Ottawa.

Or it involves smoked meat, like the above at the By Ward Market in Ottawa.


Canada is almost entirely metricized. Except for plumbing and other construction material, to ease cross-border trade with the U.S.

People in the U.S. see the metric system as some sort of communist plot. Sure, the U.S. may crash the occasional space probe into a planet because of a mix-up caused by our non-metric units of measurement, but that's the cost of freedom.

Non-metric plumbing parts in a Canada Tire store.
Non-metric plumbing parts in a Canada Tire store.
The Surprisingly Non-Metric Washrooms of Canada

The non-metric system of measurements used only in the U.S., Liberia, and Myanmar is obviously far superior. One fluid ounce of water weighs 1.0431756 ounces of weight, that's how simple it is!

The U.S. is often criticized for having relatively poor education. But imagine the math benefits of teaching children how to multiply by factors of 12, 16, and 36, and divide by 5,260, in order to do common conversions.

In the rest of the world, you only need to multiply and divide by factors of 10.

Non-metric plumbing parts in a Canada Tire store.
Non-metric plumbing parts in a Canada Tire store.


Canada has curling, which I find very calming, almost hypnotic.

Sporting events in the U.S., especially football, include grandiose rituals linking the Flag, Christianity, and the Military into a syncretic state religion.

The National Hockey League includes teams in both Canada and the U.S. When a U.S. team plays in Canada, Canadian television coverage shows a short ceremony with both national flags and the playing of both national anthems. But there is no gigantic flag covering the entire rink, no prayers of thanksgiving to the U.S. military, and most daring of all, the flags are treated as if they are somehow of equal importance and sanctity.

U.S. television coverage, of course, shows nothing about the Canadian flag or anthem. There would be riots, entire sections of U.S. cities would be burned to the ground.

The U.S. is Heavily Militarized, Canada is Not

See the above, about the military-sports spectacles involving the Prayer of Allegiance.

The police in the U.S. are heavily militarized. There's a push to have the military function as police, and have the police equipped and trained as a paramilitary force. Yes, these are actual police:

Militarized police in the U.S.A.
Militarized police in the U.S.A.

In Canada, it doesn't feel as if you're in a city under siege. I went to Ottawa to teach a class. I was staying just three blocks down from Parliament Hill. It was four days before I saw a police car on the street.

You see a lot of Special Forces cosplay in the U.S. Men with beards and tight ball caps trying for the look made popular since 2001 by media coverage of the Forever War. They ache to one day be mistaken for a Special Operator operating operationally, at the local Walmart.

Man wearing 3 camouflage patterns at once.

A man wearing 3 different camouflage patterns. Note: This picture was taken in the U.S., as if you couldn't guess.

Some of them dress every day in head-to-toe camouflage. This can lead to strange ensembles where the hat, shirt or jacket, and trousers (called "pants" in the U.S.) are of three different camouflage patterns. Which would suggest that at least two of the patterns, no matter how expensively licensed from families of bigoted hillbillies and large corporations, is incorrect.