Things To Avoid In Canada: 11 Don’ts For A Great Trip

A hiker on a mountain top proudly holding a Canadian flag
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We all know Canadians are some of the friendliest people in the world. Therefore, when visiting their country, it is important to always be polite, courteous, and avoid making an embarrassing faux pas! To achieve this and not ruffle any feathers, there are certain things to avoid in Canada that every tourist should remember.

Canada is a huge country, covering almost 10 million square kilometers of land. The landscapes are unlike any other. Every corner is full of rich history, culture, and traditions. So when you do come to Canada, you’re going to want to make the most of it.

From saying the wrong thing to disrespecting maple syrup, some innocent mistakes could lead to causing serious offense. With our Canadian travel guidelines, you can enjoy your journey knowing you’re not about to dig yourself a hole! Here are the 11 top things to avoid doing in Canada for the best trip.

Comparing Canadians to Americans

Flags of Canada and USA folded together close up
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To start us off here is the most important thing to avoid doing in Canada – never compare Canadians to Americans. Despite being neighbors, there are few similarities between Canada and the US. And if anyone tries to make comparisons between the two, Canadians will take great offense. So whatever you do, don’t say Canadians are anything like Americans!

Canadians have been quietly, and politely, been defining their distinctions from the southern neighbors since 1867 and this has been a part of the Canadian experience of national identity. To a foreign ear, the accents may sound similar. But if you listen closely, there is a big difference between the rolling Canadian accents and the harsh Yank drawl.

While the Canadian megacity of Toronto may also reflect a certain American “look”, it remains historically, politically, and socially different. Canadians are proud of their country and its distinctions.

Toronto is not the capital city

Aerial view of Canadian Parliament Hill in Ottawa
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Avoid making this common mistake when you are in Canada. While Toronto is one of the most famous cities in Canada, Toronto is not the capital despite common misbelief. Neither is Montreal or Calgary! The title of the capital city goes to Ottawa, the seat of Canada’s federal government and the political center of the country.

Similar to the Australian capital, Ottawa is not the most exciting city in Canada. In fact, Ottawa is often described as “the city that fun forgot” and is listed as one of the most boring cities in the world. Sure, there are plenty of leafy parks and informative museums, but life can feel a little quiet and dull here.

However, Ottawa is starting to evolve and become the dynamic and vibrant capital Canada deserves. This bilingual city, where French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians co-exist more-or-less happily, is having a shake-up across neighborhoods, cuisine options, and hang-out spots. So watch this space!

French-English relations

Pug with Canadian glasses and bobble ears
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Canada’s colonial past is still a sore subject for many, so it is best to avoid mentioning the tensions between French and English Canada. Canada was colonized several times and this can be seen across the diverse country. While the country never experienced large-scale violence or a war of independence from its colonial history, some tensions remain.

The influences of both English and French colonies are clearly represented by Ontario and Quebec, respectively. So if you are visiting these provinces, you definitely need to keep the colonial topic under wraps!

Some parts of Canada co-exist bilingually, such as the country’s capital, Ottawa. Even when you are visiting these destinations, it’s best to keep quiet on pointing out the apparent harmony between the French and English Canada.

Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons coffee cup and Timbits box in focus
Photo by Conor Samuel on Unsplash

Whatever you do, never bad-mouth Tim Hortons, especially within earshot of a Canadian. This national treasure is a Canadian cultural icon, in the same category as hockey and poutine (speaking of which, don’t criticize either of these as well!)

Timmy’s, as it is affectionately known by locals, is far more than just a coffee shop. Founded by and named after a hockey player, Tim Hortons is essentially a cultural institution in Canada. Canadians have been enjoying a Tim Hortons pick-me-up since 1965. They can be found across the country and are even beginning to make a name for themselves overseas.

It is safe to assume that Timmy’s is probably the main reason why Canadians eat more doughnuts per capita. In fact, Canada has more doughnut stores per capita than any other nation on the planet. So always remember, never criticize Tim Hortons!

Return an apology

beautiful girl holds the flag of Canada on gray background
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We’ve already mentioned that Canadians are some of the world’s friendliest people. Their politeness has been cultivated over the decades, so it’s important to respect this when you visit Canada. So be sure you don’t forget to return an apology!

You will often hear Canadians say “sorry” in place of “excuse me” or “pardon me”. So just as you would return these phrases in some situations, like an unintentional bump into someone, you should also do the same with a sorry exchange on the street.

Manners are one of the most important things to remember in Canada. Don’t forget your manners and you should be off to a good start with the ever so lovely polite Canadians.

Public transport etiquette

Tram streetcar in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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Of course, polite manners continue through Canadian culture through to when you use public transportation. As with anywhere in the world, you should let passengers exit the train or bus before trying to jump on yourself. This etiquette is expected across all Canadian cities, avoid making a huge faux pas here.

So never rush into a bus or train. Wait your turn and stay patient as you stand to the left or right, letting everyone get off before joining yourself. Oh, and be sure to say you are “sorry” a few times throughout the journey.

Don’t let this fool you into thinking public transportation in Canada is quiet and peaceful. Canadians are not averse to packing into an overpopulated bus or train in order to commute back home after work. However, pushing and shoving throughout the commute is extremely rude.

Maple syrup

stacked chocolate pancakes with bottle of maple syrup
Photo by LightFieldStudios from Envato Elements

Take a look at the Canadian flag. There is a maple leaf proudly representing the country, symbolizing Canada in more ways than one. Maple syrup is a strong part of Canadian food culture and is up there as a national treasure along with ice hockey and Tim Hortons. So avoid any expression of dislike towards maple syrup as this will cut deep into any Canadian soul.

For centuries, maple syrup has been harvested and produced in the heart of Canada. The indigenous people gathered this natural sweetener and then taught the practice to the European newcomers. Now, Quebec is the largest global producer of maple syrup.

Maple syrup can be found in pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, and French toast, as well as being a common baking ingredient. This quintessential Canadian souvenir is the perfect gift to take home in either its liquid state or maybe even the form of candy, powder, taffy, or fudge.

Diverse landscapes and cultures

Boardwalk in Vancouver island, British Columbia, Canada
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Canada is a huge and expansive country. So once you have seen the beautiful snowy peaks of the Calgary mountains, don’t go assuming that it’s all the same everywhere else. Canada’s landscapes and cultures are incredibly diverse from province to province.

Each of the 10 provinces and 3 territories has its own distinct history and character. So, as you can imagine, it is difficult to talk about Canada in general terms. Once you start to delve into the real depths of Canada, you will discover more and more beautiful places for your next adventure.

From the west coast Vancouver surf to the vast prairies in Alberta, and all the enormous national parks in between, Canada has so much to offer. Across the country, you have the opportunity to discover incredible wildlife and breathtaking vistas. So please, when you visit Canada, don’t think you’ve seen it all from just one trip, and be prepared for bear encounters.

Cold winters

Landscape somewhere between Calgary & Banff
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

One of the most important things you should avoid doing in Canada is underestimating how cold the winters can be. Nor should you highlight this fact and say to locals that the winter is too cold. Canada is a cold place and we all know it!

Seasonal temperatures fluctuate across the country, but winters, on the whole, are bitterly cold. Some of the coldest places in Canada daily average temperatures are a chilling −15°C (5°F), but it can drop below −40°C (−40°F) with the wind chill cutting through. Northern regions of Canada can have snow on the ground year-round, while central areas tend to have snow for about 6 months.

Extreme temperatures continue through to the summer months as well as a hot and humid climate sweeps across the nation. Ultimately, it is not a tourists place to make remarks about the temperature. Leave it to the locals to complain or be proud of the hot or cold.

Extra charges

A black wallet with Canadian dollars
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This tip is a given for any traveler regardless of where you are going. Don’t get caught out by unnecessary charges on your credit cards or cellphone. All of these fees add up and will eat into your vacation budget; after all, Canada is not the cheapest place, to begin with!

You will still be able to use your cards for purchases or in the ATM, however, there may be additional fees for the international transaction. Check with your bank for overseas travel advice or take out Canadian dollars beforehand for your trip.

The same goes for your cell phone. Check with your provider as to what the international rates are and remember to change your phone over to roaming mode. Most places within the cities should have WiFi to help keep you connected.

Border control

driver with an identity card in a car at a border checkpoint
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Most of the time, traveling is simple and you breeze through. However, you should never assume you are going to have an easy time with border control as your journey the globe.

Canadian border guards, while generally helpful and always polite, are particularly strict when it comes to requirements. To avoid any issue, make sure you have everything you need in order and easily accessible. This includes your passport, visa information, additional papers, and any required vaccination status information.

Canada truly is a magnificent country. It has so much to offer to any adventure seeker and global traveler. Make sure you keep our top travel guideline tips in mind and avoid doing these things in Canada, then we can guarantee you will have a warm and welcoming experience!

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Hi! I'm Abigail, a surfer, traveller, and nature lover. I'm from the UK but have been able to call Bali home for several years. I've backpacked across Australia on a shoestring budget, explored European coastlines, and taken in the sights across the pond and down into South America. My travel wishlist keeps growing the more I explore our perfect planet!