How to Spot a Canadian

Tracking down Canadians one toque at a time.

About this Site...

Canadians are a tricky people to distinguish. They are often able to blend into a society and appear to be American, British, French or any other number of nationalities. This site will provide you with some tips and tricks to help you recognize a Canadian no matter where you are.


This site is for entertainment purposes only. "How to Spot a Canadian" is filled with humour, satire, hyperbole, parody and sarcasm. All statements here should be taken with a grain of salt or a bottle of maple syrup, whatever the case may be.

They've Been Taught to Both Fear and Celebrate the Smell of Burnt Toast

Due to their close proximity to the United States, Canadians frequently have their culture overwhelmed by their southern neighbours. This has led to government rulings and a culture that tries to separate itself from the US whenever possible.

Unfortunately, this closeness also prevents many Canadians from learning the history of their nation. American blockbusters tell the story of Pearl Harbor and Apollo 13, but Canadian history is not glorified in the same way.

You'll never see a big screen version of "The Making of Maple Syrup."

Tom Hanks and Ben Affleck would probably make themselves unavailable for that one. Well, maybe not Ben Affleck.

in 1991 Historica Minutes: History by the Minute, better known as Heritage Minutes, began airing. I'm not ashamed to admit that the majority of my knowledge of Canadian history came from these 60-second pieces.

One of the most memorable was the minute on Dr. Wilder Penfield. Dr. Penfield was a brain surgeon. The heritage minute (you can view it in its entirety here) told the story of a woman who would always smell burnt toast before she had a seizure. Dr. Penfield discovered which portion of her brain created that same sensation and thus figured out how to cure her seizures. It was definitely a great moment in Canadian history and one that should be celebrated.

However it completely freaked me out.

You see, the average ten-year-old watching TV doesn't care about great Canadian medical discoveries. They just want the cartoons to come back on. So I didn't understand the significance of the piece when it was first aired. All I knew was that while a woman was missing a piece of her skull and a doctor was touching her brain she screamed "I can smell burnt toast!"

There was a six month period where I thought I needed brain surgery every time my parents used the toaster.

But "burnt toast" wasn't the only heritage minute to have an impact on me. No, I can tell you all the memorable lines now.

"I don't know, just 'Winnie. The. Pooh.'" (Winnie)

"Now the people will know we were here." (The Inukshuk)

"It'll never fly!" (Superman)

"You can't see down with that thing!" (Jacques Plante)

"Nice women don't want the vote!" (Nellie McClung)

"But I'm sure it means 'the houses,' 'the village.'" (Jacques Cartier)

"Take me to Fitzgibbon" (Laura Secord)

They were all quite memorable and all taught Canadians a lot about their history. The downside was a generation of Canadians grew up fearing their toasters.

The upside is that this fact has provided us with a good way to spot Canadians. If you suspect someone of being Canadian, tell them you "smell burnt toast." If they rush to the phone and call 9-11, they are Canadian.

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Their Goverment Mandates They Listen to Nickelback

Canadians are very protective of their culture. They look to the south and they see the giant consumer force that is the United States and Canadians are afraid of losing their identities. It doesn't help that the US frequently jokes that Canada is the 51st State. That sort of line cuts Canadians to their frozen, maple syrup-covered bones.

So Canadians are very quick to point out that they are not American.

In an effort to keep the American promotional beast at bay, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) introduced Canadian content legislation. This means that Canadian television and radio stations must air "a certain percentage of content that was at least partly written, produced, presented, or otherwise contributed to by persons from Canada." [Wikipedia]

And that's how the world got Nickelback. writes:
January 2000 saw the arrival of The State, Nickelback's second independent release. Issued at a time in which Canadian content requirements were increased (and, accordingly, local radio stations had begun to desperately seek out homegrown product), the album fared very well on indie charts.

So Canadian content works, right? It took an indie band that had little hope of succeeding in the competitive US music market and it made them stars.

Unfortunately that rarely happens.

Radio stations are lazy. Yes, they could put their ears to the ground, get a sense of what is popular in small Canadian clubs, search, find good independent Canadian music and air it. They could also play Nickelback 72 times a day.

Guess which one they do.

This is especially true in this day and age when radio is a dying medium. Stations do not have the time or money to find the next big thing. So Canadians hear Nickelback, Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne and the Tragically Hip until their ears bleed. No one wants to take a chance on a new band when a sure thing is sitting right in front of you, waving a Canadian flag in your face.

So, to conclude, Canadians don't like Nickelback any more than Americans do. Yes, it's easy for Americans to look up north and think that all Canadians have gone crazy when they see Chad Kroeger's face plastered on every billboard in the country. But Canadians are not crazy. They're forced to listen to Nickelback even more than Americans are. They're victims. Victims of a system that makes it illegal to play Nickelback less than 20 times a day.

When trying to spot Canadians, mention that a famous Canadian band is only played as "Can-con." They will instantly understand what you mean and break into the opening verse of "How You Remind Me." You will then know you have found a Canadian. That Canadian is possibly Chad Kroeger.

If that's the case, look around and see if you can find Gordon Downie of the Tragically Hip nearby. He will be the guy wrapped in the flag, clutching his Juno Awards.

Their Slang is More Cute and Quirky than Insulting or Cool

If someone told you that they were going to get off of their chesterfield, put on their toque and long johns, hop on their Ski-doo, go about ten clicks to Timmies for a double-double on their way to play some shinny before stopping for a two-four on the way home, you'd probably be very confused.

If you're not confused, you are probably a Canadian yourself (or have at least done some in-depth study on their people.)

Most of that sentence was filled with Canadian slang. We'll go over what the sentence means now.

Chesterfield: A couch or a sofa
Toque: A knitted wool hat worn on cold days (Which days are cold days? All of them!)
Long johns: Long underwear or thermal underwear
Ski-doo: A popular brand of snowmobile that has become the standard name for all snowmobiles in Canada
Ten clicks: Ten kilometres
Timmies: Tim Hortons, a coffee and doughnut chain started by a hockey player
Double-double: A coffee with two creams and two sugars
Shinny: An unstructured game of hockey played with few rules and less equipment
Two-Four: A case of beer (24 beers in a case.)

Canadian slang is based upon things that Canadians like (beer, hockey, and staying warm.) It isn't meant to be "cool" or to impress anyone or to insult anyone. While most American slang is used to make the person saying it look better in some way, Canadians are far too polite for that.

They just want a quicker way to say things. Canadians need to speak as little as possible because their mouths could freeze during the harsh Canadian winters. They can't risk saying "wool knitted hat" instead of "toque" because they may not have time to get the whole phrase out before the inevitable mouth freeze.

Anyone using this Canadian terminology correctly is likely a Canadian. If they pepper their speech with frequent usage of the word "Eh" at the ends of sentences, they are definitely Canadian. Treat them with all of the caution you would use towards any Canadian. Offer to watch hockey with them. That will usually calm the situation.

Canadians also have different words for many things that Americans find common. Canadians say "pop" instead of "soda," "chocolate bar" instead of "candy bar," "garbage" instead of "trash" and "universal health care" instead of "you're screwed, poor sick people!"

What an interesting culture!

They Take Their Shoes Off Indoors

Canadians take their shoes off when entering a home. There isn't any questioning it. As soon as you enter the front door you're taking off your shoes. That's just the way it is. As a Canadian myself, I find this practice completely normal. For most of my life I assumed that everyone did this.

Apparently that's not true. From what I've heard, Americans generally leave their shoes on at home. I would see this practice on American television programs and think they're leaving their shoes on because it's TV. That's not true. Most Americans leave their shoes on indoors.

Canadians do not. In fact, only under very strange circumstances would a Canadian leave his or her shoes on in a house.

It's probably because Canadians are a very polite people. They don't want to cause a fuss. They don't want to draw attention to themselves. They don't want to make a mess. And so the shoes come off.

It doesn't matter how clean the home is, Canadians are removing their shoes unless explicitly told otherwise. I've been to vacant apartments and taken my shoes off at the door. It's just second nature now.

Of course, I also say sorry when someone bumps into me. Even when they're completely at fault and I did nothing wrong I'm still going to apologize. It's the Canadian way.

An easy way to spot a Canadian is to bring them into your home. Yes, I understand that inviting a Canadian into your home is a dangerous action. Because of this you should attempt all other forms of Canadian identification before trying this step. Once you allow a Canadian into your home you will find that they will fill your fridge with Canadian beer, turn your TV to a hockey game and crank the air conditioning to make it colder. That's just how Canadians are.

However, if you do decide to invite a suspected Canadian over, you will immediately know if they are truly Canadian or not. It will be evident within 30 seconds. A real Canadian would not think of leaving their shoes on when they're in your house. A real Canadian would also not think of locking the front door behind them, so you will need to do so once the Canadian is safely inside. Canadians do not lock doors because there is no such thing as crime in Canada.

Sewing a Canadian Flag on a Backpack is their idea of Blatant Patriotism

Canadians are not flag wavers. While their neighbours to the south hang Old Glory from anything they possibly can, Canadians are much less flashy with the Maple Leaf.

There isn't a flag pole in front of every house in Canada. Canadians don't have ticker-tape parades where flags hang from buildings in celebration. That's just not their style. No, Canadians prefer a more subtle type of patriotism, one that can only be seen in beer commercials.

The most patriotic a Canadian will ever get is when they are traveling abroad.

As we've previously discussed, Canadians do not want to be considered Americans. They will do anything within their power to avoid being lumped into the same group as those from the United States. This is never more true than when outside of Canada.

Due to the many similarities between the two cultures, Canadians are frequently mistaken for Americans when they are in Europe or Asia or anywhere else abroad. This is something Canadians definitely do not want. They have spent their entire lives defining themselves as "Not American" and some guy in France is not going to screw this up for them!

So, to stop this from happening, Canadians make a bold statement. They go against all of their values. They sew Canadian flags on their backpacks.

But don't worry, they aren't going crazy here. It's not like they sew large flags. No, Canadians would not want to upset anyone. They find the smallest flags they possibly can and they use those. It's a very Canadian way of saying "I'm Canadian, but I'm not going to rub your face in it, and it's cool that you're not Canadian."

Unfortunately, as always, spotting Canadians is not so simple. It's not a cut-and-dry issue

Canadians enjoy such good reputations overseas that now many Americans have started sewing Canadian flags on their backpacks as well! This makes it quite difficult to distinguish between real Canadians and fake Canadians. In these cases you will need to use some of the other tips you have learned to separate the Canucks from the "Faux-nucks."

Important Note: This "quiet patriotism" with its lack of flags completely disappears when it comes to hockey. Only during hockey games will you see giant Canadian flags flowing through the crowd and seas of maple leaves in the streets. In these situations it is best to allow Canadians to watch their hockey undisturbed. You can come back and question them later when something else is on, like baseball. Interrupting a Canadian during a hockey game is never encouraged and could prove dangerous.

They Produce "Canadian Versions" of International Entertainment

Canadians love entertainment from around the world. They all wish they could have the same dry humour as the British or the same cool attitudes as the Americans. But they don't. The kind of shows that are produced in Canada about Canadians are shows like Anne of Green Gables and Degrassi. It's not exactly blockbuster entertainment.

So, to deal with this problem and avoid having to think up too many original ideas, Canadians have taken to having "Canadian Versions" of their favourite shows.

Do you like American Idol? That's great! You'll love Canadian Idol! Are you a fan of Deal of No Deal? Well wait until you see Deal or No Deal Canada!

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Canadian Edition, So You Think You Can Dance Canada, Project Runway Canada. They're all there and they're all trying to be like their international counterparts.

But it doesn't stop with shows. No, Canadians take entire networks and create Canadian versions. Ever watch MTV Canada? Neither has anyone else. (Except maybe the writers of 30 Rock.)

Of course these networks are nothing but bastardized versions, created to calm the Canadians down before they riot through the igloos of Toronto, brandishing snow shoes and screaming for more poutine. They're not any good. MTV Canada doesn't even have a license to play music (not that the actual MTV plays any music these days.)

But Canadians, in their quest to be something more than maple syrup-loving dog sledders, have taken it a step further. They've created "rip off channels" that pretend to be like famous international stations.

Canadians don't get Showtime but they can watch Showcase. In Canada you can't watch Comedy Central but you can spend as long as you want tuning into The Comedy Network. And so it goes on.

This disturbing trend has even moved out of the realm of television and into other forms of entertainment. Canadians can get their Internet services provided to them by AOL Canada which, yes, stands for "America Online Canada." It doesn't make sense to anyone so don't ask.

Those Canadians are definitely a confusing bunch, which is why it is often so difficult to spot them.

Using the knowledge you just learned, however, will give you an advantage.

If you suspect someone of being Canadian just sit them down and have them watch substandard versions of international programming. A true Canadian will feel right at home and maybe even give you a "This show's pretty good, eh?"

Then you will know that you've found a Canadian.

They Have Retail Stores That Print Their Own Money

Canadian money is weird. It's all a mass of different coloured bills and there are far too many coins. Americans, in particular, are confused by such a bizarre form of currency.

It gets worse.

In Canada they actually allow a store to print its own money.

It sounds insane. But it's true. Okay, it's not actually money. It's "money." The quotation marks are very important.

You see, Canadian Tire, a large retail store in Canada, has been handing out its own money for years. Whenever you purchase anything from a Canadian Tire store you receive Canadian Tire "money" back along with your change. This "money" can be used during future visits to Canadian Tire in place of real money. It's quite strange, but this practice has been going on in Canada for generations.

It's always interesting to see the reactions of tourists or new Canadians when they are handed this "money" back along with their change for the first time.

Usually the reaction is a look of confusion at this weird custom. Some people will think they are being ripped off and given fake money back in lieu of their actual change. Some people think they're being given foreign currency. Some think it's a joke. They will eventually understand this bizarre custom and leave the store.

There is a good chance some of those Canadian Tire virgins will attempt to spend the money at another store and be ridiculed.

In that way Canadian Tire "money" is kind of like Canadian hazing.

The first time you experience it, it's confusing and painful. You're laughed at for not understanding the ritual. You're humiliated. With time you learn to understand the custom and soon you are joining in, snickering in line as another newbie is handed his first fake dollar with his change.

This initiation is a cruel part of Canadian society that is as important to the Canadian culture as igloo building and polar bear racing.

Of course, the underlying fact is that no one - not even the most Canadian of Canadians - actually has a use for Canadian Tire "money." A typical purchase will get you about five or ten cents back in fake currency. In a strange role-reversal from standard Canadian currency, all Canadian Tire "money" is in bill form. There are no coins.

Upon receiving the bills all Canadians will take them carefully and vow to put them in a safe place until the next time they visit Canadian Tire. Of course Canadians, being a forgetful people, will inevitably leave the money at home when they make their next trip to the store. The ritual then begins again.

Every Canadian has a drawer or a shoe box filled with Canadian Tire "money" at home. It's usually kept right next to their snowshoes and dog sled. This "money" never gets spent (and yet this practice has somehow never caused Canadian Tire "money" deflation.)

When looking for a Canadian, try to gain access to your subject's home. It will be easy. Canadians, being incredibly trustworthy, never lock their doors (Michael Moore has probably already told you this.) If your subject lives in an igloo it is even easier to enter. Doors to igloos rarely have locks.

When you've entered the home, check for the drawer of Canadian Tire "money." There will usually be several stacks of five and ten cent bills in there. Take some on your way out. A true Canadian won't miss it as they will have forgotten how much was there quite long ago.

They Secretly Want to Burn Down the White House Again, Just for Fun

In 1814, during the War of 1812 (yes, the war of 1812 continued after 1812 ended) a group of British soldiers set Washington D.C ablaze. Included in the buildings damaged by the fire was the White House. The fire was in retaliation for the Americans burning down the Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada, which sat in what is now Toronto.

It was the only major war between the United States and what is now Canada.

Many Canadians look back on the War of 1812 favourably, despite the fact that none of them were alive during the time. It's considered a time when Canada and the United States were equal in terms of military might. (The fact that Britain provided Canada with much of its military power is largely ignored.)

The war is also known for the creation of two great American symbols. The Star Spangled Banner was written during a battle and the White House was repainted white following the fire.

Now, the White House was white before the burning, but the fire drew attention to the fact that it was white. Conversely, the Parliament buildings that were burned in Canada are now a parking lot for a car dealership.

Canadians love that they were the cause of these two great American symbols. They love to point out that the house of the President was once burned by Canadian forces. But it's not just the history Canadians love. They all secretly want to burn down the White House again.

Most Canadians have a love/hate relationship with the United States. They hate the brash, cocky attitude of the country, but they love the television programming. They despise the way the United States tries to police the world, but they appreciate a good Big Mac. They fear that increasing globalization will cause their larger neighbour to overwhelm them, but they love Obama.

And it's this begrudging admiration that causes Canadians to want to remain individuals, but still be acknowledged by the US.

The easiest way to achieve this is to burn down the White House.

Sure, the average Canadian will deny such ambitions. They will say that such a dream is terrorism and condemn the very idea. But inside the heart of every hockey-loving Canuck lies the soul of a pyromaniac.

Now Canadians don't want to hurt anyone, that's just not their way. They don't even want to burn now the White House as a political symbol. They don't want to cause any trouble, they just want to be noticed.

If the President and his family would just leave the White House and the surrounding area for a little while, Canadians would be happy to start a small fire there. It would give them a chance to connect with their history while also making them the top story on CNN. Then the Canadians would happily return to the Great White North, pleased with their latest adventure.

So, if you want to spot a Canadian, simply mention that the White House will be empty for the next few days. If they pull out a gas can and a box of matches, that person is definitely a Canadian.

Tim Horton is known more for Coffee than Hockey

Canadians love hockey. This isn't an insider tip that will help you spot a Canadian, it's a well-known fact. To a Canadian, hockey is a way of life. It's what tea is to the British, what a kilt is to the Scottish or television violence is to the Americans. It's part of their society.

So when someone who played professional hockey is somehow MORE FAMOUS for doing something else, it's very strange. Very, very strange.

This paradox is central to the Candian identity. What paradox you ask? Well, the fact that Tim Horton, a former professional hockey player, is better known for creating a chain of coffee and doughnut shops than for his on ice career.

At first glance it's confusing, scary even. Tim Horton spent 22 years in the NHL, playing most of those seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the most loved and hated teams in the league. He won the Stanley Cup four times in the blue and white. You would think that this would be enough to have him immortalized in Canadian history as a great hockey player.

But that's not what happened.

You see, Canadians are a confusing bunch. That's why it's so difficult to spot them. Just when you think you've figured out their patterns and that you have your maple syrup-covered finger on the pulse of their lumberjack and igloo society, they change direction faster than a beaver in the spring.

You see, Tim Horton is far more famous for being the co-founder of "Tim Hortons," a coffee and doughnut chain.

Tim Hortons, like many Canadian beer companies, has found a way to fully integrate their corporate branding into the fabric of Canadian society. Only in Canada would a soulless, multi-national corporation easily become a symbol of national pride. A Tim Hortons doughnut is like American apple pie. It's a fixture of Canadian culture.

And, it is in this chain, between "double-doubles" and "Timbits," that Tim Horton has found his immortality.

That last sentence probably made very little sense to non-Canadians. It's okay. It's mostly Canadian jibberish. A "double-double" isn't a basketball term in this case. It refers to a coffee with two creams and two sugars. A "Timbit" is a ball of dough that has been deep fried and coated in sugar. Somehow, it's actually less healthy than it sounds.

Those terms are central to the Tim Hortons culture and are great ways to spot Canadians.

If you reference either of those terms and get a response about basketball or a confused stare, the person you're speaking with is not a Canadian. If your listener responds with "Oh yeah, I'll take a apple fritter and a dutchie too, eh" then that person is a Canadian.

Note: In this case "dutchie" is a type of doughnut, not a drug reference. Like we've said before, Canadians are sneaky with their slang.

Another good way to spot a Canadian is to say something like "Starbucks makes the best coffee on earth." If someone screams "NO WAY! TIMMIES IS THE BEST!" and tries to fight you, that person is a Canadian.

Do you have your own unique way of spotting Canadians? If you'd like to share it with us, please contact us by email. We're always looking for new tips!