I recently moved to Toronto for my working holiday and the first few weeks in Canada have been very different to my life back home in the UK. Canada is a seriously cool country, where it feels like being on the set of a movie instead of in real life. Chipmunks roam the streets, strangers smile and make eye contact with you, and you won’t be judged for eating cheesy chips with gravy because poutine is a national dish! Here are some of the most surprising things I experienced in my first few weeks in Canada.

1. Taxes and tipping culture

pourboires tips canada

Every time I pay for something in North America, I’m playing Russian roulette. I have no idea if my final bill is going to be affordable or if I’m about to go bankrupt. It’s hard to budget when the ticketed price isn’t reflective of the true cost. It’s also confusing to work out the tipping system when you don’t grow up with mandatory tipping—which services do you tip and by how much?

I’m often guilty of being negative about my hometown and England in general. One thing moving to Canada has done is make me grateful that I grew up in a country where the advertised price is the same price you’ll be paying; no additional surprises!

2. The pace of life

canada surprendre


I’m used to big city life equaling frantic aggression—in London or New York, you’d mow your own grandma down if it meant getting on the subway faster. In Toronto, people are calm. They walk casually down the stairs and onto the platform, even if it means missing the train. Sometimes, people have even stopped to let me go ahead of them.

It also takes hours to get anywhere in Canada because you’re constantly sitting in traffic, either in your car or on public transport. Many times, I’ve gotten off transport to walk because I can’t stand being still for so long, yet the locals seem completely unbothered by this crawling pace. Never again will I complain about the tube—I’ll take the hot, smelly, overcrowded London Underground over hours in traffic any day!

The people

On escalators, people don’t maintain the stand-on-the-right, walk-on-the-left system. They will stand on both sides, blocking the path of anyone wanting to walk faster. PSA to Ontarians that if you do this in London (England), you will be severely tutted at…

I have to queue longer in stores or cafes because everyone stops to have a chat at the till. Back home, we don’t make time for idle chit-chat because we’re always in a race to be somewhere else. If you bump into someone on the street and hold them up talking, it’s considered rude or an inconvenience rather than being polite or friendly.

3. The roads

code de la route canada

The rules

Thankfully, I haven’t had a problem when driving on the right. As a pedestrian, however, I can never remember which way to look before crossing the road. (Answer: both ways, so many times that it no longer matters which way is correct, as by now you’ll be standing out like a sore thumb and cars will take pity and wave you across).

It’s also confusing when the rules change at every street. With traffic lights and zebra crossings, sometimes you need to press the button to cross and sometimes the lights are automatic. Occasionally, you’ll run into crossing guards. You essentially have to request your direction of onward travel and wait until the way you want to go is popular enough with the crossing guard to be allowed to continue… My least favourite is the four-way stop, where you must pay attention to the order of the cars pulling up to determine if the next in line is turning in your direction or not.


Finally, the roadworks! I knew about Canada’s famed roadworks, since they do all their maintenance during the short summertimes. However, the constant construction makes it even more impossible trying to navigate the city when every other block is closed or detouring for roadworks.

4. The food

The size and cost

Everything comes supersized in North America! I don’t need a gym membership, I just need to carry my shopping bags home to grow arms the size of Popeye. As a solo traveller, I’ve popped into a supermarket for “essentials” and ended up lugging home enough milk, bread and pasta to feed a small army.

The good news is it’s quite economical to stock up this way, especially on non-perishables. Canada is touted as an expensive country and, whilst this is true in some areas (I almost had to take out a loan to buy a pack of dental floss…), I’ve found basic grocery shopping to be more affordable than in the UK, especially as I don’t have to go shopping as frequently.

The quality

The major downside is it’s hard to eat healthily when the portions are extreme, and the foods are pumped with more salt, sugar and chemicals than we’re used to in Europe. I have to buy organic for certain items to get the “natural” taste I’m used to, and these inevitably cost more.

5. The weather

… No, not in the way you’re thinking. I’m not here to talk about the famous cold temps (yet)–I’m reserving my judgement until I’ve experienced my first Canadian winter. Right now, I might not even make it that far, because I am struggling with Canadian spring/summer. The weather is so muggy compared to what I’m used to. Even when I lived in Australia, I deliberately avoided QLD and settled in gloomy Melbourne to avoid humidity!

In Toronto, you have to remember to check the “feels like” temperatures, because a 24°C day plus humidity will feel more like a 34°C day! Here’s hoping I acclimatise to this intense heat quickly; otherwise, I will be longing for the snow.

Have you noticed anything surprising about Canada compared to your home country? If so, drop us a comment below telling us about your best or worst experiences.


I'm originally from Buckinghamshire, UK and love to travel. I've previously completed WHVs in New Zealand and Australia. In 2024, I am embarking on a new adventure to start my Canadian WHV!

Je suis originaire de Buckinghamshire, Royaume-Uni, et j’adore voyager. J’ai déjà complété un PVT en Nouvelle-Zélande et en Australie. En 2024, je pars pour une nouvelle aventure au Canada en PVT!

Add to my favorites

There are no reviews at the moment.

Please login to be able vote.


There are no comments at the moment but feel free to add your own 🙂