Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Distinctly Canadian

Sometimes, I open my mouth and someone immediately asks "Are you Canadian?" "Why? What'd I say?"

Most likely it was a word with the "ou" sound. House, about, out ... you know. Sorry to break it to you, but we Canadians definitely have an "oo" sound in these words. American's have an "ow" sound. After ten years in the US I can hear it instantly even though I never heard it once while living in Alberta.

I was reading a CBC Radio 3 blog today about Canadian Lingo from Eh to Zed and loved the comments section. It reminded me of so many distinctive features in the Canadian language.

A request for "cutlery" got me a weird look one time. At first, I didn't understand the server's confusion so I repeated it. Then I figured out it should be "utensils" in the US of A.

Did you know it is always first grade, second grade and so on? Americans around here never refer to them as Grade one, Grade two and so on. That got me busted by a woman married to someone from Saskatoon.

I've converted on a quite a few words just to keep things straight. Chesterfields are sofas now, rain boots are no longer called rubber boots and I interchange soda and pop these days.

I cannot, however, convert all the way to some Americanisms. I can't call a touque a knit cap, I can't get my picture "made" nor can I remember to use "restroom".

In west Texas, I asked a gas station attendant in some lonely town if I could use the washroom. He shot me a weird look, but said "follow me". I dutifully followed him around behind the counter, through the mechanic bays to a sink on the wall. I thought he seriously expected me to go to the bathroom in the sink in the middle of the garage - that's when I realized he thought I needed to wash. :)

Do you know what a bunny hug is? I seriously miss the exclamation "man alive" and vastly prefer chocolate bars to candy bars. Don't even get me started about how deeply I miss ceasars.

Please comment about other Canadian/American linguistic differences. I bet I've forgotten a ton of terms that are distinctly Canadian. While traveling or living abroad, which words have immediately pinned you as Canadian?


Doug said...

Great subject! How about common words that have different meanings in Canada vs. the USA. For example, down here in the south, barbecue refers to that delicious slow-smoked, pulled pork meal. But growing up in Canada, barbecue to me meant anything cooked outside on a grill, including fish, steak, and hot dogs.

Catherine said...

Thanks Doug. Actually, where I grew up, we never referred to food as "barbecue" only the implement that we used to cook the food or the action of cooking it on the barbecue. "I'm going to barbecue some steaks on the barbecue."

Anonymous said...

Hehe, I learnt the word 'cutlery' from you, Catherine, and got into trouble once with it too. The washroom story was hilarious... I laughed out loud here... Yes, as a Finn I did wondher about the restroom for a long while. At a restaurant I once told you as a joke that I am going to go rest now... Why would they call it a rest room if you didn't actually do some resting there... We call it WC in Finland from the British English Water Closet.