Surprising Facts About Canada
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26 Things Americans Don't Know About Canada

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Surprising Facts About Canada
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O Canada! Who Knew?

America's neighbors to the north have more of a unique cultural identity than U.S. residents sometimes give them credit for. While Canada may seem less consequential than the United States in terms of population numbers and global influence, this vast nation is nothing to scoff at in many other respects, including diversity, health care, the environment, public well-being, and even pop culture. But for those who still think of Canada as nothing more than America's hat, here, in honor of Canada Day on July 1, are some facts about the nation's distinct identity that might be surprising.

Dollar Coins But No Pennies
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Dollar Coins But No Pennies

Americans who overhear Canadians mention "loonies" and "toonies" might think they're referring to old Warner Bros. cartoons, but these coins have been used in place of dollar bills — and $2 bills — for decades. It seems Canada is generally more diligent about adapting or phasing out currencies, having also eliminated pennies from circulation. According to the U.S. Mint, producing pennies costs more than twice what they're worth.

Radio Requirements
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Radio Requirements

To support Canadian artists, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission mandates that commercial pop music stations must play at least 35% Canadian content. That ratio is even higher for public broadcasts by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) or the French equivalent, Radio Canada, which are required to play at least 50% Canadian music.

Serious About Syrup
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Serious About Syrup

Even the flag hints at Canada's obsession with maple syrup, but Americans might be surprised just how seriously some Canadians take it. Quebec produces about 70% of the world's maple syrup, and the price per barrel is many times higher than oil. Syrup is so integral to the economy that a global strategic maple syrup reserve in Quebec holds about 90 million pounds of the delectable liquid gold, or more than $250 million worth.

2 Official Languages
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2 Official Languages

Canada has the largest population of native French speakers in the world outside of France. A vast majority of Canadians who speak French as their first or only language live in Quebec, but signs and product labels across the nation still incorporate French translations in the national spirit of inclusivity.

Movies Shot in Canada
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Movies Shot in Canada

Even U.S. residents who have never visited Canada have almost certainly seen their fair share of it just by watching famous films and TV shows like "Titanic," "Juno," "Brokeback Mountain," "The X-Files," "The Handmaid's Tale," the "Twilight" series, and even "Chicago." Toronto and Vancouver frequently stand in for many American cities on camera, thanks to a combination of factors including the variety of landscapes, the weakness of the Canadian dollar, and better tax incentives for film production.

Justin Bieber
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Canadian Celebrities

Canadians have made a major impact on American culture over the years, even if they had to move to Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago to do so. Film, TV, and music stars like Drake, Justin Bieber, Alanis Morissette, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Shania Twain, and Sandra Oh all hail from the Great White North, but some of Canada's biggest pop culture contributions have been in the realm of comedy. Comedic heavyweights from Canada include Dan Akroyd, Lorne Michaels, John Candy, Martin Short, Mike Myers, Norm MacDonald, the Kids in the Hall sketch troupe, Jim Carrey, and Seth Rogen.

Canadian Health Care
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Canadian Health Care

"One of the biggest things Americans are unaware of is how proud Canadians are of their socialized health care," says Canadian Ian Wright, who runs the international shipping and relocation blog MoverDB.com. "You would never know this fact listening to American media." Canada's universal health-care system utilizes a taxpayer-funded, Medicare-like model that automatically covers citizens throughout the various provinces. "It would surprise many Americans that having publicly funded health care makes people feel more free, not less," says David Leonhardt, who operates the Canada-based personal advice blog The Happy Guy. "For those who can afford it, there are plenty of private options, but nobody lives in fear of the financial consequences of a major injury or disease. That's freedom."

It's Regional, Eh?
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It's Regional, Eh?

Along with some Canadians' funny way of pronouncing "sorry" and "about," liberal use of the interjection "eh" is maybe the most famous distinction between American and Canadian dialects. But it isn't as universally Canadian as Americans might think. In fact, it's rare in metropolitan areas and strongly associated with the rural western provinces. You're probably more likely to hear "eh" from denizens of Michigan's Upper Peninsula than residents of Toronto or Vancouver.

Massive Size
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Massive Size

Canada is more than 3.8 million square miles in land area, second only to Russia. It's so big that the easternmost point in Newfoundland is closer to London, across the Atlantic, than it is to Vancouver. It can be easy to overlook Canada's vast territory when most of its population centers lie within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

Low Population Density
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Low Population Density

Whereas the United States has about 314 million people, Canada has just 34.5 million in its slightly larger land area. That said, a population of nearly 35 million people does not a small town make. "No, I don't know your cousin in Toronto," says Cynthia White, a Canadian writer based in British Columbia.

Metric and Imperial
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Metric and Imperial

Canadians blend American and European sensibilities in many areas, including measurement. Canadian-born Michael Alexis, director of marketing at the tour guide company Museum Hack, writes in an email: "While Canada uses the metric system (for example, we measure the distance between two cities in kilometres), I've never heard a Canadian express their height in meters or their weight in kilograms; instead they default to feet, inches, and pounds."

Spelling Differences
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Spelling Differences

Spelling is another discipline in which Canada splits the difference between American and British influences. For example, Canadian spellings of words like "favour" and "colour" typically retain the British "u," except in Western prairie provinces, which often follow the American example. Canadian English also spells far more words ending in "-re" over "-er" (theatre, centre) and "-ce" over "-se" (offence, defence).

Vocabulary Differences
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Vocabulary Differences

Although the English language remains relatively consistent across North America, there are still some expressions and terms in Canadian English that leave American visitors scratching their heads. Some of the more common linguistic differences include using "washroom" instead of restroom, "toque" instead of beanie, "runners" instead of sneakers, "transport" instead of semi truck, and "knapsack" instead of backpack (not to mention "bunny hug" to refer to a hooded sweatshirt, a usage limited to Saskatchewan).

Canadians and Cuba
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Canadians and Cuba

More than 1 million Canadians visit the island nation of Cuba each year, the most from any other country. Cuba has long been a premier tropical destination for Canadians, with ads at bus stops and billboards across the nation boosting its popularity and touting discounted getaways. According to Alexandra Nestertchouk, a British Columbia-based lifestyle blogger at PerfectDayToPlay.com, Canadians' affinity for Cuban travel is so powerful that "many got very upset when the Cuba-U.S. relationship became better, as now the place is going to be overcrowded with Americans and becomes more expensive."

Multicultural Makeup
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Multicultural Makeup

America isn't the only melting pot. "Most Canadians are from somewhere else," Nestertchouk says. "To find a Canadian-Canadian (aka second-generation Canadian) is extremely hard." The number of foreign-born citizens has been steadily increasing for more than two decades and is projected to reach at least a quarter of the population by 2036, at which point about a third of Canadians will belong to a "visible minority" group.

Happiness Ranking
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Happiness Ranking

As in many other countries, all that immigration has caused some strain, but overall Canada regularly ranks in the top 10 of the world's happiest countries (ninth in 2019), in contrast to the United States (19th) and other geopolitical superpowers. In the same vein, a 2016 survey found that 9 out of 10 Canadian respondents said they were "satisfied" to "very satisfied" with their lives overall.

Hawaiian Pizza
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Hawaiian Pizza

Rishi Kapoor, CEO and founder of Canadian travel agency Nanak Flights, points to one of the nation's more surprising and counterintuitive claims to fame: as the homeland of Hawaiian pizza. This pizza, topped with ham and pineapple, reportedly originated in 1962 not in its namesake U.S. state but at the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, owned by Greek-Canadian Sam Panopoulos. He told the online magazine Atlas Obscura he was actually inspired by the combination of sweet and savory flavors in Chinese cuisine.

Green Energy
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Green Energy

According to Natural Resources Canada, the country is a world leader in production and use of energy from renewable sources, which account for 18.9% of its total energy supply. A majority of this comes from hydropower, which generates almost 60% of nationwide electricity, making it one of the largest producers of hydroelectricity in the world. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising for an expansive country that boasts a whopping 20% of the world's freshwater supply.

No Shoes Indoors
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No Shoes Indoors

This may be a minor aspect of Canadian culture, but leaving your shoes by the door when entering a home is a widely accepted norm in contrast to the United States and some Western European nations. This is no doubt due in part to the inclement weather bringing torrents of mud and snow that otherwise would be tracked indoors, but it's likely also influenced by Canada's large Asian immigrant population.

O Canada..
O Canada.. by Alex Dawson (CC BY)

Milk in Bags

One of the most baffling sights to foreigners in Canadian supermarkets — at least throughout Ontario and Quebec — is bagged cow's milk. Although the polyethylene plastic bags are not resealable, and the milk has to be consumed quickly after opening, they still account for more than three-quarters of all milk sold in Ontario. The origins of the packaging date to the nation's shift from imperial to metric measurements for food products in the late 1960s.

Most Educated Country
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Most Educated Country

Canada topped a 2018 list as the world's best educated country, as measured by the percentage of adult residents who've completed some kind of tertiary education, including vocational programs and two- to four-year degrees. Experts speculate this educational success originates from a commitment to fairness and equal access in Canadian school systems. By comparison, despite being home to eight of the world's most prestigious universities, the United States ranked sixth.

Lottery and Casino Winnings
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Lottery and Casino Winnings

If the maple syrup and freshwater recreation opportunities aren't enough to lure American tourists to Canada, the gambling opportunities sure are. "In Canada, there is no tax on lottery winnings or casino winnings (unlike in the U.S.)," lifestyle blogger Alexandra Nestertchouk says. "That's why many Americans coming to Niagara Falls like to cross the border and play on our side."

Unique Snack Selection
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Unique Snack Selection

Many Canadians, especially those living abroad, are fiercely loyal to and proud of snack foods and brands that are exclusively Canadian, among them smoky Hickory Sticks, Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, ketchup-flavored potato chips, and Timbits, the doughnut holes from ubiquitous Tim Hortons — which is now American-owned.

Obsession With 'Kraft Dinner'
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Obsession With 'Kraft Dinner'

Kraft's blue-boxed mac and cheese is something of a phenomenon in Canada, where it's branded Kraft Dinner and called "KD" for short. Canadians consume 55% more per capita than Americans, making it Canada's best-selling grocery item. This has led to a profusion of variations unheard of in the States, including white cheddar, alfredo, and spicy cheddar.

Pay at the Table
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Pay at the Table

One of the first differences American tourists in Canada might notice is that Canadian restaurants let diners pay using portable card terminals, instead of handing off a credit card to a server or having to get up from the table. Canada was one of the first countries to adopt pay-at-the-table systems, which have been shown to result in shorter wait times for customers, higher tips for servers, and less identity fraud.

Apology Laws
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Apology Laws

It's a common stereotype that Canadians can be polite to a fault, embodied by overuse of the term "sorry," often regarded as a national catchphrase on par with "eh." But this caricature has such a strong basis in truth that several provinces have passed laws to accommodate Canadians' indiscriminate apologizing. These "apology acts" stipulate that expressions of regret and condolences are not self-incriminating, meaning Canadians can say "sorry" to the victim of a crime without it being viewed in court as an admission of guilt.