10 Things That Totally Took Me By Surprise When I Moved To Canada From Dubai

Seriously, the food portions are ginormous here!

Trending Associate Editor
Janice Rodrigues trying tulip picking for the first time. Right: A ramen restaurant in Toronto.

Janice Rodrigues trying tulip picking for the first time. Right: A ramen restaurant in Toronto.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

As someone who has lived in the Middle East most of my life, packing up and moving to Canada has been quite the adventure.

In many ways, the Great White North is quite the opposite of living in the Middle East. For example, the climate in both countries is totally different and suddenly seeing a chunk of your salary go to taxes (after not having to deal with them most of your life) certainly takes some getting used to!

Beyond costs and the cold, some other wild things about living in Canada continue to take me by surprise.

Here are just a few of the Canadianisms that still shock me now, even after living here for over six months.

The weather

This is a big one, and it's taken me by surprise for multiple reasons.

For starters, I had braced myself for the cold… but not the heat!

No one really explained to me just how hot parts of Canada get during the summer. So, even though I came from a country with temperatures hitting 50 C, Toronto summers left me shook.

On the flip side, seeing all of the seasons is totally new. Over in Dubai, we usually just have two seasons – summer and winter, with some pleasant in-between weeks.

But in Canada, you can really feel all the seasons. The landscape changes so much that it's barely recognizable, which is new to me.

I haven't survived my first real winter here yet, but I'm guessing that'll be an experience too.

The taxes

While paying taxes is second nature in most parts of the world, it isn't in the Middle East. Countries like Oman and the U.A.E. don't actually charge any kind of personal income tax.

That means that the salary in your contract is exactly what you get in your pocket at the end of every month.

It also means that moving to a country that does have taxes takes some getting used to!

Not only does it make me want to shed a tear when tax season rolls around, but I must also admit that details regarding rebates and tax benefits sometimes go over my head.

The food portions

A large bowl of ramen in a restaurant in Toronto, with sides.

A large bowl of ramen in a restaurant in Toronto, with sides.

Janice Rodrigues | Narcity

This might seem inconsequential, but the first time I ordered food in Toronto, I thought I was being pranked.

I remember it being a Mexican fast-food joint and the burrito I was handed was probably bigger than my whole head.

I ended up having a portion for lunch and the rest for dinner (and probably could have saved some for breakfast the next day if I'd wanted!).

Since then, I've grown accustomed to the fact that food portion sizes are just bigger here than they are in many other parts of the world I've lived in. That includes U.A.E., Oman, the U.K. and India.

But, as I'm told often enough, they're still not as big as American portions. I have yet to put that one to the test!

And, while I'm here, I've also loved trying some classic Canadian food. Some were absolutely amazing, but sadly, not all have lived up to the hype.

The natural beauty

Janice Rodrigues at Ball's Falls.

Janice Rodrigues at Ball's Falls.

Janice Rodrigues | Narcity

The natural beauty of the U.A.E. and Canada is entirely at odds with one another.

While the landscapes in the U.A.E. — away from the main cities — are brimming with sand dunes and rocky mountains, in Canada, there's so much lush greenery or snow, depending on the season.

I love the natural beauty of both countries, honestly. But I've especially enjoyed exploring Canada's landscapes with activities like backpacking.

The language

Coming from the Middle East, I (foolishly) assumed that Canadian English was the same as, well, American English.

Oh boy, was I wrong. When writing, Canadian English is actually a mix of both British and American English and it's best to always double-check spellings to make sure you got it right.

While we're on the subject of Canadian English, there are also loads of terms and phrases that are pretty exclusive to the country.

From the 6ix, slang for Toronto, to a loonie ($1 coin) there's a lot to take in. Sometimes, it can feel like Canadians have their very own language!

The work-life balance

A cup of coffee with a view.

A cup of coffee with a view.

Janice Rodrigues | Narcity

The U.A.E. is a pretty busy place, and things can often feel bustling and hectic.

Depending on where you work, hours are also longer, and some companies do not give two-day weekends.

It's a change from Canada, where work-life balance is very much treasured. Not only are there fewer working hours here, but after you've signed off, you're off.

That being said, hustle culture is quite real in Canada, too, and I have been surprised to see people take up two or even three jobs.

The tipping culture

Tipping in Canada is a league of its own and can be quite surprising for newcomers.

While, back home, tipping is more of a show of appreciation for good service, I've learned that it's basically mandatory in Canada.

But even more surprising is the fact that tipping is also considered normal when picking up a cup of coffee or ordering a cookie at a store, as well as for other services like taking a taxi or a trip to a beauty parlour.

The washroom stalls

A small but very real pet peeve of mine is washroom stalls in Canada.

Where I come from, using a washroom in a mall or a restaurant is something that comes with complete and utter privacy. That means, in most cases, full-fledged walls between the stalls.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the stalls are sometimes so flimsy, I feel like they might just fall down with a hard shove!

They're also not as private as I'd like, with many having a gap between the door and the wall or space between the floor and the beginning of the stall. What gives, Canada?

Canada Geese

Okay, I'll admit I haven't had a personal experience with Canada geese just yet.

However, I have heard of these "cobra chickens" that have got quite a bad reputation. Why, newcomers might ask? Because they can get aggressive, as numerous instances have proven.

They also hiss and honk, and they have cartilage in their beak that resembles teeth. All of which are strangely terrifying and hilarious at the same time.

Just make sure you don't pick a fight with one, and all is good.

The people

I couldn’t help but find the stereotype to be true — Canadians really are the nicest people.

It honestly felt a bit surprising at times to have strangers striking up conversations. And I've had experiences where people I don't know have overheard a conversation taking place and even offered their advice and insight.

It definitely took me by surprise — but I wouldn’t have it any other way now!

Janice Rodrigues
Trending Associate Editor
Janice Rodrigues is an Associate Editor for Narcity Canada’s Trending Desk focused on Canadian immigration and passports, and is based in Scarborough, Ontario.
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