8 Things About Canada That Were A Total Culture Shock Coming From The Middle East

Tim Hortons is way cheaper in Toronto! 🤯

Mira Nabulsi with the CN Tower. Right: Mira Nabulsi in the desert in Dubai.
Associate Editor

Mira Nabulsi with the CN Tower. Right: Mira Nabulsi in the desert in Dubai.

This Essay 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.

After living my whole life in the Middle East, I decided to move to Toronto to attend York University and start my undergraduate degree in 2013.

As a 19-year-old who hadn't really seen any city in North America, let alone Canada, I was nervous but also really excited for this new chapter.

Moving from Dubai to Toronto meant getting exposed to a totally different culture, lifestyle and environment that I'd never experienced before.

With a few memorable moments in mind, here are eight things that gave me culture shock when I moved and settled into the 6ix.

Water is free

Mira Nabulsi drinking a glass of water in her Toronto apartment.Mira Nabulsi drinking a glass of water in her Toronto apartment.Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

The fact that water is free and accessible everywhere still shocks me, especially when I fly back to Toronto from Dubai.

Going to a restaurant in the Middle East and ordering water means we have to finish the bottle of water at the table because we paid money for it.

In Canada, having water for free is quite frankly one of the most impressive things I've experienced. Dubai restaurants are constantly charging insane amounts of money.

This is what sets first-world countries apart from other places, and finding ways to make it accessible everywhere because it's a human right is an eye-opening experience.

Tim Hortons is not a luxury cafe

When Tim Hortons first opened in Dubai, it was always busy and was an "it place" for some time. The first Tim Hortons was located on the beachfront in a popular area called Jumeirah Beach Residence and had a marble build with comfy chairs and great coffee.

It was where my family and I would go for afternoon coffee and dessert. My grandma was a huge fan of the place.

But shockingly, coffee and Timbits are not cheap in the Middle East. Actually, the Tim Hortons in Dubai Mall that overlooks the Burj Khalifa charged around $870 for a 4-course meal on New Year's Eve.

When coming to Toronto and seeing Tim Hortons on every corner, I realized that it's not a luxurious cafe but one that most Canadians love, and it's quite affordable. So, my summers consisted of Iced Capps and Timbits.

Bidets are not found in every washroom

Whether it's a public bathroom or a private one in the Middle East, a bidet is found everywhere. Meanwhile, it cannot be found in Canada unless thoroughly searched for. For an Arab, this is an integral part of building a bathroom in every home, so arriving in Toronto and realizing it doesn't really exist came as an inconvenience to me.

After many attempts and Google searches, I have now successfully installed a bidet in every washroom in my condo and introduced all my Canadian friends to this fantastic invention, which they now see as necessary. But more importantly, it no longer makes me feel like an outsider.

Also, is it a bathroom or washroom? Which one is it, people?

McDonald's has an entirely different menu

Living in the Middle East usually means grabbing McDonald's after school because there almost always is one cool McDonald's to hang out at.

But most importantly, it involved ordering a Big Tasty or a McRoyale sandwich. Once I got to Toronto, I realized none of these options existed. Moreover, the sandwiches they did have in common were also named differently.

This blew my mind. Also, oddly enough, people weren't excited about Burger King either. In the Arab world, it's a constant debate as to which one actually tastes better, whereas, in Toronto, I dare you to find a Burger King within walking distance.

Raccoons in the garbage

Raccoons are considered exotic animals to me, and so are skunks, for that matter. On the other hand, cats are the animals seen digging the garbage bags in the Middle East, and some are not friendly either.

When I first saw a raccoon, I thought it was an extraordinary animal, they looked so fluffy and cartoon-like, but once I got closer, I realized that they are also vicious and mysterious. I still remember the first time I saw a raccoon and walked straight to it as my Canadian friends started yelling at me to back away slowly. I never understood why until I realized the nails on that thing.

I do not want to be seen taking a selfie with a raccoon anymore, that's for sure.

Milk in bags

Yes, this may sound odd, but I am an avid milk drinker, and when I first went grocery shopping and realized milk was sold in bags, it blew my mind.

Glass bottles, cardboard cartons but plastic bags? All I could think about was how do they even seal the bags? How much of a mess did it cause the first person who invented milk in bags, and why? It may be more affordable, but in my opinion, it's just a hassle.

What fascinates me the most is the different ways that you can cut the bag in order to execute the perfect pour. It's all about the proportions and angles.

Food delivery options were limited

In 2013, UberEats was not an option because it didn't exist. But, something that Arabs love so much is convenience. Most restaurants had food delivery drivers working in-house to deliver the food straight to your doorstep. So, all you had to do was call your favourite restaurants and ask for your food to be delivered. In fact, you could get your local grocer and stationery shop to do the same.

When I landed in Canada in 2013 and sat in my dorm room needing food and found out that the only thing that was delivered was pizza or Chinese, I was instantly shocked. I didn't know how to accept this fact for so long, I even thought about starting my own delivery service.

This was an incredibly painful process, especially during those winter months when walking outside felt like I was surrendering myself to the cold. Yes, that might be a bit dramatic, but come on, the winter of 2013 was actually the worst winter ever.

Nowadays, you can get literally anything delivered to you within two hours of clicking purchase. You can even get your car filled up while it sits in your garage via a portable gas station and an app.

Desert ATVs are basically snowmobiles

Mira Nabulsi riding a desert ATV in DubaiMira Nabulsi riding a desert ATV in DubaiMira Nabulsi | Narcity

Living in Dubai means having an ATV and desert available for your entertainment. When moving to Canada and heading to cottage country, I realized snowmobiles are basically the same but so much cooler.

I never thought about the different kinds of activities that can be done in the snow other than skiing or snowboarding. Seeing a snowmobile and realizing its similarity with an ATV made me feel like people growing up in the Great White North actually have something in common with desert people - even though they are polar opposites.

I've never actually ridden a snowmobile. I can imagine it can feel just as exhilarating but a lot colder.

Canadians are people of the world, and this is what makes me feel welcome here. But let's get those bidets installed, eh?

Mira Nabulsi
Associate Editor
Mira Nabulsi is an Associate Food & Drink Editor for Narcity Media focused on all your favourite eats and is based in Toronto, Ontario.