Drunk things to do in Dutch

There’s a handful of things that are so Dutch and different that expats in the Netherlands spend their first few weeks in the country laughing at how goofy they seem. Then an odd thing happens. You wake up one day and find yourself not only doing these things, but actively seeking out and enjoying them.

The following are all things you can do sober. But you’ll encounter them more frequently during a night out with a couple drinks.

Lost Bike:

The Dutch love bikes, but you can see why. It’s so easy and friendly to ride a bike in the Netherlands.

Which is why it’s kind of funny to ride to the pub and park your bike in a place that’s relatively empty. Step inside, have a few drinks, some laughs, and when it’s time to go home the cycles have multiplied. Scrutinizing through (what feels like) a thousand bikes in the dark is awful, but it happens.

If your friends are good people they will stay and help you. If they’re drunk, they’ve already ridden home (or to the döner shop).

Dutch bikes

Dammit!

Piss in the Thing:

Did you know that, most of the time, you can pee on the city streets of Holland.

Not everywhere, mind you. The city sets up urinals in high-traffic areas of the street. Sporting events, concerts, Rembrandtplein on the weekend.

The thing is, you’re never really out of sight. These makeshift terlits are placed just to the side of the street, and some only come up to shoulder height. Passers-by can’t see what you’re doing, but they know what you’re doing.

When you’re going to take a midnight leak, I shouldn’t be able to make eye-contact walking by.

Dutch toilet, Netherlands, street toilet, Amsterdam, Groningen

Crazy as it may sound, if you’ve had a few, it becomes a more attractive option.

Plus, you won’t even get separated from your friends. You can watch where they go the entire time.

Onions and mayo:

I’m a fry man. I could eat French fries every day if it was socially acceptable and possible to do without my heart exploding by the age of 40.

Not just a late-night food, fries in the Netherlands are an all-the-time sort of thing. And they do them well.

Now, mayonnaise on French fries is nearly sacrilege in North America and I myself have gone on countless rants about the non-compatibility of the two.

But, I have to admit, I’ve since eaten my words. The frite saus out here is just too good.

Not only have I come around on the mayo-fry combo, but the addition of raw onions on top of the whole thing is damned magnificent.

frites, dutch, french fries, mayo, groningen, belgian frites, netherlands, fast food

Frites oorlog, or War Fries – mayo and peanut sauce battle for fry sovereignty

FEBO:

Staying with the topic of food (especially the late-night, after-the-bar kind) you can’t go any further without mentioning FEBO.

The most popular fast-food in all the Netherlands can best be described as little hamburger lockers.

FEBO, Netherlands, street food, fast food

From: Wikipedia

Well, it’s not just hamburgers. You can get all sorts of fried Dutch delicacies: frites, krokets, frikandels.

Like a vending machine, they’re easy to use. So even a child, Canadian, or drunken fool can figure them out. Put in a euro coin or two, open the door, and grab your snack.

A rarely seen but noble feat is called the diagonal. One brave soul will attempt to eat from every box in a row, end-to-end.

Friends can compete to finish first. It’s like tic-tac-toe, but with grease and shame.

Smints:

Need your breath to smell fresh after that third-beer cigarette? Try a Smint. The mint with the most fake-sounding name you could think of.

smints, netherlands, dutch mints, smarch

By the way, the best month to eat Smints?

Smarch.

lousy Smarch weather.

Lousy Smarch weather.

 

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Posted in March | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

If Batman Were Dutch…

If the Caped Crusader hailed from Holland there would be some differences to the character we know and love. But it’s a worthwhile reality to consider. After all, anyone who doesn’t enjoy saying, “Waar is de trigger?!” in a Dutch accent and Christian Bale growl is surely without a soul.

If Batman were Dutch, Bruce Wayne would be blonder. But he’d also be a bit taller. A couple inches couldn’t hurt in his fight against crime.

You could guarantee that Dutch Wayne Manor would be a lot smaller though. There aren’t too many large living spaces in Holland so he’d be leaning towards a smaller, more gezellig HQ.

Which is fine, because he’d be hit with crazy-high tax rates anyways. Holland does love to tax, so Dutch Batman would have a lot less cash on hand for all those wonderful toys.

The skies would be much too windy for the Batplane and the roads are just not Batmobile friendly – especially in the city – so get used to seeing the Batbike. Think a Schwinn with a Dick Sprang fender on the front.

More supervillains would be German. Because the Dutch Dark Knight wouldn’t quite trust all those rude Germans.

Finally, there would be no more Robin. Only Robben.

Posted in March | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Groningen Gets You Wet

From the calming canals to the stroopwafels, there is a lot to enjoy about the Netherlands. But I still have one big complaint: the rain.

The sunny moments are there sometimes, but it’s rare to go a day without seeing some rain.

It may not be hard rain, it may not be sustained rain, but it’s ever-present rain. No matter how the skies seem when you leave home, you’ll probably get caught in it at some point.

While drying myself off one day, I began to think about how engineering-savvy the Dutch are. They can split ocean from sea, make houses walk on water, and act cool about doing it. With such ingenuity, it’s hard to understand why these great minds haven’t yet figured out a man-made way to deal with the rain.

Surely some bright Dutch scientist can’t be that far off from a breakthrough. But if it helps, perhaps a few suggestions might point them in the right direction:

Cheap Disposable Wetsuits

One solution is the creation of flexible, lightweight wetsuits that can be thrown on before the morning commute. Just put it on over your clothes, your jacket, your dress, whatever. You could bike to school in a monsoon and only your eyes would feel the horror.

Park your bike, lock it up, strip off that wetsuit like Arnold in True Lies and boom! you’ve arrived dry as a bone. Sometimes in a tuxedo.

Arnold True Lies GIF

The P. Diddy solution

If you have the means, this is truly the most stylish way to go. Why worry about rain when you’ve got your very own man-butler to follow you around, pop the umbrella, and always have sandwiches nearby.

There are several starving students, this author included, who would gladly follow a rich Dutch aristocrat about town, umbrella in hand, if it meant a couple extra euros in the pocket.

P Diddy umbrella man servant, rain

Dr. Suess bike umbrellas

Somewhere in the works of Dr. Suess lie the blueprints for a game-changer.

I’m talking about bicycles, which in the presence of rain, unleash an umbrella held up by a wonky metal arm with white gloves. The umbrella moves as you move, it rhymes whimsical gibberish the entire time, and keeps you dry.

Government Subsidized Jacuzzi Suits

Cause when you’re in a Jacuzzi suit, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining.

 

Dr. No–style weather control machine

Surely there’s some scientist in the Netherlands who’s just a little bit evil and hell-bent on world domination. Maybe he kind of looks like Blofeld? Probably sounds like him too.

Charles Gray blofeld, Dutch, Netherlands

Charles Gray: the most Dutch-looking of all Blofelds

The plan here is to find him, hire him, then let him tinker with his experiments all he wants, so long as the country is free of rain. Watch as he controls the weather to his advantage, then goes power mad before a final showdown with Bond.

The sun may get blocked out for a couple of days here and there, we’ll likely lose a couple of anonymous henchmen, but at least we’ll be dry.

Amphibian DNA-splicing

This one’s the craziest of the lot, but hear me out.

No doubt that anyone who’s ever lived in Groningen has thought about starting some innocent, ethically-borderline research into whether or not the creation of frog-people is possible.

And once the discoveries are made, would it really be that much of a sacrifice to take an injection that turns you into a half man / half frog creature for the rest of your life? Think about how comfortable you would be in the wintertime.

It’s just an option. And the more of those the better, I say.

frog man, Dutch, rain, rain solutions, Netherlands

I could live with this

Posted in January | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ally Beardsley Interview

It takes a person with limitless courage to get on stage every night without any written material and try to make a room full of strangers laugh. Ally Beardsley, an American improviser living in Holland, does just that. I spoke to her about what it’s like to improvise for a living at the Boom Chicago theatre in Amsterdam.

Posted in January | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Coming to Groningen

This month I left the Czech Republic, my home for more than two years, and moved to the northern Netherlands. I’ve called a lot of places home (Slovenia, Vancouver, Finland, Czechia, and now the Netherlands), but the culture shock has never been as strong as the jump between Prague and Groningen. I don’t believe the Canadian in me finds this land so different, because the contrast between the two countries isn’t that drastic. I’m starting to think the, for lack of a better term, Czechness that’s attached itself after thirty months in Prague bears more responsibility for the transitional difficulties.

Does it still count as culture shock if the place you left isn’t your home?

My first impression of the Netherlands may not seem like much to a Canadian, but it certainly stands out when you’ve spent some years in the Czech Republic. The people in Holland are very warm; they smile and nod and say hello. It’s all very friendly and hospitable. What a stark contrast to Prague or Helsinki, where smiling strangers indicate either drunks or the criminally insane.

Next, I want to go ahead and call shenanigans on the notion that the Dutch are a nation of beer lovers. Sure, they have some tasty beverages, but when it comes to pub culture moving from CZ to NL is like playing in the Major Leagues for a few seasons and then winding up in Double-A. There are some noticeable gaps.

Where Prague encourages mass consumption through large serving portions and irresponsibly low prices, the Netherlands is more a nation of sit in the sun and milk your 0.25L glass for a while, because it costs too much otherwise.

Moreover, when headed out somewhere social, the Czech in me still rushes to the fridge to put a couple beers in the backpack; that’s just what you did. It took a few days before someone kindly pointed out that an open container can be grounds for a steep fine in the Netherlands.

Who would’ve thought: In the land where you can buy a sack of dope and a prostitute in the same errand run as your milk and eggs, a cold beer in the park is frowned upon.

Dutch rules

Five of these were daily occurrences in Nusle

But what of wild animals? Friendly dogs are a staple of Czech streets. Few use leashes and most are well-behaved. Pub dogs are a common sight, as are random hounds walking blocks ahead of their owners. There aren’t a lot of dogs in Groningen, perhaps because it’s a student town, though there is an abundance of loose cats. Bridge cats, boat cats, street cats, park cats, and even dorm cats are a common sight.

Groningen cat, street

However, these are the calmest and friendliest cats you will ever encounter (and this comes from someone who doesn’t much care for felines). This can only lead me to conclude that if you want a cat that acts like a dog, find yourself a Dutch one.

Finally, cities in the Netherlands, even the small ones, are quite beautiful. Prague has a stunning old town, but for every UNESCO heritage site, there are fifty paneláky off in the distance.

Hostivař, Czech Republic, panelky

Oh Hostivař, how I miss you

I kept walking around thinking, “Yes, this area is all well and nice, but wait until I discover the Soviet-looking district on the edge of town.” Then it became clear that I’d been in Central Europe for too long, where normal means living underneath a concrete viaduct.

The architecture in the Netherlands is an aesthetic treat and unlike any place I’ve ever called home.

None of this is trying to disavow the Czech that’s instilled itself to my character. Frankly, I like that side of my personality. It’s frugal, has a low tolerance for BS, and can handle drink like a professional. The transition is simply more peculiar than any past experience.

A handful of other things will take a while to adjust to (the prevalence of bikes, taking field hockey seriously), but I look forward to the challenge. Hell, in 10 months I may even lament their loss.

Posted in August | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Panenka Scarves XX: The F word

Panenka scarves is one Canadian’s attempt to document his appreciation of the obvious and not-so-obvious experiences of a life in the Czech Republic. For previous Panenkas, click here.

_____________

As the summer comes to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look at my most vivid memory from the last couple of months in Prague – the giant flood that came to town in June.

2013 has been a popular year for disastrous floods around the world. India, Alberta, Eastern Australia, and Central Europe have all been hit hard in the last eight months. While Prague wasn’t damaged as much as these other places, it was still unlike anything I’d ever experienced in the city.

***

The first weeks of the summer brought nearly non-stop rain to Prague, resulting in some of the most miserable days imaginable. I looked in some old journals from June to remind myself how bad it was and the term “uncomfortable and antagonizing rain” aptly captured the spirit. The sheer volume of rainfall, mixed with the helpless feeling that it would never stop, really does turn everyone in town (myself included) into a giant prick. The worst part was that it was June and no one was able to sit outside and enjoy a beer. That’s a Czech summer institution for Christ’s sake!

After a couple days of everyone getting soaked, the f-word started to emerge. Flood.

It’s no term to throw around haphazardly in this country. In 2002, Prague experienced its worst flood in history, as entire neighbourhoods ended up underwater. Public transit came to a halt, 40,000 residents were evacuated and 17 people died. Students had told me all kinds of stories about what the city was like that summer, and none of it sounded very appealing.

But then the rain kept falling and falling hard. The threat of flooding went from, “I sure hope that doesn’t happen,’ to ‘Uh-oh, this might actually happen.’

***

On Sunday morning my girlfriend and I went out to grab some groceries and on the way to the shop we noticed a crowd of people gathered around a stream in our neighbourhood, taking pictures and looking awestruck. It was out of place.

The stream, Botič, runs from south-eastern Prague and feeds into the Vltava River. The water flowing through the stream travels slowly on a good day, so it’s never been very interesting to watch.

We expected to see a small rise in Botič’s water level, but the water in this normally lethargic creek was now charging through the city at street level.

Botic, water level, Prague, Czech RepublicBotic flood

We decided that the food could wait and the best course of action would be to walk over to the Vltava, the city’s alpha river, to see how bad it’d gotten. Once more, we both underestimated how much water there would be. For starters, the riverside walkway had been closed down. That is to say, it was nowhere to be seen. The Vltava had doubled its width and indefinitely submerged the summer’s most satisfying and social sidewalk.

bajkazyl, bajkazyl Praha, water level, Prague, Czech Republic, flood 2013bajkazyl, bajkazyl flood, bajkazyl praha, water level, Prague, Czech Republic, flood 2013

Most of the city was gawking at what the riverside had turned into overnight. The often bustling promenade looked lonely, with only the top-halves of signs sticking out of the conquering water.

Prague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levelsPrague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Vltava

Our minds immediately went negative when we saw our favourite beer shacks submerged. My girlfriend turned to me and let out a worried prediction: “If they’re as damaged as they look, this could be a long summer.”

Prague, Czech Republic, Restaurace VltavaPrague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Vltava, Restaurace Vltava flood

The one positive to be taken from all that property damage was that the increased water level had turned the river into Christmastime for swans. The infamous Vltava swans, known for their aggressiveness, had taken over the entire riverside. There were no more boats, no more tourists, no overzealous dogs, and free reign to feast on all the delicacies that overflowing garbage cans could offer (and they did so with great enthusiasm).

Prague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Vltavaswans, Prague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Vltava

Later that night the rain stopped so we did what nearly everyone else in the city did: we went for a flood walk. Cameras in hand we ventured to Folimanka, a nearby park which had been transformed into a lake.

Prague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Botic, FolimankaPrague, Czech Republic, Nusle, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Botic, Folimanka

Folimanka PragueFolimanka flood, Nusle, Prague, Czech Republic, flood 2013

That little stream Botič was the culprit this time, going Grinch heart and growing three-sizes that day, drowning most of the park. Mother nature had mockingly monkey-pawed my onetime wish to live by the waterfront.

Prague, Czech Republic, Prague flood 2013, water levels, Botic, FolimankaPrague flood 2013, Czech, Nusle, Folimanka, flood

As we walked back home, it became clear that there was a very real threat the water would reach our building. We were two blocks away from Botič and cars in the area were being towed off the street, while city workers piled sandbags in front of front doors.

Prague flood 2013, Nusle, Botic, sandbags, Czech Republic

It also became clear that Prague was ready to respond to a major flood. The city had gone through it before in 2002 and enough resources had been set aside to ensure that future floods don’t come close to inflicting the damage that occurred a decade ago. Granted, the water was about a third as vicious this time around, but it was clear that the municipal and federal governments had a handle on the situation. Immediately the metro system was shut down, doomsday flood barriers were erected all around town, and websites were feeding constant updates to the people of Prague (even in English, which is a luxury so rarely afforded here). The most vulnerable areas were evacuated preventatively (including zoo animals) and sandbags were shipped all around town. It was an impressive and stark contrast to the response in Alberta two weeks later, which, like a lot of Canada, has an infrastructure ill-suited to limit the damage of catastrophic flooding.

The water levels peaked on Monday morning and, thankfully, never made it to our place. Although a lot of people experienced some discomfort from another few days of pouring rain and a half-closed transit system, the city carried on and recovered within a week or so. A lot of places in central Europe – Germany and other locations in the Czech Republic – were hit harder and had more demanding recoveries.

***

These days the riverside is back to normal, the swans have yielded some territory, and the beer shacks are open once more. Having never seen anything like it before, that flood was one of the most unforgettable memories of the summer.  

Prague swan in the street

Summer 2013 in Prague

Posted in August | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Reasons to Go Abroad

Tired the same old same old? Do you want to feel better about yourself relative to your peers? What if I told you, that in only a few short weeks you could obtain enough knowledge and experience to take over any conversation imaginable, effectively turning you into the most intelligent person in the room. Yes, it’s just that simple and it can be achieved by going overseas.

Here are five of the best things that a life abroad can deliver:

 Perceived superiority over everyone

This is the diamond at the top of the crown, so I’ll keep it simple. The best way to improve your self-confidence, especially when compared to others, is to go out and do something that no one else is doing. Obscurity is the name of the game here people, and a six-month tour through the Baltic states will provide you with that sense of supremacy you’ve long been striving for.

Travel: better than Indie music at giving you an excuse to backhandedly talk down to anyone you know and everyone you’ll ever meet.

 You can visit Northern Africa 

Let’s face it, at some point during your stay you’re going to be passing close to North Africa. Be it Italy, Spain, France, you can catch a ferry from these places to Morocco or Tunisia. Then you can say you’ve been to Africa! Take photos of you and your friends wandering through sand dunes, post (at least) seventy of what appears to be the same piece of desert. Maybe a few shots of your feet for good measure.

Buy a couple of souvenirs and keep them on your desk at work. Tell people how inspiring they are and then start an obvious twenty-minute diatribe about how life in Northern Africa is so simple compared to your home. Make sure to comment on how they’ll never understand, having never been there themselves.

Correcting your friends’ pronunciation of foreign dishes

You backpacked through India for one weekend. So make sure to remind the table of this fact anytime you go out for Indian food. Your friends wont get annoyed with you for making corrections to their pronunciation, they’ll thank you for sharing your wisdom and saving them from looking foolish the next time.

This same rule applies if you’ve ever been to one of the following countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, Spain, anywhere in the Middle East, and extra bonus points for adding regional dialects, depending on the origin of the dish. 

Implying you speak languages (even if you can’t say much)

How cool is it to say you speak a bit of some obscure language? Estonian, Croatian, Frisian – it doesn’t matter – it’s doubtful anyone will be in a position to call you out. Plus, chicks dig a worldly man, man.

Whenever the topic of languages comes up (or hell, even if it doesn’t) be sure to lead with the standard: “Yeah, I speak a little _____.” If you’re actually asked to say something, a good trick is to ask what they would like to hear. What’s requested doesn’t matter. Feel free to spout of any sort of gibberish, no one will know the difference.

When you’re done, hold your head up high, because you’re smarter than all these turkeys and now they know it.

Now you can start every sentence with, “Yeah, but in …”

No longer do you have to sit idly by while your friends tell a story that you can’t top. Regain your rightful position as the centre of attention with three simple words. The “Yeah, but in …” method is easy, foolproof, and can be used in any social situation.

Here’s an example. Someone starts talking about a topic, let’s say art, simply wait for them to finish and reply with: “Yeah, but in Marrakesh . . .”

People will love hearing what you have to say on every subject imaginable, even if the correlation isn’t entirely apt. Try to utilize the,  “Yeah, but in…” template for all the places you’ve ever visited, even if you’ve only passed through briefly or read about it in a magazine.


Mazatlan

Posted in August | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

David Putty’s Feel-Good Film of the Year

From NHL Home Video, and the studio that brought you Angels in the Outfield, comes a tale of wonder from the Garden State.

Bruce Grimaldi was a precocious ten-year-old who loved the sport of hockey. But when his deadbeat dad skipped town to follow the heavy-metal outfit Ratt on tour, Bruce was forced to live with his aunt and uncle in Hoboken, New Jersey. After begging his father to change his mind, Bruce received this ominous promise: “Sure, son. I’ll come back for good . . . when the Devils win the Stanley Cup.”

New Jersey was a club that had endured losses through free agency and dressed a goaltender who’d been around since the advent of hockey. So, following his Catholic training, Bruce wisely prayed to the man upstairs for help. But when those prayers went unanswered and the heavens convinced New Jersey’s best player to jump ship to Russia, he had to go with Plan B.

Desperate, Bruce asked the Devil for a helping hand.

His call was immediately answered and Satan himself arrived to assist the Devils, steal some souls, and help Bruce re-unite his family.

It’s a star-studded affair, with Will Sasso staring as longtime Devil’s GM Lou Lamoriello:

Will Sasso, smile, Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils, Neutral Zone……Lou Lamoriello, smile. microphone, Will Sasso, New Jersey Devils, Neutral Zone

.And Jon Lovitz, in the role he was born to play, as Lucifer:

Jon Lotivz, the devil, New Jersey, SNL

Critics are raving about Devils in the Neutral Zone. Paul Clay of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls it: “By far, the worst licensing decision the NHL’s made since The Love Guru.” While Matt Calhoun of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says: “I didn’t think a ninety-minute film about The Trap would be even the least bit entertaining . . . and I was proven right.”

It’s Devils in the Neutral Zone – coming this fall to home video.

Posted in August | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Super-Canadian Things to do in Canada

This month I had the great opportunity to go home and visit my home and native land during the summertime. This was a rare occurrence, it’s been nearly three years since I’ve been to Canada in the summer and I wanted to make sure that I got my fix of Canadian-ey things –ridiculously red & white, nuanced, or otherwise – that one can encounter during a trip to the Great White North. Most of these you can actively pursue, while others you just have to get lucky with the timing.

And yes, I realize that some of these contain an Ontario bias, but that’s where I’m from so frig off.

Canada Day Fireworks

If you happen to be in Ottawa on July 1st, you’ll get to see one of the biggest celebrations in the country: Canada Day in the nation’s capital. It is a high concentration of people of all shapes and colours, mediocre popstars, and a jaw-dropping barrage of red and white throughout the city.

Some people paint their faces, some dress up in elaborate costumes, while others meander around with beer in a coffee cup, taking photos with giant inflatable beavers.

The whole celebration can be a little overwhelming for even the most maple-soaked of Canadians, but the fireworks at the end of the night make it all worthwhile.

Have a Beer at the Montreal Forum

This one I just couldn’t resist. With some time to kill in Montreal I thought it’d be interesting to go and see what the old Montreal Forum looked like these days. Just for kicks really and, being an avid hockey fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The Forum has seen more hockey history within its walls than any other arena on the planet. It’s by far the most famous rink in Canada and perhaps even the planet. It was the home to 24 Stanley Cup winning clubs and countless Hall of Famers during its more than seventy year run. It’s been declared a National Historic Site of Canada. Some countries have ancient ruins, we have old hockey rinks.

I was happy to see that Le Forum is still alive and well, though no longer an ice rink. It’s been transformed into a half-mall, all cinema, mini-museum and sports bar. It’s a pleasant conversion of a building that could never be torn down, but couldn’t be left alone to collect dust either.

So I did what any sane-minded sporting fan does when within such sacred walls – I had a beer. It was probably the most Canadian beer I’d drank on my entire trip.

Poutine for Lunch

There are few pleasures in life greater than walking around all day, then sitting down to a nice poutine lunch. In Quebec there is no shortage of poutine shops, so we made sure to spend our two days in Montreal in as many as possible.

If you’re unfamiliar, poutine is one of few dishes that Canadians can claim as their own. It’s not healthy – a mix of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy – but it’s certainly delicious. She’s bad for the heart, but good for the soul.

poutine, canada, montreal

One thing I did notice this time around is that Canada is starting to export poutine to other dishes. Poutine burgers and poutine pizzas can be found on menus around Quebec and Ontario. While this may look insane, I can verify that, having tasted the burger, it is fantastic.

Time will tell what other poutine-fusion meals our wise Canadian chefs will concoct.

Chicken

This may be another relatively unknown one, but did you know that Canadians also have a strong fondness for eating chicken, particularly rotisserie chicken or wings?

Well we do, and it can be seen in both the abundance of rotisserie chicken shacks around town and the inclusion of delicious wings on nearly every menu imaginable. Chicken is slowly becoming interwoven into Canadiana.

I knew I had left Europe when, after seeing a movie (and not having to select my seat ahead of time) I was able to out for chicken wings and a pitcher.

I love Canada sometimes and, truthfully, it’s mostly the little things.

Donuts

Canadians love donuts. I can’t really explain it, but we do. Maybe it’s because they pair so well with a coffee, or maybe we just make some really good donuts. Either way, Canada is the leading country when it comes to both donut shops and per capita donut consumption.

But the moment I realized that I still had some Canuck in me, was when I went through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – when the guy in front of me took the last Chocolate Dip.

Pick up a case of beer from the Beer Store

This one is Ontario-centric, but you can’t go to Canada’s most populated province without trying it out.

While most of Canada is limited to government run liquor stores – which means you can only buy alcohol from particular shops, at certain hours – we at least got something right with The Beer Store.

The Beer Store is an Ontario institution and as far as buying beer, there are few better ways to go about doing it. Most Beer Stores will have a large menu, which takes up an entire wall and breaks down the prices of any and all available options. Do you prefer a domestic or an imported brew? Which brand? Do you want 6, 12, or 24? Bottle or can?

Remember your order and get ready for the best part. You walk up to the counter, tell the beerguy or gal what you want, they’ll repeat it into a microphone by the register and a cold case of whatever you ordered comes sliding out via conveyor belt. You pay the cashier, grab your beer and off you go.

It may not be the cheapest way to buy your beer in Canada, but it’s certainly the most fun. If you don’t believe me, have a look below:


.
Spot a loon

While walking around Ramsey Lake in Sudbury my girlfriend and I were lucky enough to see the most Canadian of all birds – a loon.

This is, of course, the more appropriate way to spot a loon, as opposed to the very illegal practice of painting polka dots onto a sedated bird . . .

The loon is very literally a symbol of Canada. It can be seen and heard in lakes around the country and stoically graces our one dollar coin.

They are a mighty bird. They swim fast, hunt hard, look good, and don’t take shit from anyone. Just like Canadians.

Canadian loon

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Watch The Littlest Hobo with breakfast

Canadian TV is a fickle thing. It piggy-backs a lot of the US content, has way too many commercials, and has a tendency to cut out a lot of the sex, cursing, and violence.

But one thing we did do right was produce The Littlest Hobo. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re likely anyone who grew up outside of Canada in the 1980s. Now stay with me here – it’s about a mystery solving dog who travels through the country solving crimes, saving kids from wells, uncovering sleazy insurance scams, and doing all-around good for the people he encounters, with no real dog motive ever revealed. A little silly, but so inexplicably Canadian.

While the show lasted only six seasons, it’s been in syndication for nearly four decades on Canadian TV, often appearing during the early morning hours.

Visit Niagara Falls: Be amazed, then annoyed

They say Niagara Falls is a wondrous place. And while that’s true, it’s not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Photo credit to German Myri

Okay, it is really gorgeous . . . Photo credit to German Myri

To me, Niagara Falls in the summertime means sweating through your clothes while fighting through swarms of tourists (most of them American). By the time you’re walking back to your car, you’ve had your fill of Niagara Falls. When you grow up nearby (my hometown is 70km from the Falls) trips are frequent, particularly if you have out-of-town visitors. The luster is worn of at a very young age, replaced instead with irritation.

Our wonderful German guests were under the guise that the Falls would be in some remote park surrounded by nature. No sir. It’s on the edge of what’s essentially a miniature Las Vegas – hotels, casinos, and loud & colourful tourist traps.

It’s odd that this place results in such an odd reaction in me, since I’m not a very negative person, especially when it comes to Canadian things. There are exceptions of course (the Vancouver Canucks, Nickelback, Rogers), but something about Niagara Falls brings out my inner sour gentleman.

It’s absolutely worth it to see once, maybe twice in your lifetime. But after that you get the jist.

Summer Blackouts

Ah yes. That Southern Ontario tradition of either using too much power during a heat wave or Mother Nature using a massive summer storm to knock out the electricity for a while.

This summer, my experience dealt with the latter. During my final night in the country, a storm rolled in that sent trees flying and severed hydro connections in different parts of Ontario and Quebec. I spent my last 20 hours in the country without any power, doing the things that people do during blackouts: talking to neighbours about having no power, entering a room and flipping on a light switch before realizing why it wont work (and feeling dumb), trying to quickly check something online before realizing why it wont work (and feeling dumber), and drinking the rest of the beer . . . because, you know, it might go bad.

It is a longstanding Ontario tradition and you haven’t truly experienced summer in the province until you’ve gone through a lengthy blackout.

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What Are We?

One question that kept recurring during a recent trip to Canada dealt with the idea of Canadians in general – who are we and how can we explain ourselves to other people? It’s no easy feat and it’s certainly a different answer depending on who you ask.

Because, the truth is, it’s not that simple. Canada is such a big country, such a vast expanse of changing landscape and changing people, that it is impossible to nail us down with a couple of cover-all adjectives. Homogeneous is not really in the makeup of Canada. Though that’s part of what makes it tick.

Canada is a nation that stretches the length of two oceans and shares the longest border in the world with its southern neighbour. Each region of this massive country is different than the last. Some of these differences are small, while others are certainly notable. We have an Arctic, oceanfront, prairies, cityscapes with stretching skyscrapers, and rocky mountains which reach even higher. Depending on where you come from within those borders, the land has a tendency to shape who you are and your idea of Canada is.

And so the best answer I can give to anyone asking about for a general idea of Canadians is this: we’re different; it just depends which part of the country you come from. There isn’t a whole lot of unity from coast-to-coast about many things.

In spite of this, we are especially united as a country in two circumstances. As is the case with many other countries, the first involves sports. When it comes to the Olympics or, more importantly, ice hockey, we are all Canadians. The petty squabbles of one region over another, one language versus the other, and any and all disagreements about how we’re the example the rest of the country should follow are wiped away in a sea of red and white and beer and repressed boisterousness.

Vancouver Olympics, Vancouver 2010, Canadians, gold medal celebration

Apart from sports, the only other time that we are united is certainly something that must be unique to Canada. Few other nations base their cultural identity on not being like someone else, but Canadians do. We are brought together in our attempts to distance ourselves from the US and its citizens. Which, when you think about it, is pretty odd.

Our identity as Canadians oftentimes hinges on not being American. We have sat next door to the greatest superpower of the twentieth century, often ignored, and seen the good and the ugly sides of a very powerful nation. For nearly a century Canadians have made a concerted effort to avoid following in the footsteps of the US.

We are told from birth that a part of being Canadian is to strive to be more open, more polite, and more tolerant of others . . . yet most of this is merely relative to America. We condemn certain things the US does  – beat the drum of exceptionalism, unabashed nationalism, limiting personal freedoms – and feel superior for not doing these things to such extremes. Though, at the same time, most of the Western world is a lot less nationalistic than Canada (due to the risk of being seen as a radical right-winger, for example[1] ) and many of those other governments put a higher emphasis on personal liberty, allowing their citizens a lot more leeway with regard to taboo issues or earthly vices. Since most of our identity as a nation is measured against the US and the US alone, we oftentimes fail to recognize that the world is a much bigger place.

There are few nations in this world, perhaps no other, where such a significant part of the cultural identity driven by not being like their neighbour. Moreover, having a landmass this large unite over anything at all is unlikely, yet these two things – sports and, for lack of a better term, soft anti-Americanism – see us bonded together as one.

It’s not necessarily the most normal thing to hang your cultural hat on, but it’s something Canadians do more often than we might care to admit.

Still, there are countless fantastic things about Canada.

Canadians are, in general, a very polite people. We say please and thank you and hold doors open and actually make an effort not to be dicks . . . at least most of us. The average Canadian has a very low tolerance for dicks.

Trailer Park Boys, free liquor, free dope, no dicks, cyrus, say goodnight to the bad guys. blanford recreation centre

Seen at recreation centres across the country

Again, for the most part, we’re a simple people – and I mean that in a positive way. We tend to be happy with what we have and can find the joy in the small pleasures in life. A weekend at a summer cottage, a case of beer with your buddies, or a hockey game on Saturday night – we don’t demand a lot and we are a really happy people because of it. We endure some pretty harsh winters and, like Scandinavians, if we can appreciate the little things while surrounded by chilly darkness, you better believe we can make a sunny day count.

Canada’s a diverse and wondrous place that has welcomed immigration from all corners of the world for nearly all of its existence. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you probably won’t stand out or feel all that alone in Canada. I’m not saying we’re free of xenophobic asshats, because idiots are inescapable, but it’s certainly not too terrible here and most of us realize that foreign influence has become a powerful contributor to Canadian culture and society.

We’re free of a powerful religious right, a strong gun lobby, or a greed-driven economy. And we’re really really good at one of the toughest games on the planet.

Canada is where I grew up and I’m extraordinarily glad it’s where I’m from.

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Back to post 1. In Finland or Sweden, it’s seen a bit of a Nazi move to hang your flag on your wall or get a symbol of your country tattooed on your body. In Canada both of these activities are extremely common, but with no connection to any radical political beliefs.

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