Culture shock

8 things about Canada that were a total culture shock coming from the Middle East

This essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Narcity Media.

After living my entire life in the Middle East, I decided to move to Toronto to attend York University and begin my undergraduate studies in 2013.

As a 19 year old who had never really seen a city in North America, let alone Canada, I was nervous but also very excited for this new chapter.

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

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

Water is free

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 return 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 for it.

In Canada, having free water is honestly one of the most impressive things I have experienced. Restaurants in Dubai constantly charge crazy amounts of money.

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

Tim Hortons is not a fancy coffee shop

When Tim Hortons first opened in Dubai it was always busy and an “it place” for a while. The first Tim Hortons was located on the beach front in a popular area called Jumeirah Beach Residence and had a marble construction with comfortable chairs and great coffee.

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

But surprisingly, coffee and Timbits aren’t cheap in the Middle East. In fact, the Tim Hortons in the Dubai Mall which overlooks the Burj Khalifa charged around $870 for a 4-course meal on New Years Eve.

Coming to Toronto and seeing Tim Hortons on every corner, I realized that this isn’t a fancy cafe but a cafe that most Canadians love, and it’s quite affordable. So my summers consisted of Iced Capps and Timbits.

Bidets are not found in all toilets

Whether it’s a public or private bathroom in the Middle East, a bidet can be found everywhere. Meanwhile, it is not found in Canada unless thoroughly researched. For an Arab, this is part and parcel of building a bathroom in every home, so arriving in Toronto and realizing that it doesn’t really exist was a downside for me.

After many attempts and googling, I have now successfully installed a bidet in every bathroom in my condo and introduced all my Canadian friends to this fantastic invention, which they now consider necessary. But more importantly, it doesn’t make me feel like a stranger anymore.

Also is it a bathroom or toilet? Which is it, people?

McDonald’s has an entirely different menu

Living in the Middle East usually means grabbing McDonald’s after school, because there’s almost always a cool McDonald’s to hang out.

But mostly it was about ordering a Big Tasty or a McRoyale sandwich. Once I arrived in Toronto, I realized that none of these options existed. Moreover, the sandwiches they had in common were also named differently.

It upset me. Also, oddly enough, people weren’t enthusiastic about Burger King either. In the Arab world it’s a constant debate about which one tastes better, whereas in Toronto I challenge you to find a Burger King within walking distance.

Raccoons in the trash

Raccoons are considered exotic animals to me, as are skunks, by the way. On the other hand, cats are the animals you see digging through trash bags in the Middle East, and some aren’t friendly either.

When I first saw a raccoon I thought it was an amazing animal they looked so fluffy and cartoon like but once I got close I realized that they were also vicious and mysterious. I still remember the first time I saw a raccoon and walked straight towards it when my Canadian friends started yelling at me to back up slowly. I never understood why until I realized the nails on this thing.

I don’t want to be seen taking a selfie with a raccoon anymore, that’s for sure.

bagged milk

Yes, it may sound strange, but I’m a big milk drinker, and when I first went shopping and realized milk was sold in bags, it blew my mind.

Glass bottles, cartons but plastic bags? All I could think of was how did they even seal the bags? What a mess did this cause the first person to invent packet milk, and why? It may be more affordable, but in my opinion, that’s just a problem.

What fascinates me the most are the different ways to cut the bag in order to execute the perfect casting. It’s all about proportions and angles.

Food delivery options were limited

In 2013, UberEats wasn’t an option because it didn’t exist. But, something Arabs love so much is convenience. Most restaurants had delivery drivers working in-house to deliver food right to your doorstep. So all you had to do was call your favorite restaurants and have your food delivered. In fact, you could ask your local grocer and stationery store to do the same.

When I landed in Canada in 2013 and sat in my dorm needing food and found the only thing delivered was pizza or Chinese I was instantly shocked . I couldn’t accept this fact for so long, I even thought about starting my own delivery service.

It was an incredibly painful process, especially during those winter months when walking outside felt like surrendering to the cold. Yes, it may be a bit dramatic, but hey, the winter of 2013 was actually the worst winter ever.

These days, you can get literally anything delivered to you within 2 hours of purchase. You can even refuel your car while it’s in your garage via a portable gas station and app.

Desert ATVs are basically snowmobiles

Mira Nabulsi on a desert mountain bike in DubaiMira Nabulsi on a desert mountain bike in DubaiMira Nabulsi | Narcity

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

I never thought about the different types of activities you can do in the snow other than skiing or snowboarding. Seeing a snowmobile and realizing its similarity to an ATV made me feel like people growing up in the Great White North have something in common with people in the desert – even if they’re worlds apart.

I have never ridden a snowmobile. I can imagine it may feel just as exhilarating but much colder.

Canadians are people of the world, and that’s what makes me feel welcome here. But let’s install these bidets, huh?