Culture Shock | 9 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Toronto
Photo: Jane Sweeney (Getty Images).
Toronto, Canada is one of those special places that has managed to be both culturally urban and cosmopolitan without losing any authenticity or refinement along the way. As you walk down the tree-lined streets, stroll alongside the Ontario River, window shop around downtown, or eat your way through their ever-evolving food scene, you’ll immediately know why Toronto is such a destination for travelers around the globe. Before you go, make sure you check out the 10 things you need to know before hopping on your flight.
The T is Silent.
Toronto is pronounced “Torono,” or, more specifically “T’rano.” This is due to a occurrence called “intervocalic flapping,” which is common in Canadian English (yes, “Canadian English” is a real term). This phenomenon happens when a consonant falls between two unstressed vowels. When pronounced correctly, the emphasis is on the first syllable, making the “t” in the second syllable silent. If you get nothing else, get this right.
They have their own currency.
The Canadian Dollar is pretty similar to the USD, with the biggest exception being their 1 and 2 dollar coins, called the “loonie” and “toonie,” respectively. Very few places in Toronto will accept American cash, but credit card is almost always accepted. If your card tacks on a foreign transaction fee, make sure you do a cash exchange through your bank before departure, or talk to your bank and do a one-time ATM withdrawal at the bank they recommend.
They also don’t like pennies.
Canada basically outlawed pennies in 2012, which is the best thing ever because everyone hates them anyway (and it saves taxpayers like 11 million dollars a year). If your change does require pennies, they round up or down to the nearest 5 cents.
It’s a Giant Grid.
The city is based on a grid pattern that starts from the northern end of Lake Ontario. From there, Yonge Street divides the city into an east side and a west side, and Bloor Street divides the city into north and south (referred to as uptown and downtown). Knowing those streets makes commandeering the city pretty simple, even for tourists.
You will get to know Tim Horton, and you will learn to love him.
The rumors are true: Canadians take their donuts, in particular Tim Horton’s, very seriously, and you will too, especially if you travel to Toronto during the winter. While it’s freezing outside, Tim offers a warm, cozy spot to get a delicious cup of coffee and a freshly baked ball of fried dough. What more do you want when you’re body is literally frozen solid?
You can’t buy alcohol in a grocery store.
Some high-end chain locations have pop-up wine or liquor shops a few steps past the grocery check out, but for the most part beer, wine and liquor are housed at the liquor store.
You can’t just get free health care.
Yes, Canada does have an excellent “universal” health care system, but that’s only for tax-paying citizens. If you do happen to fall ill in Toronto and can’t make it across the border to see a doctor, it’ll end up being more expensive than in the US because of their taxes and fees. If your health insurance in America allows, you can submit your receipts for reimbursement, but that can be risky business if you don’t know your policy inside and out.
It’s more expensive than you think it is.
Toronto is expensive, and not just for residents. A 5% federal tax and a 13% harmonized sale tax is added to almost all goods and service purchases, making most purchases way more expensive than in America. However, unlike in the USA, the taxes are included in the price tag, so you always know what you’re going to pay. This is an incredibly convenient situation.
Take the subway.
Unless you have the patience of a Canadian local, don’t drive in the city. Not only is traffic a mess, but parking is expensive and hard to find.
Tip like you have money.
Unlike the 15% recommended tip in America, Toronto encourages a 20% tip when dining out, and 18% is the standard. That being said, the service isn’t unlike that in America. Though Toronto is known for its hospitality, it’s still similar enough to America to second-guess the extra dollars.
Niagara Falls is worth it.
It’s about an hour drive, and it’s totally worth it. Not only is Niagara Falls one of the most beautiful places in the world, but there are tons of wineries to stop at along the way. And, if you’ve never tried “ice wine,” the kind of wine that comes from grapes that have been literally frozen solid during a Toronto Winter, now’s your chance. You won’t be disappointed.