Are Canadians Nicer than Americans?

Candice Gaukel Andrews October 11, 2011 24
Polar bear

The first country I ever visited was Canada. I went there to see Churchill’s polar bears. ©Eric Rock

In the first few hours of my first day in the first country I ever visited, I was stopped on the street by a local man, who guessed by the camera hanging around my neck that I was a tourist. “Welcome, welcome,” he heartily greeted me, shaking my hand. “Enjoy Canada.”

I was stunned. I had just landed in Churchill, and I had a few hours to wander around before the official start of my polar bear tour. And already, a Canadian had taken the time to welcome me to his country — personally.

The incident was the very manifestation of the old, friendly debate: Are Canadians truly nicer than Americans?

Not much to worry about

I decided to delve a little further into seeing if there was any truth to my initial impression of Canadians, based on that one experience. According to the list of 2011’s Ten Most Happiest Countries in the World published at World Business on, Canada ranks as the second happiest country anywhere. That could certainly cause someone to act nicer than the average person. The United States didn’t even make the list.

Winnipeg, Canada

Canadians might have a lighter load on their minds than Americans. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

It could also be that Canadians are nicer than us because they live longer and in better health than their American counterparts. Not having to worry about as much sickness in old age would make anyone’s outlook a bit more cheery. According to a study by David Feeny of Kaiser Permanente Northwest’s Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon, and his colleagues, a nineteen-year-old Canadian can expect 2.7 more years of “perfect health” than an American of the same age.

Along with the country’s cradle-to-grave health insurance, Canada has a lower level of social and economic inequality compared to the United States, especially among the elderly. The overall poverty rate — defined as the proportion of people with incomes 50 percent below the median — was 12 percent in Canada, compared with 17 percent in the U.S. The poverty rate among the elderly was also lower: 6.0 percent there versus 23 percent here.

Mistaken identity

Such research seems to point to some reasons why Canadians might have a lighter load on their minds than Americans, thus making them friendly and nicer when we run into them on the street. But the more humorous reasons lie in the many anecdotes — such as my first experience — about Canadians.

Musher Dave and dog

Canadians  live in the second happiest country in the world. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

According to no. 9 in an article titled “Top 10 ways to spot a Canadian” written by Judith Timson for Canada’s Globe and Mail just a few months ago, you’re Canadian if you “refile your taxes to correct a tiny mistake, wait patiently at a red light to cross the street even though no car is coming, and address a surly American customs guard as ‘Sir’ even after he has menacingly threatened not to let you into his country because of some minor omission on your customs card.”

Like many travelers, I can relate.

Timson also says in her article that “you’re a Canadian if you’re nice but not too nice, deferential to authority but still ready to insist on justice, especially when it comes to rogue cops, and if you don’t need a quality-of-life survey to convince you that you live in the best damn country in the world.”

I can’t tell you how many times — especially when I lived for a time in California — that people have asked me if I’m a Canadian, probably judging by my Midwestern, Wisconsin accent (although you couldn’t hear it, when I just said “Wisconsin,” I said it with the emphasis on the second syllable and with a decidedly hard “K” sound). Or maybe they thought I was just … well, nice.

However they came to that conclusion, I’ll take it as a compliment.

Do you think Canadians are nicer than Americans?

Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,



  1. Roslyn Zozzie Golden October 11, 2011 at 6:29 am - Reply

    I was a Canadian for the first 22 years of my life and then became a dual citizen of the United States in my early fifties. I like to think I represent the best parts of both countries.

  2. pauletteb October 11, 2011 at 7:29 am - Reply

    I travel to Canada frequently, especially the Maritimes, and I agree that for the most part Canadians are nicer/friendlier than Americans. Most of the rude, pushy, get-out-of-my-way, folks are either my countrymen . . . or Quebecois! Regarding friendliness, Aussies run a close second.

  3. Annie October 12, 2011 at 5:43 am - Reply

    I have always enjoyed my relationship with our Canadian brothers. Growing up in South Dakota, we often went on summer vacations to Canada. We were always treated kindly and greeted with friendly enthusiasm. In recent years I worked for a professional hockey team in Colorado and many of our players were Canadians. I enjoyed working with them so much and found them to be humorous, fan favorites and dedicated to their sport. Now I live in Australia, where so many people will ask, “What part of Canada are you from?” I had never in my life been asked if I was Canadian. Finally I asked an Aussie why everyone assumes that I’m Canadian (as I clearly don’t have their accent!), and he explained that their findings are that Canadians are insulted if the Aussies assume they are from the United States, so they play it safe with all of us. I was so surprised. And, I must admit that I felt bad about that. I always considered Canadians to be my brothers in spirit and I would never be insulted to be considered a Canadian. I know there are some “ugly Americans” and I hate that, but guess there are “ugly people” in every country. I’m proud to be an American and proud to have Canada as my closest neighbor.

  4. Gail October 12, 2011 at 5:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for your kind words, Candice. As a Canadian, I do appreciate them.

    And Annie, I hope you will base your opinion of Canadians on your actual experiences with us, instead of on the words of one Australian. When I was in Paris a few years ago, many locals automatically assumed I was German. I asked one fellow why that would be, and he said it was probably because I was wearing comfy Birkenstocks. These things don’t really mean much.

  5. Jean Vranic October 12, 2011 at 8:31 am - Reply

    We just had our first holiday in Calgary, the Rockies and Vancouver and found everyone really friendly and welcoming. People went out of their way to give us directions and everybody seemed to be happy with their lives. We found it contrasted sharply with the general air of gloom in the UK and a lot of Western Europe. Maybe the fact that there seems to be little unemployment and good social services makes all the difference. We found officials at the airports etc to be extremely friendly and charming compared with US border controls who have been so rude and arrogant in the past we refuse to travel to the USA anymore.

  6. Kate October 12, 2011 at 9:30 am - Reply

    Without a doubt! Did I mention that I’m Canadian?

  7. Scott October 12, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Great article.

    Being one of the “Nice Canadians” you speak of and having traveled extensively in the U.S. over the last few years, I thought this a great chance to share a bit of my experience.

    Canada really is a great country and has much to offer it’s citizens, no doubt. However, I can say, I personally don’t see us being any nicer than our cousins south of the 49th.

    In the last few years, I’ve been in every state (except for 4) on business and have enjoyed every minute and all of the people I’ve come in contact with. When I’ve had a bit of free time, I’ve chosen to go back to the U.S. to explore more places and people.

    This past summer, I took my son on an 8,000 mile U.S. adventure out west. The people were fantastic! There was one idiot when we were crossing the Bay Bridge into San Fran, but there are idiot drivers everywhere. The previous summer, I spent six weeks traveling around the U.S. The sights were great but the people were fantastic!

    To let you in on a little secret, there’s a lot of “America Bashing” that goes on up here, especially in the media and it really gets under my skin! People I know do it too and I’m quick to tell them to make the effort to actually spend some time in the U.S. before they form an opinion. We’re getting complacent up here and resting on our laurels.

    If you rent a car and travel our highways, you’ll see first-hand that we’re not the most courteous/nice people afterall when behind the wheel of a car, which we are so often.

    I guess a lot of “Trash talk” gets hurled your way because the U.S. IS such a great country and has done so much for the world over the years. I’d say it’s a case of jealousy really.

    Sure you’ve got your problems, but get out there and explore with an open mind and see what a truly great people you are!

    From my experiences, I’d have to say that you as a people are just as friendly as Canadians, if not more so! Even New Yorkers! I’ve spent a lot of time there…. fantastic!

    And as for you folks from the Dairy Capitol of the U.S., Wisconsin is a great place too, full of amazing people!

    It’s always my first stop when heading west. I have cousins up in Plymouth who are some of the nicest people on the planet! Even when they still bug me about saying “Eh” all the time.

    I just make sure to ask for a “Sody-Pop” when I want a drink. :-)

    My family travels each year at Christmas instead of dealing with all the nasty people in the malls and stores up here and the really ‘un-nice’ people on the roads.

    Last Christmas was Hawaii on request of my web-toed daughter who can’t get enough swimming. This year, at the request of my ski-junkie son, I think it’ll be Jackson Hole Wyoming. We were there this past summer for a couple days. Wow!

    It’s the people as much as the environment that helps us make our choices on where to go.

    If you want to know who the nicest Canadians are, I’d say you have to go to the Maritime provinces. Nova Scotia and New Foundland are probably the tops! Could be the salt air from the sea that does it. Must be something in this because they get pounded constantly with nasty weather – yet they’re still so pleasant and well….. Nice.

    But I’ve done the east coast many times in my life.

    I think our next stop is going to be Alaska. Haven’t been there yet and they deserve our attention.

    So hold your heads high America, you’re just as nice as Canadians.

    It’s easy….. Try this…..

    Just smile your biggest smile and say “Welcome to the U.S.A. Eh!” :-)

    Remember what Judy said…”There’s no place like home!” :-)

  8. Art Hardy October 12, 2011 at 10:02 am - Reply

    It’s often unfair to make a general statement about a country’s people, but I’d tend to agree that Canadians are friendly folks. And that’s not just in sparsely populated areas. Compare the friendliness factor of residents of Vancouver to those in Chicago… Canada wins!

  9. Rob October 12, 2011 at 10:50 am - Reply

    I agree Canadians are generally more polite than Americans typically in public settings. For whatever reason – it seems social skills in public have eroded here in the states – with some exceptions. I was in Portland recently and a stranger approached me while walking downtown, and politely asked if I needed directions. I can see that same situation happening in downtown Ottawa or Toronto, but likely not here in downtown Atlanta (although there are nice people here, just not so much in public).

  10. John H. Gaukel October 12, 2011 at 11:39 am - Reply

    I have visited Canada about ten times and love it there. I also have found the Canadians to be very friendly and wonderful people. If I had a girl friend there, I would probably move to Canada.

  11. Travis October 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm - Reply


  12. David Dow October 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    In my first visit in Canada in the 1970’s, I was stopped twice by the police and had my VW Beetle searched twice (having to unload my camping gear and supplies). In the intervening time period I have visited Canada a number of times on business/pleasure trips (including spending a Summer in Victoria, B.C.) and haven’t been hassled as much as I was during my first visit (when Quebec Separatism was on the rise and anybody with a mustache was suspect). I have never found Quebec to be very welcoming area, but enjoyed my stay on Vancouver Island, B.C. and business trips to Nova Scotia/New Brunswick. Flying to the maritime provinces s usually a hassle compared to driving or arriving by ferry.I haven’t found Canada to be as bi-lingual as visits to U.S. metropolitan areas (which is a cultural divide issue).

    Visiting Canada on short trips makes it hard to state categorically whether Canadians are “nicer” than U.S. citizens. Living on Cape Cod, our residents are friendly towards Canadian visitors, since we depend on tourism as an important component of our economy. The same situation holds true when I visit Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy in Canada. I don’t feel that tourist visits provide a good barometer for “niceness” unless one defines this term operationally.

    Since Canadians are willing to pay more taxes to support their national health care system and provide social welfare safety net for their less affluent citizens/communities, it is probably a more civilized place to live than the U.S. Our Country has to support a large military/industrial complex to support corporate capitalism abroad and maintain U.S. political interests throughout the World. Canadian citizens don’t have to bear this burden, so that more of their taxes can be used to support the social contract in that country.

    Americans tend to be more individualistic than Canadians and passionate about the causes in which they become engaged. Canadians are more reserved from my experience and look to the government to do things which are carried out by private charities/volunteers in the U.S. Canadians often define themselves as being the opposite of their larger neighbors to the South and feel that the U.S. life styles exhibit excessive consumerism (which is probably true). The Value Added Taxes (VAT) in Canada place constraints on consumerism and I don’t think Canada has the same wealth gap as exists in the U.S. (99% versus 1 % in the current Occupy demonstrations), so that conspicuous consumption is more limited. The citizens of both countries have high levels of per capita energy usage, so that we are a long way from sustainable life styles.

    On an individual level I am not sure that Canadians are nicer than the residents of the U.S. We have a more open, multicultural society in the U.S. which makes it a more interesting place to live than Canada from my perspective. Canada’s a good place to visit, but the maritime provinces are colder, gloomier and less affluent than living on Cape Cod. The maritime provinces have similar demographic challenges (to many retirees and not enough young families/single entrepreneurs as Maine/Cape Cod). There are more cultural opportunities on Cape Cod than in similar sized towns in the maritime provinces. I am not sure that people move to Cape Cod because the people here are nicer than those in the Canadian maritime provinces, but living here is cheaper and more interesting which makes the Cape an attractive place for second homes/retirees.

  13. John October 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Ineresting article on this topic. The only downside I would have to say about Canada is how cold it gets in the winter.

  14. Collen Kelly Mellor October 13, 2011 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Having traveled extensively (through Europe and elsewhere), I wouldn’t fall into the ranks giving Candians the ‘nicer’ moniker. My daughter went to McGill University in Montreal, and I actually wrote the story which became Cover Story in Prov. Journal’s “Lifestyles” Sunday magazine about the wise financial choice of sending your child to Canadian school for post-secondary ed. How did she find Canadian living? ‘Difficult’ and not just due to climate (quite harsh with winter finally releasing its grip in late April). Some Canadiens have an almost-too-competitive attitude about Americans and feel they’re regarded as ‘poor cousins’ (hardly the case, since your article points out all the ways they seem to have the jump on us, their neighbor to the south). Maybe, too, it is the harsh climate that makes for dour attitude. I have a post on my own website “Encouragement in a Difficult World: Biddy Bytes Blog” that touts the most genteel and welcoming of societies I’ve ever found–our own South. I would not give that honor of being ‘nicer’ to Candiens….

  15. Teresita October 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    I do not really know. I only know one Canadian, and she is OK. But we have a lots of nice people here in the USA :-)

  16. Monica DeCaro October 16, 2011 at 10:10 am - Reply

    I have always enjoyed visits to Canada. I find the people to be warm and friendly. Most recently I camped at the Bay of Fundy. We entered Canada on a route used more by loggers than tourists, and we were asked to empty the car at the border – not so easily done as it was packed with camping equipment. It really was the only annoyance, and as far as that goes, it was not so bad.

  17. Jim Goyjer October 19, 2011 at 4:22 am - Reply

    Yes, overall Canadians are nicer.

  18. Edward Williams October 19, 2011 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Canadians I have met while visiting Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal, Québec City, and Halifax have been unfailingly polite. And (in contrast to United States cities!), not one has mugged me.

  19. Chris Thoms October 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    With all of my visits to Canada (whether my honeymoon in Jasper, skiing in the Monashees, or fishing on the St. Mary river in Cranbrook), I have always been welcomed and treated with the utmost kindness by my Canadian “friends.”

  20. Maco Balkovec October 20, 2011 at 4:30 am - Reply

    I got the best of both worlds, am a Canadian and a Wisconsin Badger ’95!

  21. Michael October 23, 2011 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I hate to say anything negative about Americans, since there are so many nice ones, but to answer your question: generally Canadians seem well informed and quite educated, and on the bottom line they have a more responsible society. So I think you might as well take it as a compliment.

  22. Kate McCaw October 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Without a doubt! Did I mention that I’m Canadian?

  23. Terri November 14, 2011 at 9:36 am - Reply

    One of my best friends is Canadian, from BC, and he is indeed one of the nicest people I know. I listen to As It Happens on NPR from the CBC every night and there’s a lot less snark than there is here, except for NPR talk shows. And still the commentators have very tough dialogues with politicos from around the world. Very persistent while maintaining their civility.

  24. James A. November 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    We lived in Bellingham, WA for eight-plus years and our small “Fourth Corner” city was and is a mecca for Canadians from metro Vancouver, especially, due to lower prices during our era. They’re great folks, in my opinion. We often roared with laughter at their political wrangles via CBC. Pols would call each other colorful names, express “outrage” about an opponent’s views, then wind up discussions with a friendly “See you later” type departure. They seemed a lot more like respectful adversaries than our often snarky counterparts in the U.S. However, I have known colleagues who have relocated across the border, only to return because of various regulations, border crossing issues, etc. But NW Canada is endlessly fascinating, beautiful area well populated with colorful characters and impressive, gracious and welcoming people.

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