Things I learned from my recent trip to Vancouver

I just got back from Vancouver, and boy are my arms tired! No wait, that's not how the joke goes.

Here are some things I learned from my trip:

  • Do not pay the cashier with pennies. Canada phased out the penny in 2013. I missed the memo.

  • Do not pay the cashier in Hong Kong dollars, either. There was no memo on this, on the grounds that it's totally obvious.

  • It appears to be inconsistent whether Canada uses one-based floor numbering (United States style) or zero-based floor numbering (European style). One building uses the United States style, where "Floor 1" is the ground floor; another uses zero-based, where "Floor 1" is the first floor above the ground floor. But at least the floors are numbered consecutively. Not like in New York City, where floor numbers are not required to follow any particular rule.

  • I once again encountered the blinking green traffic light. I always forget what it means and have to go look it up. It means "You have the right of way, but be aware that cross-traffic has a stop sign rather than a stop light, so they may enter the intersection when safe."

  • The United States calls it a "parking garage" and in England it's a "multi-storey car park", both rather unexciting functional descriptions of a parking structure. But Canadians have a dedicated word for the concept: "parkade". The word is so cute, and it reminds me of this commercial.
Comments (50)
  1. lister says:

    You can pay the cashier with pennies. It’s still legal currency. All pennies that get returned to banks don’t get put back into circulation. No new pennies are being made either. John Green and CGP Grey have thoughts on the USA & the penny and have been pro Canada about it.

    A lot of places in Canada will accept American dollars. Whether you get a good exchange rate or even any benefit is subject to wide variation. Many places take it at par.

    In Canada we generally use one-based floor numbering. It’s pretty rare to encounter zero-based floor numbering.

    The blinking green traffic light is a regional thing. We don’t have that in Ontario.

    Parkade is also a regional thing. We them parking lots in Ontario.

    1. Steve Chovanec says:

      You can still encounter some flashing green lights in smaller communities in Ontario. Typically it indicates that oncoming traffic still has a red, so you can turn left. I’m guessing they couldn’t be bothered to spend the extra money for a 4th light with an arrow.

    2. Entegy says:

      I never heard of parkade until my recent vacation to British Columbia. Then again, I live in Quebec, so parking is either just “parking” or “parking lot” (verbal in both languages) or “stationnement” or “P” (on signs).

      We also have the blinking green lights in Quebec. When you see one, you know the opposite traffic still has a red light.

      And we definitely have the inconsistent floor numbering here too. You can see G, 1, 2 or G, 2, 3… Annoying. Fun time: What’s SS1 mean in an elevator?

      1. Kakurady says:

        I live in Ottawa, and some of the buildings have buttons labelled “B/SS”.

        That’s almost too long to fit on a button, so newer buildings University of Ottawa have a Level 0 instead.

        I never noticed “parkade” either until this year somebody on Twitter pointed out. It’s rare in Ottawa, but some buildings use it.

        1. yukkuri says:

          Your buildings have a BSS segment!

        2. Entegy says:

          If your building has multiple basement levels, do they just end up going Level -1? :P

          1. AndyCadley says:

            In the University I used to work in floor 0 was, mostly, level with the raised walkways around the campus (occasionally it isn’t because the walkway isn’t entirely level). Floors above that were labelled 1,2,3,4 etc going upwards. Floors below that were labelled 01, 02, 03 etc going downwards. The start of every University year was an inevitable sea of lost students who couldn’t understand why the leading zero made a difference. Despite that any call to perhaps rethink the system was dismissed as being “too confusing”

          2. JohnTH says:

            That’s how it works in Europe! Level -1, -2, -3…

            Some older buildings used to have named labels. In Portugal, the floor level used to be called “R/C”, for, erm, “floor level”. Now it’s just Level 0.

          3. Kakurady says:

            No, level 00.

            (worth mentioning here that University of Ottawa is a bilingual university)

    3. Ontario does have blinking green traffic lights, but it means you have an advanced green (opposing traffic still has red, so you can left turn in front of them).

      It’s more common to see the green arrow, but some intersections do have flashing green instead.

      1. lister says:

        Oh yes! Right! I haven’t seen those for a long time now due to being replaced with left turn signals.

  2. Roland Rabien says:

    A flashing green light on a traffic signal means the signal is pedestrian activated. There may or may not be a side street with a stop sign.

    1. Entegy says:

      Where does it mean the pedestrian light is activated? I’ve seen it mean opposing traffic still has a red light so you can turn left safely.

      1. Roland Rabien says:

        The pedestrian presses a button and then the light turns red so they can cross the road.

  3. Brian says:

    In Minnesota, a parking garage is a “Parking Ramp” or just a ramp. It’s disconcerting the first time someone tells you where to park in Minneapolis.
    In Montreal, a flashing green light means the same as a left turn arrow everywhere else; that you have priority to make a left turn. It’s also worth noting (should you ever visit Montreal), that the Island of Montreal is only one of two places in North America were “right turn on red” is forbidden.

    1. Ben Voigt says:

      There are a lot more than two places in North America where right turn on red is forbidden. Here’s one in Philadelphia, PA, USA (UPenn campus)

      1. Entegy says:

        There are definitely more places in North America that forbid right on red than just the islands of Montreal and Manhattan, which are the ones commonly cited, however when this is mentioned, people tend to be talking about a blanket ban in the region rather than specific intersections.

      2. Brian says:

        You don’t see “No turn on red” (or the local equivalent signs; pictograms like this: in Montreal. There’s no need. Right turns are red are disallowed in all municipalities on the Island of Montreal. What you see when you take a bridge or tunnel onto the island is a sign like this: indicating that right turns on red are prohibited everywhere on the island.

  4. Pietro Gagliardi (andlabs) says:

    Back in college I somehow managed to get a Canadian penny; this despite living in and going to college on on Long Island, which is as far away from Canada as you can get in New York State. I didn’t notice it until I tried paying with it once at the campus convenience store; the cashier used to work near the border and recognized it instantly, to my surprise. I don’t know where it is now, alas (but I can guess where in my house it *could* be). I can only imagine that I could have accidentally spent it somewhere else and no one would have noticed it wasn’t US currency.

    1. Entegy says:

      Canadian pennies (1¢), nickels (5¢), dimes (10¢) and even quarters (25¢) are so similar to American ones it’s common to get the other country’s currency by accident.

      And we’re not the only ones. The New Zealand 20¢ coin is about the same size as the Australian 10¢ coin. It was common for me to get 20¢ NZD coins when getting change for 10¢ AUD while in Australia. Ended up with some Singapore denomination in place of an Australian 10¢ as well at some point.

      1. GEO255 says:

        Yes, Australian 5c, 10c, 20c, $1 and $2 coins are the same face value and dimensions as New Zealand currency. I’ve never seen a NZ 50c coin, I don’t know if there is one.

        Planes travelling between Australia and NZ accept either for drinks purchases etc. So always buy your beer with NZ currency, the exchange rate makes it (slightly) cheaper.

        1. Gerry says:

          The New Zealand and Australian coins haven’t been the same since 2006, when NZ reduced the size of the 10, 20 an 50 cent coins, and scrapped the 5c coin (we scrapped 1 and 2 cent coins in 1990).

      2. Neil says:

        At one point the then UK 5p piece was so similar to the then German 1DM piece that German vending machines would happily accept them…

        1. David Arthur says:

          Norway has the same problem now: its 20-crown coin is almost identical to the Syrian £10, both visually and metallically, so the Syrian coins (worth less than half a crown) are widely used instead of the real thing.

  5. db says:

    Weird that even traffic lights rules aren’t standard everywhere in America. That sounds a tiny bit dangerous.

    1. lister says:

      Don’t get me started on sideways traffic lights.

    2. pc says:

      The United States of America have a long history of local control of many things, where the individual States are not quite as United as some people may expect. In theory the Federal government can only get involved when it’s related to some very specific things, although one of those things is “interstate commerce” which has been interpreted rather broadly as of late.

      There are many traffic rules and conventions different in different parts, though generally not so crazily different. But sometimes quite different:

      1. One of the ways the federal government gets states to “voluntarily” align their laws is to tie compliance to money. For example, every state sets the drinking age to 21 because anything lower than that causes the state to lose 10% of its federal highway funds. A similar thing happened with the 55mph speed limit.

      2. parkrrrr says:

        Regarding standards or the lack thereof, there is a book published by the Federal Highway Administration, known as the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. From page 1-1 of the latest (2009) edition of that book:

        The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, under authority granted by the Highway Safety Act of 1966, decreed that traffic control devices on all streets and highways open to public travel in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a) in each State shall be in substantial conformance with the Standards issued or endorsed by the FHWA.

        One of those standards, also in the MUTCD, says that red should be on the top (or on the left on a horizontally-oriented signal.) I suppose the example from your link relies on a liberal interpretation of “substantial conformance.”

    3. David Arthur says:

      I can’t speak for the United States, but in many ways there’s less integration (both in regulation, and actual trade barriers) between Canadian provinces than between EU countries.

      1. French Guy says:

        At least you all drive on the same side of the road (fortunately, there’s no changeover on land) and your roadway signs are all in the same units (we’ll get there when and if the UK officially leaves the EU).

        1. David Arthur says:

          Even that wasn’t always true: Québec drove on the right (inheriting French practice), and this spread as far west as Alberta, but the two coasts drove on the left until the 1920s.

    4. Brian says:

      Starting in the late 1960s, many Quebec towns adopted a more “accessible” traffic light system. Red was a pair of square red lights, one on either side of a horizontally mounted light assembly. Yellow was a diamond, green was a circle. This way, folks with red/green color blindness had a better idea of what was going on. I don’t live there any more, but there seem to be fewer and fewer of them there each time I visit. They were never adopted in the city of Montreal.
      Here’s a picture of one of them: (it’s obviously not on the island of Montreal, note the “no right turn on red” sign which is superfluous in Montreal).

  6. Kakurady says:

    In Shanghai, blinking green traffic light means “your green light is ending in 3 seconds”. It’s necessary because the yellow light is only a second long.

    When one direction faces a yellow light, the other direction sees both a red and a yellow light, which means the green light is starting soon.

    1. Yuri Khan says:

      Russia follows similar conventions for flashing green and simultaneous red and yellow.

  7. The flashing green lights messed with my driving instincts. When I saw the green light turn off, my reaction was to think “The yellow light is about to come on, better slow down.”

  8. cheong00 says:

    And I wonder why you got Hong Kong dollars in hand in the beginning. :P

    Regarding floor numbers. In Hong Kong, most buildings obeys the rule the the ground floor is G/F, and the floor above is 2/F. Some buildings skips 4/F, just like the reason that others skips 13/F. And then there is a building that was designed to skip all the unlucky numbers.

    1. cheong00 says:

      Also note that in Hong Kong, the floor number in Chinese is almost always (see the previous comment) equal to English floor number + 1. So if you’re going to 十六樓, you press 15 in lift/elevator.

      1. I could not find elevator buttons layout on 39 Conduit Road, but this one shows how many buttons can be omitted in China:

  9. DonBoy says:

    There’s some buried treasure in one of those links.

    1. It also explains “It’s not butter.”

  10. —”Do not pay the cashier in Hong Kong dollars, either. There was no memo on this, on the grounds that it’s totally obvious.”

    And yet you are saying you had to go to Vancouver to learn that?

    1. Henri Hein says:

      Come on. It was a joke. Maybe he paid with HK dollars by mistake, or saw someone else do it, and then put it in the list to give us a chuckle. I got a chuckle. Even if you didn’t think it was funny enough to chuckle at, you must have recognized it as humorous.

      1. I did. But my comment was for humor too. You failed to recognize that.

  11. Ivan K says:

    The NY building floor link reminded me of the fictional New York City where the Mertin Flemmer Building has an extra half-floor.

    1. Tim! says:

      It reminded me that the man has been a consummate liar^H^H^H^Hsalesman for more than 30 years.

  12. smf says:

    In England we have more than just multi storey car parks, tomtom satellite navigation has three (?) categories. It’s kinda annoying when you just want to dump your car in the nearest place you can and you have to know what kind of parking that might be.

  13. Joe White says:

    “Parkade” isn’t just a Canadian thing – they had them in my home town in Iowa.

  14. BZ says:

    I’ve seen zero-based floor numbering in the US. My grandfather lives in an assisted living house with such numbering
    in NJ (G, 1, 2, 3 etc). The college I went to had one building with an actual zeroth floor. Another building there is 1-based but has M for Mezzanine between the first and second floor at ground level. Yet another has a ground floor (entrance from street), first and second floors, followed by PL (entrance from the walkway on the other side of the building) and then 3rd and up.

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