The Paper Cup City


Alexandra Goryaeva

M.Sc. Information Systems

Graduation, in my mind, is always hard on you physically and emotionally: old ties lost, the order of life is broken, no idea what comes next. In my case, it was combined with homecoming (moving back to Russia), abandoning the bachelor lifestyle and reclaiming a lot of relationships and habits that were left behind. Not as easy as it sounds, but manageable in the end. Go me!

Full-time work was one of the things I had to remember how to excel in. Not so much time for reminiscing or travelling any more. Luckily, my company had an opening on an international project, which gave some food for a new blog post. So here I am, enjoying the perks of Canada and everything that comes with it!


In fact, everything and everyone produced steam

 I first thought of writing this post while sitting in a Starbucks one Saturday Morning. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was so chilly (below -25C), that all the houses produced steam, so after about three minutes of battling the cold I gave up and dived into a nearest warm place.

The tables across from me were occupied by a Mexican guy talking to a Chinese woman. Near the counter, a silver-headed woman spoke in french to a homeless man with a newspaper in his hands, who was enjoying the hot sandwich she just bought him.

Next to me, a guy asked two total strangers sitting next to him to help him remember a song he is humming. All three of them started googling, and a while later they were chatting together like old friends.

These are just some examples of typical life in Toronto. My time here was full of such encounters, so I formed my impression of the city as a very friendly, multicultural and multi-diverse place with lovely strange people.


 Everywhere you go, people talk to you. In the office buildings, all these three hundred people passing by will smile at you. In the cafe, a waiter will make jokes and insist you try the specials. In a store, you will be genuinly complimented and engaged in a conversation, not even always coming to a suggestion to buy something. I can’t count the times I was asked questions from almost total strangers, who suddenly knew something about Russia, or had a Russian friend or relative.

The voices are very distinctive, too.

Men’s voices are usually so clear and articulate, it’s like listening to BBC radio. Women’s are usually so positive, as if a person smiles all the time. It sometimes even gets confusing, because the complaining is done in the same voice! So no matter what the accent (and there are lots of them), you can always distinguish a true Canadian by his or her voice.

The place you really should go to: Second Cup

Everyone here is drinking coffee out of paper cups. So many paper cups everywhere, that it just stays in my mind. It’s also very contagious: having a paper cup in you head makes you feel local. It becomes a habit: buy a coffee-to-go on your way to the office.

But then again, nothing ever comes easy. A cappuccino I always ask for is quite an unusual request, since everyone is drinking straight black coffee. So please wait for 5 minutes here, ma’am (ma’am?!).

 It’s not surprising, that with such habits Toronto has a Starbucks on every corner. But even more than Starbucks, there are Tim Horton’s — a very special Canadian coffee place. For Canadians, Tim Horton’s versus Starbucks is like Android vs Apple, and Android wins indoubtly. Also, most of the places are just for coffee-drinkers to walk in and take out, with no tables, while I’m still waiting for 5 more minutes, thank you very much for your patience, ma’am!


Much better chances than in an actual lottery

A double-double at Tim Horton’s is an iconic Toronto coffee. It’s strong coffee with double cream and double sugar. Tastes exactly like Nescafe instant coffee, and I leave it for you to decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Oh, and don’t forget to roll up the rim, you might have won another coffee or a doughnut. Just one more way to feed the addiction…

As Canadians themselves love to say, Toronto is New York run by Swiss — busy and expensive, but cleaner and safer, than New York. It’s the center of cultural life, economy and tourism.


The lead singer is about 65 with a magnificent voice

How would you like to listen to a rock concert in the National Art Gallery? It’s fun, and acoustics is great, by the way. The average age of the singers of a First Ontario Rock Choir is closer to sixty, but I don’t know as many young people that can sing Pink Floyd and Beatles as lively!

Still, I wouldn’t say the museums in Toronto are the sights you would fly an ocean to see. But some other things definitely are.


Take the architecture. I am a fan, this is the most interesting thing for me in another city, other than everyday cultural differences.

Toronto architecture is amazing: both monumental and cute. How about that, eh? (By the way, this questioning ending is in fact quite common in the speech. Sounds adorable, when it comes naturally. Hope to adopt it some day!)


 Small two-story buildings, churches and private houses (a lot of them haven’t changed a bit since late 1850th) are surrounded by modern skyscrapers.


I’m staying (and working, and spend most of my time) in the Financial district, so the most famous buildings in Toronto are just ten minutes away by foot. That includes Scotia Plaza, Gooderham building, City Hall and others.  It’s like living in a candy shop.

imageFrom up this lovely (and quiet famous) CN Tower, a nice bird’s-eye view is also available.


Toronto is also famous for its graffiti. In my mind, the coolest landmarks are those that are different every time you visit. This way, you never get bored and the explorer in you never goes to sleep. In Toronto, you can find really beautiful graffiti only where its legal: the Graffiti alley, for example.


Just walkin’ my dog, signin’ my song, really


Gigantic blue cat, staring you right in the eyes

But as soon as you go further away from the center, you see the other type of the city:


Lovely small private houses, with wooden porches, a back yard and all the problems associated with it. For instance, I have recently heard a conversation between my colleague and her teenager son, living in such a house. She was telling him that ‘dead raccoon guy will be coming, so please pay attention to what he does so that the next time a raccoon dies you’ll know what to do’.

Not a typical Moscow situation, I assure you.


It’s never easy to sum up a new place in one post (or even several — more are definitely coming!), and three weeks are not enough to know it as good as locals do.

However, it is just enough time to get an impression of a busy, but very friendly city and hearty and caring people living in it. Come and visit some day!