This is the final installment of my TCAF Like A Local posts to help non-Torontonians make the most of their trip. The last step in navigating a new city is picking up the lingo and understanding some local norms.
1) The local pronunciation of Toronto is “Ter-awn-no” or the faster “Trawno.” The most common nickname is T.O. but the press also likes to use Hogtown and Toronto the Good a lot. Unlike what Wikipedia says, if you call it the Tee Dot, you’re going to sound like a time traveller. [2016 update: you can add the 6ix to the list thanks to Drake.]
2) There’s a lot of Toronto slang, especially slang imported from all over the world, so it’s difficult to present a succinct list here. Instead I’m going to briefly school you on the 416 and 905, two numbers you might hear being referred to. These are area codes represent Toronto and the municipalities that form the Greater Toronto Area (which includes suburbs like Markham or Mississauga) respectively. Generally, these area codes signify an urban/suburban cultural divide.
Related to the 416/905, we have a divide between old Toronto and amalgamated Toronto, which surrounds the downtown core. Increasingly, these two groups show a growing socioeconomic and political divide in our city, as evinced by our latest voting results:
These Toronto Life articles offer different views into this divide.
In addition to these geographic lines, there are also far less contentious and visible divisions in Toronto. There’s downtown/uptown with Bloor Street serving as the dividing line, downtown of course generally being more expensive and denser. Within this downtown core, there’s a further general divide between the east and west side with Yonge Street serving as the dividing line. The East is generally known for its cheaper rents, quieter lifestyle and being more family oriented; the West is generally known for its nightlife, youth culture and being more trendy. But in my experience, you aren’t going to hear terms like “west side” or “east side” as there isn’t the strong sense of rivalry that you might find in other cities.
3) Based on my travels, I would say that racially based comments tolerated in other cities don’t go over well in downtown Toronto. This isn’t to say Toronto doesn’t have its share of racism, but there is no easier way to risk being socially ostracized than to rely on racial stereotypes and to stereotype people. Well-meaninged intentions will not buy you a pass; positive stereotyping is equally suspect. The trick is, Torontonians won’t get in other people’s faces over such matters. We’ll still be polite as ever. And then change the subject. And then avoid the offender. But as is typical of Torontonians, we’ll still complain about it: “Can you believe what they just said?” If you’re unsure about something, I’d err on the side of caution. It can take a lot of experience to pick up on what’s acceptable and what’s not in different cultures as such things are always contextual.
4) Torontonians tend to be quite reserved. However, we don’t mind having a bit of a friendly bitch fest with strangers. I recently split a cab with a stranger from Porter and the first thing we do is bitch about the construction down on Queen’s Quay and being charged for checking in luggage. I immediately felt right at home. You see, if someone starts this up with you, it’s not about being negative so much as finding a safe and somewhat emotionally charged way of connecting with a stranger other than commenting on our fickle weather – bitching is about bonding and commiserating. Moaning about public transit or another condo development is one of our time-honoured ways to break the ice and feel like we’re all in this together regardless of race or creed. Having said that, don’t be a dick and bitch about TCAF to people you don’t know. Seriously.
That wraps up my TCAF Like A Local posts. Hope you found them helpful and I’ll see you at the fest!