Canadians try to push the Timmy’s mystique on a new market for the coffee chain – but to us outsiders, it’s just doughnuts
“Roll up the rim? What’s that? A sexual position? And what’s ‘doing a double double’ – do you do that at the same time? I do hope they’re going to explain this to people.”
Sometimes it takes someone who knows absolutely nothing about something you’re so familiar with to make you realize how thoroughly weird it is.
That’s pretty much how the conversation has gone each time I’ve tried to explain the distinctly Canadian cultural phenomenon that is Tim Hortons to my British pals. And let me be the one to tell you that to British ears, some of the most beloved – or at least well-used – parts of the Canadian cultural lexicon sound downright dirty.
I’m British, and have lived in the UK my whole life, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time on Canada’s fair shores – enough time to be vaguely familiar with some of your strongest cultural traditions. Yes, I know there’s more to Canada than hockey and doughnuts, but let’s be honest, that’s a pretty big part of it.
“I still don’t understand why you love Tim Hortons so much.”
Poutine? I’m a fan. I’ve learned it’s never OK to call your national sport “ice” hockey. I watched the whole country shut down last year to watch the Hip’s farewell gig. And I’ve had a group of my Canadian pals start to aggressively chant “Roll up the rim!” at me when I tried to throw away my Timmy’s cup without checking if I’d won. It was an unnerving but pivotal moment in my bid to acclimatize to Canadian culture. But to be honest, I still don’t understand why you love Tim Hortons so much.
Perhaps I’m not supposed to. The backstory of the man himself is probably a bit lost on non-Canadians, and I certainly don’t have any of the attached nostalgia that a brand that’s been a part of Canadian life for 50 years has rightly earned.
Unfamiliar treats at the Canadian High Commission in London
To us outsiders, it’s just doughnuts.
As for the coffee, it’s strong, I’ll give it that. But with so many hipster-ran single bean, single origin, cold brew, beetroot latte (“Do you want a unicorn biscuit with that?”) establishments across London, and the rest of the UK, it doesn’t stand out.
However, one thing is clear: Tim Hortons really wants me to “get it.” Back in early May, the company opened its first UK café in Glasgow and announced plans to roll out more than 100 stores nationwide, ahead of a push into other parts of Europe. From double doubles to the sour cream glazed doughnut, UK stores are going to have it all.
“The launch of the UK Timmy’s at the High Commission of Canada was a surreal affair.”
Gurprit Dhaliwal, chief operating officer of Tim Hortons UK and Ireland, tried hard to convey the cultural significance of Timmy’s at the launch. “It’s hard to explain just how important Tim Hortons is to Canadians,” he said. “It’s not just a restaurant, it’s a way of life and a part of ‘home’, and we’re positive Great Britain will fall in love the brand. There is nothing like it in the UK.”
That’s true. But will Brits ‘get’ this uniquely Canadian fixture? Attending the launch of the UK Timmy’s at the High Commission of Canada was a surreal affair. As I stepped in the door, immediately in front of me a portrait of Justin Trudeau was positioned smiling over a vast platter of Timbits. Tables loaded with Boston creams and honey cruller doughnuts stretched as far as the eye could see, as room of curious journalists tried to get their heads around just why this coffee shop brand seems to mean so much to Canadians.
Simultaneously, the Canadians in the room seemed thoroughly delighted.
Maybe it was the early morning, maybe it was the sugar overload, but I left still not really knowing the answer. However, I did leave with a maple leaf shaped memory stick and huge box out doughnuts, so I’m counting that as a win.
Your correspondent, with treats to share
Canada, we love you. But maybe for us Brits, Tim Hortons will never signify anything more than some pretty decent doughnuts. But that’s OK with us. We’ve got plenty of our own cultural quirks.
Mind you, if they add poutine to the menu – well, that could be a different matter.