As an expat, I find that I spend a lot of my time comparing my new home (Canada) with my old one (England.) You might think that with both being mainly English speaking countries and with Canada being part of the Commonwealth that there isn’t much difference between the two. And you would be wrong. Even though the language, for the most part – I haven’t forgotten French Canada – is the same, the culture is still quite different.
We have lived here 7 months at the end of this month, compared to living in England for 28 and a bit years, minus an 18 month stint in Spain, so time-wise it doesn’t compare at all. But, enough time has passed to be able to make some comparisons. A recent question on Twitter by @expatexplorer asking expats what the quirkiest cultural differences in their new home are got me thinking, so here goes…
There are, of course, things that are better here and things which are better in England. And there are things which aren’t necessarily better or worse, just different.
Firstly, the things I love about Canada. Number one is the patriotism; everyone is so proud to be Canadian and proudly wears Canadian hoodies, hats, the red mittens etc. This doesn’t happen back home. Wearing anything with England written on it identifies you as a bit of a hooligan. I’m not sure why and I wish it didn’t, but it does. Another thing I love are the new sports I have become familiar with; hockey, baseball and basketball. Now, I know these aren’t exclusive to Canada but this is the place I fell in love with them, so they make the list. Whilst I am on this topic, I will add that I also love Don Cherry, he is awesome. I found out today on the Olympic coverage that he is actually 80 years old, which is amazing. If you don’t know who he is, look him up and check out his suits.
The next point might make you think I am crazy, but I love the weather. To have real seasons is a novelty, and to be able to see the seasons transitioning from one to another is also brilliant. In 7 months I have experienced real heat, a beautiful autumn, lots of snow, an ice storm, freezing rain and -40 degree temperatures. It is amazing to experience snow without it crippling the whole infrastructure of a country and causing a general state of panic.
There are certainly lots of other amazing things about Canada such as Tim Hortons, maple syrup, cottage culture, the politeness of everyone (except on the TTC) that I could go on for a while longer. But, the last thing that makes my list is a little thing called “quality of life” which everyone talks about, but nobody can explain. Without really being able to nail down what it means, for me it is much better in Canada.
Now, we have to take the rough with the smooth. Here are some things which I think are weird about Canada – in no particular order, these are the things I just can’t get my head around.
Firstly, shop doors open out into the street, instead of inwards into the shop. What’s that about? All it means is that you can inadvertently take out somebody who is walking along the street, which I have actually done on more than one occasion. Also, sales tax. Just add it to the price of what I am buying. I know I have to pay it, what I don’t know is if I’ll have enough money on me when you tell me the total. Just add it to the price on the shelf, honestly, it’ll be a lot less hassle.
Another favourite of mine is the wording on some street signs. It’s so long-winded. Where the TTC streetcar (tram) goes into one of the main stations, there is a sign which says “No Entry. TTC excepted.” Why not just say “TTC only” and make the sign half the size. And actually in English.
Whilst we are on the subject of traffic, who thought it would be a good idea to let cars turn right on a red light? Red means stop, people. At some intersections, both the pedestrians at the crossing and the cars have permission to go at the same time?! It’s like a battle of wills every time I cross a street.
One thing which brings out the “British-ness” in me are the sporting events here. Now, as I have said above, I love watching baseball, basketball and, to a lesser extent hockey (please don’t deport me, I said I love Don Cherry!) But all the sporting events are full of give-aways, dancing, people coming in and out, it’s just too much. I don’t want to dance for free M&Ms, I don’t want to be “the craziest fan” and win a t-shirt with the Sprite logo on the front, I just want to sit and watch the sport I have paid to see, in an orderly fashion. Thank you kindly.
And my British-ness is also tested by the fact you can’t buy alcohol anywhere except in a liquor store, which closes at 9pm. How do you know if your night is going to be one of those nights? What do you do without the option of being able to hit up the 24 hour Spar at 2am for a bottle of vodka? What’s that? – You have to be prepared in advance?? Well, that’s just rubbish.
This brings me on to some of the things I miss from England (apart from friends and family, of course!) Again, this is in no particular order, and I am fully aware that some of these things are very trivial.
I miss knowing exactly where to go to buy something at the cheapest price (Canada is in desperate need of an Argos, in my opinion.) I miss decent TV adverts, with actual humour. I miss proper tea, and I don’t care what my Uncle John says, the tea over here is not proper. I miss being able to buy your clothes in the supermarket, should you want to. I miss cordial, Match of the Day and Soccer AM.
All this being said, these are mainly tongue-in-cheek observations. I am, and always will be, proud to be British, but I do love Canada and I am happy and privileged that they are letting me live here for a little bit.
One thing I would like to know though; at what point do you stop converting prices to your home currency in your head? “Are you kidding me?! That works out at £2.50, I’m not paying that! You can get them in Asda for less than half that price!” Except that you can’t, because there isn’t an Asda here. This will stop soon, right?