The question I asked myself most throughout my first year in Canada was, ” Which is better, Britain or Canada?” or “So, which do I like best, Britain or Canada?” or a thousand other variations on the same theme, to the extent that I even made a list of “Things I miss about Britain and things I would miss about Canada if I left”. I was going to make it “Things I hate about Canada”, but thought it best not to alienate myself so early on.
Some things were obvious. I love the weather here. When it’s bad it’s REALLY bad, which makes it more exciting – between the hot summers, snowy winters and spectacular thunderstorms there’s never a dull moment. Those boring grey skies from Britain are a distant memory. But, the answer to the question was a long time coming, definitely not an instant Love it or Hate it, however much I wished it was.
I like to be able to plan, it doesn’t matter how many times those plans are forced to be re-made it just gives me a sense of some control over the direction my life is taking. Almost as soon as I arrived, my subconscious was demanding to know if I could see myself living here, could this be permanent or is it just for now? It was hard to make a direct comparison as our situation here is completely different to what it was back in Britain. Rather than sell up and burn all our bridges, we kept our home in England. This means we have two homes to keep afloat so we’ve scaled back our outgoings massively. We have no car, phone or cable TV as we did back home and in the first few months I felt the loss acutely. I’m sure K did too but I vocalised enough for both of us.
Before we came out we read the guidebooks about living and working in Canada so we were prepared for the crazy amounts the communications packages cost (over $150 per month for phone, cable and internet connection), but other things came as a surprise… formula, nappies and anything vaguely “baby” cost up to three times as much as its British equivalent and bread and dairy is expensive by British standards too. Three litres (5.2 UK pints) of milk costs $5 here, compared to six pints in Sainsburys costing £1.99. A UK loaf costs between 70p and a pound compared to the $2-3 we pay for one loaf here. Overall, fruit and vegetables seem to be better quality but there isn’t the same range as back home. Seasonal differences in the supermarket are more obvious here, berries, watermelon and corn on the cob are dirt cheap in summer and unavailable in winter, but that’s a good thing. The one thing I have to watch is sugar…. it’s in EVERYTHING!!! I bought table salt the other day and when I got it home K annoyingly pointed out sugar was its second greatest ingredient!! Who puts sugar in salt? I ask you????
Going without a car was tough. Public transport here, unless you are in a major city, is utterly crap. Systems don’t interlink and the routes are not particularly useful…unless you are out for a ride around the block. Add to that the lack of planning for pedestrians (vast car-parks, non-existent footpaths) and it’s obvious the car rules here! The kids’ footwear is of the sturdy variety and the pushchair has a fair few miles on the clock (11km trek to Walmart in one instance – we were too tired to shop when we got there!) and has carried all three kids at once on some occasions. We’re lucky with what we have within walking distance (K’s office, J’s school, shops and the lake). Even so, in winter, if the pavements weren’t plowed it was impossible to cover any distance in deep snow with the pushchair so we were stuck at home.
Thankfully we have wonderful friends and neighbours who put their cars at our disposal for which we are eternally grateful. Plus, the snowplows are pretty good around here. We explored the possibility of getting a car but insurance is expensive as insurers won’t take into account foreign driving experience – the cheapest quote we got was $350 per month, add to that the cost of finance on a car and fuel and you’re close to $1000 a month just to have a set of wheels. After a lot of research through various expat forums we found a lead and got a quote from a company willing to acknowledge up to three years of foreign experience. Companies like these are a dying breed thanks to the rising number of fraudulent claims/applications.
So, things weren’t as cheap as we’d been led to believe but, on the upside, the economy is a lot stronger than it is in Britain right now, the pace of life is slower and the people are friendlier and less guarded than we’re used to. It’s true, people do leave their houses/cars/bikes unlocked. K notices bikes worth a lot more than his standing unsecured when he goes to lock up. People give out their
mobile cell numbers readily. Children and families are made to feel welcome not a nuisance, everywhere from the hairdressers to the bank give out lollipops and temporary tattoos with gay abandon. Teenagers are polite (I know!!!!!!!!!) and people have all sorts of decorative items and furniture on their porches that never gets nicked! There is still more of a sense of community here that is definitely on the wane back home.
When all is said and done, Canada has surreptitiously grown on me over the past year, nudging out the homesickness with it’s bonhomie and big blue skies. There will always be things I miss from back home, but they are balanced out by the wealth of new experiences I’m encountering here. No one place will have all the qualities you love but if you’re open-minded and willing to have a go you learn a lot about yourself, and that kind of experience is priceless. Whoever said “travel broadens the mind” was onto something…
Related: An update on the car situation – Petrol be praised, we’re mobile again!