Who are we

We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

First month post

It’s getting on for a month that we’ve been away from home now and Scotland, the UK and our regular lives do feel a long way away. It's certainly the case that some things here in Canada are much like home but there are huge differences too. Here are a few things we’ve noticed (or not noticed) this time around:

1. Well, obviously the different kind of winter jumps our right at you. Mark’s been to Canada a few times before and h and I have been once but we've all only been here in either summer or fall so this time we are experiencing what you can only call a proper winter for the first time. Features include:

- almost constant minus temperatures (prompting bizarre conversations like "hey, it’s quite mild today" when it’s minus 7 C),
- some pretty impressive snow-moving equipment on the roads,
- a lot of new habits (raise car’s windscreen wipers if leaving it outside overnight, leave heating in the house on overnight),
- skidoos aplenty out in the countryside and on trailers attached to the back of huge trucks and vans,
- an as yet never before experienced lack of moisture in the air,
- a crazy desire to take a bath in moisturising cream and never get out,
- frozen drinks bottles if left in the car,
- the combination of layers of coats with sunglasses (very deceptive that sunshine!),
- the amount of indoor activities and facilities available (malls and more malls, indoor walking/fitness centres, yoga centres by the pound, ATMs/cashpoints – nearly all indoors). We have been for some outdoor walks but there have also been days when even we fairly hardy souls have not been able to stay out long and have looked enviously at people wearing balaclavas.

All this does make a person reassess their own much shorter and milder winter (although of course our summers are also shorter and less reliable…sometimes almost non-existent…). I suspect I will never complain about the cold in the UK again… well, unless that Gulf Stream change thing ever really does happen and our winters do go the east Canadian way. It has been great to experience this winter once for real though because it really is a different way of living (and breathing) and it does require a whole new attitude and set of tools (and we’ve not been anywhere near the real frozen north!).

2. Another feature of Canadian February that we’ve noticed (in Ontario and Quebec anyway) is the business of keeping outdoor Xmas decorations in place after Xmas (in gardens, on shops etc.). In the UK this is considered very bad luck and most people I know rip down their Xmas decs as soon as they can after the festive season. We asked why people keep the outdoor decorations (lights, wreaths, reindeer etc.) in place and were told it’s just too cold to move them (any other answers?). In Quebec City it meant that it still felt like Xmas in the tourist quarters (if a very quiet, empty version of Xmas). So is it just the cold? Or a lack of superstition? Or is it to keep things pretty through the darker months or (in the case of shops) to just help sell stuff? Any ideas?

3. People in Canada are pretty polite. There is a myth that the British are polite but it's quite possible that the Canadians beat us hands down in this regard. And who are the British anyway..?

4. Oh yes, speaking of Brits... it's quite nice to be in country where we're not hated for our English accents and all round unavoidable Englishness for a change. It's a long time since anyone said to me "I love your accent"...

5. The general standard of driving here is better than in the UK (and we have been in empty country and busy cities in both countries). Maybe it's the bigger spaces to fill and longer distances to cover that contribute to this (maybe you just can’t be wound up like a coil for such a long way). Or maybe we're way off. Obviously the Canadian highway 401 is the exception to this rule (whatever happened to the slow lane... breakneck speeds only!).

6. The average café/restaurant here is certainly better (food and service) than the average place in the UK (but we remembered that from last time – one reason I'm here!). Mostly it makes me disappointed that so many places in the UK are so rubbish. ‘Rip-off Britain’ the tabloids used to call it and whilst I don’t often agree with the shouty press that was one thing they were sometimes right about.

7. The food available here really does reflect the international nature of the population’s backgrounds. I wonder if there is any kind of food you can’t get in Canada?

8. Speaking of food, in the UK there is a lot of campaigning around the issue of Fair Trade products (especially coffee, chocolate, bananas…) but we really haven’t seen much about that here. There is a website with info re Canada and Fair Trade here but so far I haven't seen much evidence of it in shops or restaurants. So is it just not an issue people are aware of/interested in? I have noticed animal rights campaigns information more but very little about FT (just the logo on what-used-to-be-British Cadbury's chocolate which is quite ubiquitous here - creme eggs at every checkout!).

9. On my goodness... the business of adding taxes (different in every province..?) to almost everything you buy and then of course there's the whole tips thing. Much maths required.

10. In Canada estate agents (realtors) use the personal approach (their own photos on the boards… giant photos sometimes… we’d only seen them in the movie ‘American Beauty’ before). Will this ever catch on in the UK? If it did how much vandalising of said signs would go on?

11. Some people here think that because we’re British we give an arse about the royal wedding in the UK this year. We don’t and in this respect we think we are fairly typical Brits. Maybe the whole Windsor clan could up sticks and bricks and move over here. No really, you can have them… please, with our blessing.

12. We’ve heard quite a lot of complaining about politicians since we’ve been here… but that’s a universal activity… eh?

13. On the other hand people do seem pet-crazy here (just like at home). Pet centres, kennels, doggy daycare, pet groomers… maybe our h isn’t so crazy with her ambition to run a dog kennels when she’s older. She could have a global franchise...

14. We have seen ‘beware moose’ signs but as yet have still to see a moose. Just saying...

15. We've seen a lot more 'support our troops' signs here than we ever do in the UK. They look like this:

15. The water here (drinking, bathing) smells, as h points out, "like swimming pools". It tastes OK though.

16. We already know this, of course, but this country is huge. The roads are long, the trucks are giant (the wheels on some of the pick-ups seem bigger than a smart car!), the food portions are (often) enormous (the large pizzas are... REALLY large)... this list could run and run. England, Scotland, Wales... all so tiny-weeny in comparison. Do we really come from that little dot on the map? So much noise from such a miniscule place..?



Titus said...

Oh, that was just a great post! So many fascinating facts! And the tax? You have to add the tax on yourself in order to work out how much things really cost?
Dry air. Freaky.
Funny how clearly you see your own place when looking from another. Yep, teeny-tiny.

However, yay! for Kate fever. Catherine fever! I'm glue-ing myself to the telly that day.

Sandra Leigh said...

I spend time every year in England with my English husband, but for the most part we live in British Columbia -- on Vancouver Island. If you get a chance, you might want to pay a visit to our part of the country, Rachel. You would find the climate very similar to that of southern England.

As for the taxes, I also prefer the English system, whereby you know that the price you see is the price you will pay. The other side of that is that we know how much tax we are paying (for better or worse).

The Solitary Walker said...

Is that, on the whole, a thumbs-up, then? Might emigration be on the cards - if only to see a moose?

Rachel Fox said...

Titus - you're just so contrary with your regal adorations. But then I suppose they do all like dogs...

Sandra - for some reason I thought you were in Australia... got that wrong. We will be in BC in June... working our way there via some other relatives and travels in the USA. Mark has another set of relatives in BC!

SW - don't mention the 'e' word. We are strictly travelling. We met a man on a ferry the other day who reminded me of you... he was a solitary cyclist but it was close enough.


Titus said...

Born to serve.

Rachel Fox said...

I'll have a pint please...

hope said...

Then you'll really go nuts in the USA when it comes to taxes! In my state alone, you could travel through several different counties and each have a slightly different rate! Make a note now: unless you're in a big city here or on the coast, stupid "Blue Law" means NO ALCOHOL on Sundays. I kid you not.

Some ancient customs are just stupid. :)

Enjoy your trip!

The Bug said...

Hmm - well, numbers 2, 4, 7 (to some extent), 9, 10, 12, & 13 are somewhat true in our neck of the woods. We definitely don't drive well, and as a nation I don't think we're that polite. But the one I really think would be REALLY cool is if we had moose crossing signs!

The Bug said...

Oh, yeah, the blue laws! We were visiting our family in NC last fall (where we grew up, so we should have known better) & Dr. M tried to buy a bunch of Biltmore House wine to bring back to Ohio. But it was on Sunday. They actually would sell alcohol there after 1:00 p.m., but it was just around 9:00 in the morning & we were trying to drive back home that day so we left empty handed. What would we do with wine at 9:00 a.m. that we wouldn't do at 1:00 p.m.? Makes no sense!

Rachel Fox said...

There are bits of that alcohol law business in the UK too (parts of Wales especially... and if you go into supermarkets in the UK on Sunday mornings all the booze is fenced off...).

Yes, 'moose crossing' signs are something to covet.


Justin said...

2. For all the reasons you suggested plus pure laziness.

3. You've made every Canuck cringe with this one. Not because you're wrong, just because we get it all the time from the South and gosh darn it, we're more than that. Sorry, didn't mean to offend with such a strongly worded opinion. Sorry.

8. What does get play is eating locally. It's become an obsession (for good reason), but it does stray into...wait for it...class by another name!

11. No thanks, you can keep 'em, and while you're at it, can you arrange to have them removed from our money? (Wrong thing for a history kid to say...tradition...heritage...blah blah blah).

12. It's the universal language n'est pas?

13. You should take h to the beach in T.O., show her the doggy gym (people drive their pets to this place where they exercise on treadmills - all mere steps away from an expansive, dog-friendly beach!)

14. maybe in the summer whilst camping - very rare to see one otherwise. Unless in Newfoundland where they play bumper cars with the locals regularly.

16. We call it "small dog syndrome." Sorry, that was very impolite.

17. Keep having fun!

Rachel Fox said...

It's OK - we love small dogs (you haven't met our real-life dog, have you... she's tiny!).

And please don't cringe about being polite - my goodness it makes a pleasant change (in Britain sometimes it feels like every tiny social exchange is a giant fight in the making). Here it doesn't feel like everyone hates each other quite so much... which can only be good (of course that doesn't mean they don't hate each other deep down but at least they don't make it quite so obvious).

Fun, fun... who said anything about fun?


Marion McCready said...

Sounds like you're having a ball, don't envy you in the cold though!
Support our troops looks more like support the SNP lol :)

Rachel Fox said...

Maybe that's the subliminal message...

Rachel Fenton said...

Loved this. We have cheesy grin real estate agent pics here, too - very cringeworthy!

Titus - typical yapper dog clinging to the queen's ankle! Never had you as a royalist!

Beware moose must be like our yellow diaminds with a picture of a kiwi in them - only kiwis you'll see on the road side I'm sure!

Rachel Fox said...

One of Mark's cousins is in the real estate business Rachel so we wouldn't be so rude as to call the pictures cringey... but I have to say it's a different approach and I'd be interested to see if it ever catches on in the UK. In the UK estate agents are widely disliked (like traffic wardens, another British loathing) but maybe over here it's other occupations/businesses that get their communal goat.