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..?
Posted by Rachel Fox at 13:34