Today is 6 months since I arrived in Canada. It feels like it’s gone so quickly, but also not at all. The olde ‘days a long, years are short’ situation. But with lil bit of maths, it also makes it 1/4 of the way through my VISA duration and a 1/3 through what I thought and communicated my original length of stay would be prior to departure.
And 6 months in and despite the current homesickness and pretty much hating how hard everything feels right now (right on schedule for any move / transition), the thought of having only 18mths left has me lamenting. Oh I play straight into the Gen Y FOMO narrative. But ever the pragmatist and way too rational, I can remove myself from the pit of a lack of familiarity + friends who know me and see the light. With some goals + realistic tactics, this stage will pass and then I’ll be scrambling to secure Permanent Residency to stay longer…wait, what?
To overcome the lamentation, and instead celebrate, I’ve compiled a list of the fun facts, life lessons and observations I’ve made over the last 6 months. (I previously did one reflecting on my initial travels, but there have been so many more). I hope you enjoy this completely random, unordered, unfiltered and useless list as much as I did when I figured it out.
- 420 friendly folks: That’s Canada in a nutshell. Cannabis is so normal it just isn’t a topic of discussion. There are shops on most streets, the quality / style varying from dive bar to trendy hipster to swanky lounge bar.
- Recycling: Imagine the situation when you’re clearing up your tray at a café and there is no ‘landfill’ option. Three options: 1. Compostable 2. Paper/cardboard recycling 3. Glass / plastics. In Canada Vancouver, we separate. Given, there usually is a ‘trash’ option, but it’s labelled ‘landfill’ to guilt trip us.
- Patriotism: And not in a Southern Cross on my heart/shoulder/car window kinda way. Canadians are proud to be Canadian. And be sure not to confuse them with American. They can draw you a maple leaf and tell you how many points it should have. And much like the union jack or perhaps the Commonwealth Star, it’s not as easy as it looks!
- Rain: My housemate in Brisbane once said the Dutch have 12 different words for rain and I can understand now. There is the misty kind I’ll walk in without a hood / jacket, there’s the it’s rainy I’m happy to walk in with just a coat + hood and there’s the heavy rain where you need umbrella + jacket + hood + boots. We haven’t had much of the Brisbane torrential rain and it’s gone in 30mins kind though. But I’ve learnt not make the mistake of wearing a chunky scarf with the coat + hood option. Having a wet scarf around your neck is not enjoyable.
- Coat: You need one. Everyone has one. You grab it when you leave, you take it off when you arrive. You zip it up when it’s raining. There’s a coat hook / cupboard at most restaurants, houses and even a rack at the UBC lecture theatre that doubles as my church. Which makes it weird that there’s not more theft of the $300-600 jackets…
- Footwear: I bought a pair of Blundstones boots in November and I wear them 80% of the time. Waterproof, warm, heavy duty. I call them “the boots of my people.” Also, where I once wore thongs to work and put proper shoes on at work, now I wear boots and change into shoes at work. But imagine the realisation when you’re halfway to the bus stop in ballet flats in the rain and wondering why your feet are cold. You also remove all shoes when you enter the house – because they’re, you know, all wet.
- Tyres: Canadians have multiple sets of car tyres and rims. Normal and winter. Although there are a few different winter options. You pay for the tyre place to store your alternate set.
- Birthdays: As I shared on Instagram yesterday, Canadians don’t celebrate with a “Hip hip hooray” after singing Happy Birthday. Weird. My Canadian friend will need to learn this before the end of February.
- Containers: I set a goal to stop buying / using plastic and particularly to stop heating food up in plastic containers late last year. But it seems many Canadians have got on the same bandwagon. (And by Canadians, I largely refer to Vancouver because Vancouverites are a different kind of Canadian.) The work fridge is full of glass containers. However, on the flip side, it’s also quite common to reuse the plastic container from your yoghurt / ice cream / butter to bring your snacks in to work. I love it.
- Measurement: Canadians have a confused identity. But also, great mathematical skills. Most people know both metric and imperial measurement systems, frustratingly often interchanging units mid-sentence. Height: feet/inches. Weight: pounds. Beverages: liquid ounces. Milk: litres. Temperature: Celsius. Speed: kilometres per hour. Petrol: litres. Snow fall: centimetres. Skis: centimetres.
- Cycling: I haven’t ridden my bike in a couple of months…pretty much since the rain started. But that doesn’t stop the Canadians. Rain pants are a thing here.
- French: Even on the west coast, the bi-national language is noticeable. All food packages are bilingual. Not that I could tell you what milk is in French. But the dual language does make it amusing to call someone in Quebec and needing to assume the voicemail prompt is what you expect.
- Split bills: Much like my experience in the United States, it’s no trouble to split that sushi platter 8 ways and I pay for 0.125. More simply, multiple checks are set up from the beginning which makes it easy peasy when you got leave. Often waitstaff remember your order without any notes.
- Tipping: which makes it easy to add 18-20% to each bill.
- Tax: but on top of the 15% tax, it all adds up and that $15 burger isn’t so cheap.
- Christmas cookie exchange: imagine if each of your friends made 1 batch of cookies and then you all gathered on 1 night and switched. I know, awesome, right?
- Carols: ‘Carols in the [insert location]’are not a thing here. I guess the notion of sitting outside in the rain / single figure temps in the dark (from 4pm) isn’t super conducive. But also Vancouver is pretty anti-Christmas and pro-holiday.
- Politically correct holiday greetings: A few weeks ago my physio asked me “Do you celebrate Christmas?” and in my head I responded “Of course I bloody well do” but taking a second moment, the perceivably overly PC approach is actually other person centred. So ‘happy holidays’ it often becomes.
- Pubs: As frustrating as it is, there is no walking up to the bar to order a drink at a pub. It’s just not done. You wait for the server even if it takes foreverrr.
- Hamburgers: Imagine my confusion when I couldn’t find basic meat patties for a burger night at my church community group weekly dinner. I bought mince instead. Apparently they live in the freezer section. Don’t even get me started on trying to find aioli.
- Sorry: My goodness, Canadians are apologetic bunch. I bump into you on the bus. You apologise. Sorry, but what?
- Doors: Again much like my experience in North Carolina, you hold doors here. But there is a point when you hold it a little too long and it just gets weird. Also push / pull signs don’t exist. There is a moment of anxiety when you approach a door. But after much research, I can confirm vertical handles mean pull. And horizontal bars mean push. But where there is two equal sized vertical handles, you’re screwed. It’s not any easier in the “washroom”. No occupied dials.
- Rules: Canadians are rule followers not rule breakers. I’m often the only jaywalker while Canadians patiently wait for the (white) man to signal it’s safe.
- Rent: You pay it monthly. All quoted figures are monthly, although most people are paid fortnightly bi-weekly twice per month, that is, every two weeks. Leases also all start on the first of the month.
- Punctual: alongside being uber polite, Canadians are generally on time. The +/- 15 mins buffer does not exist and in fact, being 5 mins late is considered late. On time is probably closer to 5 minutes early, of which I am never.
- Lighting: don’t expect lights to be in the centre of the ceiling, or in fact in your living / lounge room at all. But you can expect those light switches to control the now essential lamp in the corner.
- Heating: You leave it on. It’s not an on / off situation. Or fine Mel for leaving the gas heater on overnight. (Yep, my Dad used to do that. $1/hour). You do usually just dial the temperature gauge (found in everyroom) down a few degrees when you leave for the day.
- Idioms: Imagine how awkward it gets when you use an unfamiliar idiom in that work meeting and met with blank faces. “So I guess, you don’t say that here?” “Build the ship while it sails” was a popular one though.
- Emergency responder: A colleague was recently recounting an unfortunate incident she observed. She used “emergency responder” to presumably refer to an Ambulance officer. Completely realising the laid back lazy Australian culture has penetrated my being down to my bones, I chucked at our use of “ambo”, “cop”, “fire-y”. Brevity is not a concern.
- Dates: Is today the 19/12/18 or 12/19/18, or 2018/19/12? I have no idea. But upon researching, Canada has no official date notation. It’s not an issue once you get past 13th day of each month… but i’ve just stuck with dd/mm/yy.
I’m sure there are plenty more that I’ve forgotten to write down. It’s been fun to pick out the differences in our seemingly similar cultures. While most of these are very surface level observations, there are much deeper differences that I’m still pondering and hope to write about sometime. From the treatment of rough sleepers to indigenous people, the environment, race, liberty and opportunity. I came here for an adventure and to experience another seemingly similar but also different country, environment and culture. And I’m having that. But I’m also starting to release much of this city is transient, in a very similar life stage to me, chasing fulfilment in the form of adventure and passport stamps. My privilege is something that is becoming very apparent and something i’m starting to wrestle with. And if that’s the one thing that comes from this Canadian adventure, it’s not a waste.