Expat Life

Britain vs. Canada

The question I asked myself the most throughout my first year in Canada was, ” Which is better then, 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 from too much of the population so early on. Some things were obvious. Personally, I love the weather here. Even 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 thing of the past. But, the answer to the question was a long time coming, definitely not the instant Love it or Hate it sort, however much I wished it was.

I like to be able to plan a future, 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 very 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 as a safety net/investment. This means we have two homes to keep afloat so we have 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 and so were prepared for the crazy amounts the communications packages cost, (some people pay  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 it’s British equivalent and bread and dairy is expensive by British standards too. Three litres (equal to 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 is not 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 but not available in winter. 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 it’s 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 (some places are only accessible by car, footpaths being non-existent) and it is obvious that 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) and has transported all three kids in some instances. We are 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 cleared 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 themselves and their cars at our disposal on a number of occasions 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 we were quoted 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 had 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 are 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 and it 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. Although there will always be things I miss from back home, they are easily balanced out by the wealth of new experiences I am encountering here. No one place will have all the qualities you like from the various locations you have experienced 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…

8 thoughts on “Britain vs. Canada

  1. Hi Aisha, Just fell upon your site via expats. Have to agree with most of what you have said. We moved to Kilworth (just outside of London) Ontario on 15 August this year. We being Mum, Dad, 1 teenager just completed GCSE’s in UK and 1 nearly a teenager just completed 1st year of high school in UK plus a traumatised cat! A roller coaster of emotions have hit us already but love where we are (sounds rather contradictory!) Our love affair with Canada began over 20 years ago, a long held dream to move has finally become reality.
    As you said we are also keeping an open mind. We have this opportunity to experience something which many in the UK (especially at the moment) would give their soul for. We are certainly not running away from the UK, we love it dearly, have many friends there but the thoughts of staying in the same country ’til the end of our days was not for us.
    I can’t say that it’s been easy since we arrived. Our 16 year old has had a major meltdown already, missing friends and social life in the UK. However school have been so supportive with the Vice Principal taking him under his wing so he now seems to be – dare I say it – enjoying his time at the moment. I know friends will happen eventually, its just getting him through the first hurdles that is taking it toll on me in particular. But thats what Mums are for! Our younger daughter has taken to life over here tremendously well. She has friends and even babysits for one of the families.
    Our neighbours have been so welcoming and friendly, which was a shock as in the UK where we lived you were only accepted after living there for 5 years!!
    We’re trying not to compare all the time, we’re just accepting Canada as it is. Overall it is about quality of life. The culture shock of items being left outside all the time takes quite a bit of time to get used to. Where we live, most of the farmers have stalls at the side of the road with fruit and veg displayed with an honesty box at the side! A local florist leaves all her plants etc out overnight on the pavement. Garage doors are open all day ’til late into the evening with gardening equipment, tools, kids toys, bikes etc on full view. Somehow all this makes you feel more secure which in turn gives peace of mind. Kids are so polite and talk to you with full eye contact, not shifting from foot to foot with head down. Somehow it doesn’t feel real! I know Canada has its problems as have most countries, but the general day to day living seems so much easier somehow. Ask me again in the winter though! I might have changed my mind on that one.
    So by not having too high an expectation and living each day the best we can by getting out there and experiencing as much as we can then hopefully it will eventually feel like home. And if not then we shall be glad we have had such a great opportunity given to us and our kids. This I think can only enhance their views on their own lives and where they fit into this big wide world.
    Great blog, and hope to speak to you soon, Gill.

    • Thank you Gill. It’s great to hear the enthusiasm shining through your words! It is completely different to life in the UK isn’t it? Mostly it’s a positive, sometimes it’s frustrating, but usually understandable given a country of this size. Morality here is more concentrated than in Britain, like you mentioned, garage doors left open all day, and honesty boxes for payment of goods. I remember my husband mentioning a train ride he took into Toronto one day. He arrived as the train was about to leave and didn’t have time to buy a ticket. No-one came round to check so he didn’t get an opportunity to buy one en route. He said when he told some people in his office the general feeling was one of disapproval. Contrast that with the UK where it’s all about what you can get away with!
      I hope your cultural adjustment continues to go smoothly. Make sure you all get out and involved with people in whatever way you can, (1) because winter’s coming and everyone tends to go out less, and, (2) because it helps you with the homesickness/culture-shock. It was always going to be tough on your 16 year old, just that time of life, but, with time, things will settle. You seem to have the right attitude, non-judgemental, accepting, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Stay in contact, and let me know if you have any questions I might be able to help you with.

  2. I’ve just come across you and have read a few of your posts – and so far are in almost total agreement with your views and observations! We too have been here just over a year but with two older children – the elder H had just completed GCSEs as we moved and is now in Grade 12 looking ahead to university – I second your comments about the average teenager, community spirit and the like.
    Things ARE different – which is both good and bad – but I feel it is overall a far more positive environment than we left in the UK. Is this due to better economy or is the UK media more negative? Probably a bit of both.
    There is certainly a different mindset here regarding spending – just go to the average mall any day of the week – but is that because there is more money around or just a different attitude? Our theory is that the big things (like houses and cars) are cheaper here so there is more ready money swilling around the daily economy.
    Something I read along the way was that you are more likely to settle if you are running towards your new country rather than running away from the old – puts you in a more positive frame of mind and more likely to keep your mind open to new challenges.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Bev, always nice to hear from someone in a similar situation. Would love to know more, where you’re based and why you made the move… I think there’s a lot of truth in your closing comment, someone else mentioned to me that those who embrace the new experience are the ones more likely to stay, while those who cling to what they used to know find the transition difficult and end up going back. Sometimes I miss the wry negativity of Britain, it’s so much a part of the national mindset, but when you come to Canada you can seem a bit of a sour grape unless you pick your moments. People usually only speak in a positive way – even when we were showing them the garish colours in the basement of our rented house (orange and black!) they could always find a “silver lining”!
      Hope you drop by again and thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  3. I really like this post, Aisha, and the look and feel of your blog is excellent. Keep up the good work – I’ll be interested to see how the blog develops over the coming weeks and months. I always enjoy reading about expat views on the differences between their new home and old home. When you read these posts, there never seems to be an outright winner but the tone of the post always gives it away. In this case, I think that, whilst some of the day-to-day things in Canada (groceries, car insurance, etc.) are not as ‘up-to-scratch’ as in England, the overall quality of life and general outlook on family living is much better (taking us back to an older time? the way things should be?). These things were key drivers behind our decision to move there and something we’ve missed ever since leaving back in 2006. Keep posting and writing… love your style.

    • Thanks Russell, like I said, it took me a while, but a year down the line I know I’d feel disappointed if I had to return to Britain right now, that’s not to say I might feel differently in the future – but for where I am in my life at present Canada is a more rewarding location. Homesickness gave me blurred vision for a while, though I never regretted our decision, just found it very tough sometimes.

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