Got word yesterday that our good friends Hilary and D are coming out to visit us in October. Flights all booked, it’s official! Actually they are really coming to go on Merry go rounds I mean, rollercoasters in Edmonton and Toronto, and were thoroughly disappointed in us when we moved to the province with no theme parks at all!
After telling them to save their toonies for doubledoubles at Timmies and reminding them to bring their toques and bunnyhugs (with no explanation!) I started thinking of sensible things they may need to know to come out here. Sure, Canada may not be most exotic foreign locale where next to nothing is at all familiar, but there are definitely some cultural differences they may need to be aware of.
Of course this is a case of “two countries divided by the same language” – so there are a few things to remember like, when trying to decorate your home, never go into Walmart Home Dept looking for Pot Plants – they are called “potted plants” or Plants in Pots. Asking for pot plants may get you in trouble. Similarly, if you ask for a Torch in Canadian Tire (sp!!) then you will get shown things you actually have to set fire too, as required by lynch mobs. You actually need a “flashlight.” Another thing I’ve noticed which is weirdly Canadian – no one has overhead/ceiling lights in their front rooms/lounges. Side lamps all the way. I have no idea why, but it makes reading quite tricky in the evening! But more generally, here are my 6 Things You Need To Know About Canada:
1. Distances are measured in hours. I keep coming back to this idea because even after 2 years I haven’t got my head around the sheer vastness of the country. Hils and D are heading to Edmonton then on to Toronto, but thought they’d stop in Regina on route. I guess technically it is on route, but not in British sense of geography. I think the greyhound bus to Toronto takes Two Days from here. But drive you must – there are no trains, and internal flights are inexplicably pricey. Thusly, toilet breaks by the side of the highway are perfectly acceptable, and gas (petrol) is much cheaper.
2. Following on from that it seems that if you don’t drive or own a car, you become less of a person in Canada. Everything is designed around the car, to the point where major thoroughfares don’t have pavements sidewalks. I was warned quite seriously not to start a business here unless the premises had good parking, because people just won’t come in unless they can park right outside the door. There is no concept of “high street” shopping. In Regina, you cannot get to the airport without a car. There is no bus, no shuttle service and no public transport that serves it, and there’s no sidewalk and no pedestrian crossing on the only road that takes you there. Drivers education classes pretty much start in kindergarten and they let 15 year olds out in cars on the roads!! EEK! Setting out on foot or getting on a bike is like donning a Cloak of Invisibility.
3. Everything is huge. The cars. The number of degrees below zero. Walmarts. Mile-long freight trains. Buckets of coffee. Puffer jackets. Loo rolls. (Not that toilet roll itself is actually any bigger, but it is seemingly impossible to buy less than 24 of them at a time). We thought our house was fairly big and spacious until we bought brand new Canadian style sofas. They are humongous! Space is not something Canada lacks, and most residents -semi-consciously at least – appear to relish taking up as much of it as possible.
4. Canadians have a very sweet tooth. Things you expect to be savoury are often worryingly saccharine here! I don’t just mean the local perchance for maple syrup on bacon, I mean sweet barbecue marinades, jars of curry sauce crammed full of sugar, sweet pickles, even bread is oddly sweetened too. Timmies, the ultimate, iconic Canadian brand, offers all things baked fresh – except if you are looking for cheese and onion slices, sausage rolls or Cornish pasties. Savoury baking seems to be a very British thing!
5. The kids are alright. I am not going to get in to my usual gripes about them bulldozing our local school or the extreme lack of daycares in this area, because in general, Canada is one of the best places in the world to raise children. (I am aware that this point is on the annoying side of irrelevant to Hils and D, but… tough.) School starts much later – at 6, not 4 and half as in the UK, which means kids can be kids for much longer. Outdoorsiness is much more actively encouraged, and best of all, when we first arrived, we saw children playing outside on the street, on their own – bikes, footballs, street hockey, pavement chalk, whatever. Point is, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of Bubble-wrapped babies and Paranoid Parenting here. Older kids walk to school on their own, and the younger ones are packed off, alone, on the lovely yellow school buses to get themselves to kindergarten. In Regina, there is a park with green space and a playground almost every 5 blocks. Daycare is not cheap, but it is much more affordable here than in the UK, and there is help with the costs available too. Maternity and parental leave is much more generous and accessible and the majority of employers seem to recognise that new Dads need more than 10 days paternity leave to get over the shock! We think this is awesome.
6. When a Canadian says it’s cold, they don’t mean -2 and a bit chilly. They mean polar vortex, road-cracking, often lethal cold. I believe I may have mentioned this before… I learned an interesting fact the other day, from a nurse, who said that dexpite Saskatchewan being the sunniest province in Canada, there were more people here with vitamin D deficiencies than anywhere else too. It may be sunny, but Saskatchewinians just don’t go outside to reap the benefits of it for over half the year, because of the extreme winters. (I feel much better all round because of the sunshine, but then I was always outside walking to and from work, or skating or amusing Miranda all winter. I am still new enough to find it exotic!) All weather is more extreme here. Today for instance, there was so much rain, a car got submerged up to its roof under the railway bridge downtown, and some parts of south Sask have reported 8 inches of rain in 12 hours!! It keeps life interesting, right?
I forget which comedian I am paraphrasing, but this is certainly not an original observation. However, it is worth sharing:
“In Canada, there is brail on the bank notes, gay marriage is legal, and French is the official second language. Therefore, Canada is the only place in the world where two blind French lesbians can get married and pay for the ceremony in cash!”
We got a bit wet today. We will no doubt get more wet tomorrow when we drop Miranda at her wonderful daycare, or when I accompany friends from work on the morning Timmies run for a sweet breakfast bagel, having already filled my bucket-sized mug with nicer coffee at home. The rain is supposed to stop in time for Canada Day on Tuesday though, so we can celebrate in style with pancakes topped with maple-bacon, and then cycle past all the huge trucks as people drive their families a few blocks down to the park for huge barbecues and fireworks. It will be a heartfelt celebration for us again – despite the weirdisms and the weather, we love living in Canada!