Canadian repatriation: Month 1

Aug 14, 2015 | 4 comments |

It’s been almost a month since we left the UK for Canada. A time of change and excitement, but puzzlement too as we adjust to a place which is, yet isn’t familiar.

It’s big

Although Canada is a vast country in terms of geography, it’s also big in other ways. From car parks the size of football pitches, to ‘superstores’ which rival a British seaside promenade in length, everything here is on a much larger scale than I remember.

Even beds and mattress are bigger than when we left, which has necessitated the purchase of a new bed frame and linen, and a crash course in the language of sheet pocket measurements and mattress depth.

Banking woes

British and Canadian banks operate in different ways, as we learned through the tortuous process of transferring funds for our house purchase.

Staff in the UK were polite, but unhelpful, when they told Tech Guy that money had been transferred so it was out of their hands as to why the Canadian bank hadn’t received it. Bank staff in Canada were friendly, but also unhelpful, when questioned about transfer status. 

Meanwhile, funds were missing in cyberspace until Tech Guy identified the two countries use different codes and, with a simple amendment to transfer information, our money magically appeared in the correct account.

Driving adventures

Apart from Toronto, Canadian roads so far have been relatively traffic free. In our absence, though, Canadian communities have introduced roundabouts.

In the UK, how to navigate a roundabout is a precise art. Not so in Canada.

Most Canadian drivers do not signal their intentions when entering or leaving a roundabout, and some meander across lanes as they might drive a tractor across a field.

Adding to the complexity is that accustomed to UK roundabouts, Canadian ones are their mirror image which has led to panicky moments for us as to correct travel direction.

A storytelling culture  

I’ve spent the past week in western Canada and on the prairies in particular, strangers are chattier than I’m used to in the more reserved UK. On UK public transport, passengers stare out the window, read or use an electronic device. In southeast England, to initiate a lengthy conversation with a stranger would be considered at best odd, and at worst rude.

In Canada, different social mores prevail.

On a recent bus journey, a lively Jewish lady told me about her dissatisfaction with the meal at a local kosher restaurant, complete with an overview of her medical history and dietary needs. I also chatted with a spry octogenarian who jumped in rapid succession from his niece’s career prospects, to the growth of his tomato plants, and then the state of Canadian politics.

Prairie people are storytellers, and they perpetuate an oral tradition which has influenced me as a writer more than I realized.

A foreign country

Despite the many years I spent there, the UK was a foreign country and I was always a guest in someone else’s home. In Canada, I’m at home, yet much is different.

As in my early days in the UK, I can’t assume I know how things work. So, I ask questions and, in true Canadian fashion, people have been happy to help.

However, in moments of stress, such as the continuing nightmare of securing telephone service, I’ve found myself  longing for a fortifying cup of Yorkshire tea, cocooned in my Laura Ashley quilt. 

Maybe I’m more British than I thought! If only the kettle had arrived… 



  1. Jean Bull

    Hi Jen, it sounds as if you are gradually settling in even though there is a lot to get used to in your home country! Laurie Lee did say that the past is a foreign one, and it seems that the Canada of your past is a foreign one too!
    I loved hearing how friendly and eager to talk the people are as well. We are quite good in the UK, but if only there is something to break the ice, such as a cute dog or a smiley child, or even a delayed train, and definitely the weather!!
    Good Luck with your repatriation; I’m looking forward to your next installment!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Lovely to hear from you, Jean. Yes, the past is indeed foreign, but I’m taking things day by day, and it’s wonderful how welcoming everyone has been. I’m also happy to report I now have have a telephone connection and consistent broadband service!

      Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting.

  2. Sue Bavin

    Hello again, Jen. It’s lovely to hear some of the details of your new life and the settling in process. It’s amazing how quickly everything has happened. I’m glad you are finding everyone so friendly. It makes a big difference. As a northerner who lived in the south of England for a long time, I know what you mean about people not striking up conversations. Now I live in North Wales and chatting to strangers is the norm.

    PS My husband has claimed you as a long-lost sister because of your love for good old Yorkshire tea!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks for commenting, Sue. I’m honoured to be claimed as your husband’s long-lost sister through a shared love of Yorkshire tea! Please tell him I’ve discovered a shop in a nearby village which stocks Yorkshire tea…and Jaffa cakes! The kettle has now arrived, so I’m enjoying the tea and biscuits which bring back a taste, and happy memories, of my English home.


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