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.
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.
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.
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…