You could be forgiven for thinking moving to Canada doesn’t entail the same consideration journeying to a third world country might. After all, it has a stable economy, an established infrastructure and an accepting attitude, right? But it’s always the small, innocuous things that lurk below our radar that can make life miserable with their irksomeness if overlooked.
There are a few things to be aware of that will help your Canadian experience go smoothly. They may seem obvious to some, but that’s easy to say with the benefit of hindsight:
1. There’s a voltage difference. The plugs are different but so too is the voltage. In the UK its 240v compared to Canada’s 110v. A plug adaptor alone won’t be the solution to your problems, as I found to my chagrin when my steam steriliser couldn’t reach the temperature required to properly sterilise my baby’s bottles. Cue boiling them in the kettle each night as sterilizing tablets were nowhere to be found here.My GHD hair-straighteners were similarly unresponsive so “au naturel” is my style statement for Canada! Voltage adaptors are available but may decrease the life of the product.
2. The beds are a different size. North American mattresses are a couple of inches wider than UK ones, so don’t expect all of your linen to fit perfectly. It doesn’t matter if it came from Ikea; UK-bought IKEA beds and bedding are continental European sizes, US/Canada-bought IKEA beds and bedding are North American sizes. Generally speaking, UK King-size sheets will fit a Canadian Queen-size bed. While it is possible to get a generous UK single fitted sheet on a Canadian single mattress, it ain’t pretty! In Canada a single is called a twin, a double might be a full, a queen is equivalent to a UK king and a king-size here is a super-king in the UK.
3. Check the weather forecast before going out. Canadians, like Brits, enjoy discussing the weather, but here it’s crucial to ensure you’re prepared for it. During the summer months temperatures can soar, accompanied by high levels of humidity, dehydration and heatstroke become real dangers. Municipal bodies issue Extreme Weather Alerts and distribute bottled water. Public pools extend their opening hours. Not everyone has air-conditioning so people head to malls and libraries to escape the heat. It’s easy to underestimate the power of the sun until it’s too late. Similarly in winter, wind-chill can limit the amount of exposure a person can tolerate to a matter of minutes. Once again, Extreme Weather Alerts are used to warn of blizzards, freezing rain and lake-effect snow. It’s wise to stay tuned in if you need to drive and to always travel with an emergency kit in the car. Whiteouts and drifting snow could mean you need to dig yourself out or wait for assistance. Children should NEVER be left in cars in the summer OR winter.
4. Check the scale of your map! We bought an A-Z to familiarise ourselves with the surrounding area. In our first year here we had no car and walked everywhere. What looked close on a map took HOURS to reach on foot. Because Canada is such a HUGE country, you have to revise your perception of distance.
5. Freeze when the music starts. Every morning, in schools around the country, the national anthem is played. If you should happen to be present when the melodic strains of “O Canada” fill the air, you are expected to stand still and respectfully be quiet until it’s finished. I learned this the hard way.
6. Don’t get caught short. Work out where you stand on tipping. In some of Canada’s larger cities it is becoming customary to tip up to 25%. Do some research beforehand to avoid any awkward situations. It’s advisable to carry some five dollar bills/change for tipping hairdressers, takeaway delivery drivers, etc. if you chose to.
7. Be aware of the road rules. Unlike in Britain, where the Green Man means it’s safe for pedestrians to cross, the corresponding White Man in Canada signals that pedestrians are permitted to cross – it doesn’t mean you’re safe from being knocked over by the car turning “right on a red” who’s checking for traffic coming from the left and moves off without glancing in your direction. Similarly, if you are driving, always check for care-free pedestrians who flounce across minor roads without looking because they have the right of way.
Now’s your chance to tell me what I missed. Is there anything you’ve learnt that you think would be invaluable to someone coming to Canada?
Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations.
Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here.