Category: personal reflection

Preparing for a trip “home”

Deep Cove
Downtown Deep Cove in North Vancouver gets very busy

Next week we are off to the UK to run our Welcome to Canada Seminars so I am starting to think about going back. I have been back before, and have written about my impressions of the UK.  This time I wanted to look at how impressions of the old country change with time away.

We have been living in Canada now for 8 years, and have put our kids through secondary school, and some through university too. They are Canadians. They speak like Canadians, and think like them too in many ways.

Sue and I don’t speak like Canadians. Our accents are resolutely British. And probably will always be. (My mother was Canadian and in 25 years living outside Canada never entirely lost her accent).

Our heritage is still English, and so a trip back is tinged with nostalgia. Some of it is rose tinted for sure. English village life, with the village green, picturesque pub with welcoming landlord and great beer may exist, but we’ll probably not see it. (I do intend to research this while we’re in England – and Guinness in Dublin too!)

What am I looking forward to on our trip?

Friends and family are the main reasons people have for returning “home”. For some this can be the only reason. And it may even be why they decide to return for good. For us, we know that we’re staying in Canada, so this trip will be a chance to catch up with people we have not seen for a long time. We will not even have time to meet everyone so it will be rather bittersweet – time is too short to pack years of socializing into a few days.

Immigrants, like me, tend to miss the food and drink from their old countries. Some we can get in Vancouver (at a price) and some just don’t travel well. So we will be reminiscing about familiar foods, over dinner with friends – or just grabbing a sarnie (sandwich) from Marks and Sparks.

You know, as I write this now, I cannot think of anything more that I want except perhaps to see old familiar places and marvel at how they’ve changed, or not. Again this can be bittersweet, when somewhere you remember fondly has changed for the worse.

And that brings me to the things I know that I will not enjoy.

Crowds. It is easy to forget that even a big city like Vancouver is small by comparison to many in the UK. The sheer numbers of people on the tube in London, piling onto the bus or just walking down the sidewalk will be more than we’re used to. (Except during the Olympics or Stanley Cup Playoffs when good natured crowds fill the streets)

Rudeness or worse. Canadians are polite. And chatty too. I know from past trips that this can be one of the hardest things to get used to. You get to expect to engage anyone in conversation and it can be a shock when your conversation starter is ignored.

Small cars being driven very fast (and on the wrong side of the narrow roads). Canadian cars tend to be large SUV’s, trucks and vans that fill our wide roads. The standard of driving is not very high, but it tends to be genteel and usually pretty courteous. Driving in London is both aggressive and dangerous to my Canadian eyes!

One of our friends has also recently been back to the UK and her post on that is worth reading too. Perhaps when you too have been in Canada for a while, your views of the old country will be ones you’d like to share with us all.

How do you deal with family members who don’t want to go to Canada?



Sherlocks British Food
Somethings will be the same

You may be lucky and all of your family want to go to Canada just as much as you do. But that is not always the case. Some families find that one or more of the kids don’t want to go.

So how do you deal with that?

We have some personal experience of this. Our youngest, Greg, was the kind of child who hated change. For example when he’d outgrown his GAP sweatshirt, he wanted us to buy him the exact same one, just in a larger size. So the idea of moving to Canada was a real stretch for him.

A useful guide to how to deal with kids like Greg comes from Shelle Rose Charvet, Canadian author of “Words that Change Minds”. In her work she recognizes that there are people who do not like change, and those that do. And, more usefully, she tells you how to deal with these types.

If your child embraces change, then there’s not much you really need to do. Moving countries will be change enough. If they are at all concerned then you can tell them how different things will be, but chances are that will not be needed.

On the other hand if your child wants to stay and doesn’t see why things need to change, then here you are best talking about Canada as if it is very much the same as your home country.

Now since there will be differences to be found in Canada, how do you handle them?

Simply deal with them as improvements or gradual changes. Talk about how things will be the same only better. For example school is the same as in England only it is better because you wear your normal clothes.

Kids with this dislike of change are also in need of reassurance about what is right to do. They want the safety of knowing the right procedures to follow. So you can reassure them that you will tell them what to do and how to do things properly.

For us that meant not only telling Greg that school was going to be just like it was in England, but also telling him that it was better because he’d get to wear his usual clothes to school. And we would tell him exactly what to do when he got to school. (We made sure we knew this by visiting the school beforehand).

So, what you’re doing is reassuring your child that there everything will be much the same with some improvements, and that they will be told the steps to take to fit in just the way they used to back home.

That way you’ll find that they do fit in and life in Canada will be the same as it was – only better!


Run Fat Boy, Run

Vancouver Sun Run
Sun Run crossing Burrard Bridge

One of our new hobbies is now running.  If you know us and have been following our running training on Facebook, you will know that Frank and I have got off the couch and are going to compete in the  10k Vancouver Sun Run on April 17th, 2011.

Now going from couch potato to runners has been a bit of a journey.  And yes, we are both now hooked! Both of us like the training, the feeling of being able to run (without calling for an ambulance and oxygen mask) and most of all that feeling of feeling super fit.

It started at a New Year’s party, when the Sun Run came up in conversation, the host and hostess suddenly announced that they used to be Sun Run clinic leaders and the Sun Run clinics were the only way to learn to run. So, when we sobered up, it seemed rude not to check out our local clinic and sign up for the “learn to run” programme.

In retrospect, it was the best thing we could have done, when we turned up for the first Saturday clinic, we were wearing old trainers, M&S trackie bottoms and anoraks.  Everyone else looked like they had stepped out of an advert for the Running Room and had definitely done a marathon or two in their time. Luckily a couple of our friends were also there and one or two others who looked like they also had just got off the couch and were equally bewildered.

The clinic leaders were very encouraging and we did start off very gently at first, a one minute run and two minute walk repeated 8 times.  They also showed us how to warm up and stretch and cool down and avoid injuries.

We were given our training schedules and told to do our 2 runs during the week. So far so good, though at this point we were convinced we couldn’t run for the bus let alone around Vancouver.

We also got encouraging emails every week with tips and links and a selection of helpful people coming in each Saturday to advise us on shoes, equipment, diet, exercise and injuries.  Little by little we got our running gear, wind, confidence and ran a bit further and faster. We have the distinct advantage of running around our neighbourhood, amongst the fantastic scenery where the folks of Eagle Harbour, Gleneagles and Whytecliff are nice enough to cheer us on as we jog sweatily by.

“if you follow the programme, you will succeed” everyone told us.  This was good advice, as the only runners we know are either 20 years younger or ex-marathon runners! The leaders apart from being super encouraging, all looked super fit, slim and healthy – an added incentive!

Now we are at week 10 with 3 weeks to go and have gone from running eight minutes to running for over an hour! Sometimes the going gets tough like last week, going up that last hill with another new runner with whom I had been sharing tissues (were we the only people who’s noses run in the cold?) We were trailing at the back when half way up the hill I gasped to here “I dont think I can do this last hill!” She wheezed back “Well just put your big girl panties on and get on with it.” I laughed my way up.

I would have said “knickers” but I loved her sentiments!

What do pedestrians tell you about life in Canada?

Crossing 4th Ave in Kitsilano
Crossing 4th Ave in Kitsilano

Sometimes it is the little, everyday things that tell you the most about life in another country, don’t you think? Like the act of crossing the road.

Canadians are courteous. Judging by the way drivers let pedestrians amble across the road this is true. You rarely see any sign of impatience from the motorists, while they wait for the last pedestrians to cross.

In fact, at least where we live, we have often had cars stop and wave us across the road. Admittedly this is a quiet road, next to a school zone, but I could never imagine that happening back in the UK. (We were in Twickenham though!)

You could argue of course that Canadians are foolhardy and rash. Crossing without checking the oncoming traffic, including those turning right on red (legal in BC), is the norm. On our recent visit to Florida, we would probably have died if we’d crossed the road in the same way as we do in Vancouver. Even on a cross walk, cars simply ignored the pedestrians and raced through. It was a brave driver who risked being rammed from behind to let us cross. I always assumed they were visiting Canadians.

Even in downtown Vancouver or Victoria, pedestrians don’t seem to be in a hurry. This impression is reinforced by the fact that most of them are carrying their coffee. I guess they’re drinking decaf!

Maybe the lazy gait and lack of caution means they are arrogant? Let the motorists wait. I doubt it somehow, since it seems to me to be more to do with a more relaxed, small town attitude. There’s time to spare.

I admit to some impatience myself as a driver. Perhaps it’s simply a throwback to my many years driving around London. On balance I prefer the Canadian way. It is more relaxed and probably safer. My only fear is for the Canadian tourist who doesn’t adapt to the traffic conditions outside Canada. Unfortunately the rest of the world belongs to impatient drivers.

What’s the deal with Dill?

Jars of Dill Pickles
There is a dill pickle waiting for you

I had tried dill before we moved to Canada, but I’d never known that it was such a staple of Canadian cuisine. You get dill pickles, in the form of a very large slice of pickled cucumber, served with your sandwich, burger, or practically anything else.

Not enough dill for you? Well, there’s dill as a herb on your salmon, dill as a flavour in your chips (crisps to the English), and also in your pasta.

And dill is not the only food that is featured in Canada. Cinnamon is another. OK, it is a spice but especially around Halloween it gets everywhere. It is in your muffin, latte, pumpkin pie and even, most horribly, in your oatmeal (porridge).

There also seems to be a secret list of approved vegetables. These vegetables will be the only ones you find on the menu and are always available in the supermarket. Broccoli, spinach, asparagus and mushrooms make the list. Artichoke hearts make it, but the rest of the vegetable is rarely seen. I believe the list makers started out with good intentions: “these are all foods with health giving properties”. But now it is pretty hard for other veggies to gain a place on your plate, or a prominent place in the supermarket shelves.

There are other foods that you may find your kids eating. The top two are both known by their acronyms: PBJ and KD.

PBJ is a Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jam) sandwich. This is a taste that I acquired young, since my mother was Canadian. Now it is the sandwich that our kids go for whenever they’re in a hurry, or want a comforting meal. Often the PBJ is upgraded by adding a banana.

KD is arguably worse as it is used for Kraft Dinner. This is a meal that teenagers, particularly boys, favour. It is basically macaroni cheese from a box. It is easy to prepare and you can keep a case of them in the house ready for any hungry, roaming teenagers. They will devour the stuff.

One amusing sport to try is to see how many Canadians will eat Marmite. This peculiarly British spread is salty, dark and nutritious. It is also entirely repellent to all Canadians. Clearly they were not brought up on Marmite soldiers. I guess it just goes to show you what you eat is based on what you got to know as a kid.

I hope you all get to love Canadian cuisine and can forgive the Canadians for their quirks.

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