Canada: The good, the bad and ‘culture shock’.

There are various schools of thought out there that describe the various stages of culture shock.  Now, the idea of culture shock may seem a little melodramatic when talking about relocating from the UK to Canada, are they really that different?  Not in a bigger picture sense, no not really, however there is always some adjusting to be done when you find yourself a long way from home and living somewhere where things work slightly differently.

To keep things simple, I’m going to refer to four stages of culture shock that I have read up on:

Stage 1 – Wonder

Often referred to as the “honeymoon period”, and is overwhelmingly positive.  The traveler is filled with excitement and can’t wait to see the sights, meet the locals…the general sense of adventure that travelers tend to get hooked on!

Stage 2 – Frustration

This usually occurs when the traveler begins to settle into his or her new country/city.  Some of those local quirks which seemed endearing at first can start to become frustrating i.e. language barriers, different accents, weather etc.  At this stage the traveler will often refer back to their home country and remember all of the aspects that are better than this new, foreign land.

Stage 3 – Feeling down about the experience

At this stage the traveler will often call into question their entire reason for embarking on the adventure, longing for the “honeymoon period” to return.  This can often lead to depression or thoughts of homesickness, which become difficult to rationalise when in this state.

Stage 4 – Acceptance

After potential weeks or months of struggling on the roller coaster of thought and emotion, and lots of looking inwards, acceptance and a maybe even a feeling of love for your new country/city will embrace you like a long awaited hug!

I would probably see myself as leaving Stage 2 and entering Stage 3 right now.  Having said that, in no way I am I depressed, and I make sure to count by blessings every day that I have ended up in such an amazing city.  I wouldn’t even say I’m homesick, however being able to relate to some of these feelings has placed me in unique place in my adventure where I can look back at Scotland, look at Canada, and point out some differences…some which suit me, and some that really don’t…

The Good

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  • Bar and restaurant service: This may be a result of the very generous tipping system in this country, but when servers offer you free samples from the menu, split bills and outstanding service in general all I can say is…the system works!
  • Transport:  This may be Vancouver specific, I didn’t use public transport very excessively anywhere else in Canada so can’t really comment.  However transport here is fast, efficient and reasonably priced, definitely more so than back home.
  • Energy prices: Right now petrol in Vancouver is sitting at around £1 per liter. When I left Scotland, it was £1.47!  In Scotland the average monthly winter energy bill for the flat I was living in was  £150, my bills are included with my rent but I’ve spoken to people to pay around £50 each month for a house or condo.
  • Bi-weekly pay cheques: This is standard in Canada, and it’s an amazing system.  Get paid weekly?  Money goes too quickly. Get paid monthly?  No money at the end of the month. Bi-weekly – it works!
  • The people: Canadians are generally great people.  Of course it’s difficult to generalise an entire nationality, every barrel has it’s share of weird, rude and smelly apples, but the general mood here is a positive one which I like.

The Bad

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  • The Cheese! Seriously, why is it so difficult to come across just bog standard cheddar here?  Most of the mass produced stuff is very much like plastic, and most uncheese like!
  • The tipping culture: I like to tip good service, but it doesn’t sit so well with me that service charge is expected regardless of the level of service.  At bars, the general rule is $1 tip per drink.  Why not just charge an extra dollar for a drink? This can however work in your favor…if you are a good tipper say goodbye to bar queues!
  • Bank charges:  This is a big one amongst new comers to Canada.  In the UK, the banks will look after your money for the interest they receive from it.  In Canada, usually you have to pay a monthly charge and your number of ATM and debit transactions are limited.  And you need to withdraw from your bank’s own ATM or you are charged. Crazy!
  • Buying alcohol: I’ll never take Tesco Express or Scotmid for granted again, where you  can buy your dinner and a bottle of wine all under one roof!  In BC, and in Ontario when I was there, you need to buy your booze/liquor from allocated government liquor stores.  There are a few private chains starting to pop up around Vancouver, but still the inconvenience applies!
  • Cell phone charges: Right now I have a SIM only deal from Fido…200 local minutes (unlimited after 6pm and at weekends), unlimited texts, 200MB of data and international texts all for $42 each month.  Then I bought the ‘extras’ package which includes free incoming calls, caller ID and voice mail…totaling $62 after tax. So that’s around £50 each month for a deal I used to sell in Orange for £15 or £20 a month.  Oh and because I signed up to a longer plan, they waived the ‘activation fee’ and SIM card charges.  Sorry, the what fee and you charge for SIM cards??

I’m sure that when Stage 4 kicks in all of the bad will seem like long forgotten, insignificant details.  But probably not the cheese thing.