It has now been four months since I left England to study in Ontario. After asking if I have ever met the Queen, I will often be asked ‘so what is the biggest difference between Canada and the UK?’ It is a relatively simple question, yet I am still struggling to pinpoint the biggest difference as I mostly encounter lots of small -albeit merciless- disparities between our countries. Here I present a short list of just some of these differences.
#1 Crossing the Road
Feminists beware: if the thought of a white man telling you when you can and cannot cross the road sends a thousand patriarchal daggers down to the tips of your fingers, Canada might not be the place for you. It turns out our familiar friend the Green Man who has helped you cross the road since you were young enough to think jumping in front of a car might be a good idea; did not make it across the pond! Instead, Canadians rely on a slightly paler incarnation of our friendly road guide.
#2 The Yorkshire Accent becomes the Queen’s English
If you’re tired of being told whatever accent you managed to pick up in your years of living on English soil is unrefined and lacks all promise of sophistication, Canada may be the place for you. It turns out that I only had to travel 3500 miles for my Yorkshire accent to be heard as the Queen’s English and I never stop getting kicks from people telling me, for the first time in my entire life, that I sound elegant. However, from first hand experience I should warn the Brummies that even Canadians can sniff you out as sounding not entirely like the royal family- indeed, you might have to travel a little further before you can hope to fool anyone!
#3 It’s Bloody Expensive
In Canada, shopping for food genuinely feels like you’re purchasing your weekly groceries from an Odeon cinema. As well as that, just as you think six dollars for a bag of crisps was expensive, you are reminded as the bill is handed to you that tax is also added at the checkout. I have learnt to brace myself for the impending total of my groceries at Walmart as though I am about to find out that I have some obscure and incurable disease and one that usually means I wont be able to afford my Diet Coke fix for the next couple of days.
#4 Becoming an Inadvertent Explorer
Ontario may be the only place in the entire world where you can walk from Dublin to Wellington in under five minutes. As far as road signs are concerned it’s almost impossible not to find yourself in places named after all corners of the globe. One memorable journey in particular took me from Pickering to Scarborough and finally to Perth where they were advertising their annual garlic festival. As a result of my ceaseless amusement, I can only be thankful that Canada does not appear to care a great deal when it comes to originality.
#5 You Live in a Petting Zoo
It wasn’t until I arrived in Ontario that I came to realise that black squirrels roamed the Earth- having only previously encountered the red and grey variety. Although my mother is insistent that the fluffy creatures look entirely evil, I think they are impossibly cute. Yet, if black squirrels don’t quite do it for you, there is no doubt that living in Canada will sooner or later enable you to become face to face with a plethora of exotic animals. Just the other week I was cooing over a family of raccoons that were scavenging my friend’s bins as he attempted to shoo them away. Just don’t tell your Canadian friends that you want to go hunting for beaver, however much you want to.
As I catch up with a dear friend from home and I tell her about the funeral I attended last week and the marriage proposal I received the week before that, she begins to laugh. ‘You always do things in such extremes Anna!’ I hadn’t, admittedly, thought about this. Although, as I was leaving the funeral service it did occur to me that this was not how I expected to spend any of my year abroad. Indeed, living in Canada has gone as smoothly as I expected it would, which is to say, not very smooth at all.
Though I have lived here for two entire months now, there are still a great deal of things I have yet to get my head around. Cars, in particular. My partner still takes sincere amusement every time I accidentally attempt to get into his car from the driver’s side, for example! Sometimes he strategically lures me by heading towards the passenger’s side, knowing it’ll throw me off. It always does. For the first few weeks I would oftentimes glance at cars on the road and immediate shock would fill my being as it appeared a ghost was occupying the vehicle. Of course, a quick glance to the left and I would remember that the driver was at the other side. The ‘wrong’ side, as I am still adamant. Roads are also a cesspool of confusion and eternal frustration. What English people would describe fondly as ‘zebra crossings’ are everywhere, although- as I have almost killed myself finding out- not all of them mean you can cross the road at your leisure. Some crossings are painted pink… I have no idea what this means. All I know is that I must annoy the shit out of drivers who can probably smell the wreak of me not knowing what the hell I am supposed to be doing. Bloody foreigners!
Living in Canada also feels like you are in some kind of permanent petting zoo; only, where petting may lead to a few bite marks. Oftentimes when I sit outside my residence, skunks will scurry over to me. They are adorable but I am told that I only think this because I have yet to discover the capabilities of their anal scent glands. (A Canadian said to me that it smells like urine and marijuana… so it is possible that a whiff would be more liable to remind me of my hometown than anything else!). I have learned that if you want to suss out foreigners, place a skunk near a group of people. The Canadians will run the other way and the rest of us will run towards it with a naive excitement over its cuteness. I also saw four raccoons one evening, a little family rooting around some bins. Again, my cotton-wool instincts were to run over and pet them as though they were stray kittens. ‘They’ll scratch your nose off, Anna!’
Although, even despite the array of exotic menageries, I often find myself feeling rather alone here. Sometimes I miss walking into bars and seeing faces I recognise. Sometimes I miss people that know me beyond the realm of ‘girl from England’. I also miss Yorkshire puddings.
I will end this post on a conversation I had in the first week of my arrival in Canada-
Anna: [Upon seeing a building called Norfolk Manor] oooh! We should go there sometime!
Chad: Err…*laughing* that’s an old folk’s home.
After the university’s pep rally.
Having survived my first semester at university, albeit somewhat haphazardly, I like to think that I have already learned a great number of things with regards to surviving the ‘outside world’. In what I hope will become something of a ‘how-to’ series, I will share my snippets of advice alongside my first-hand woes that naturally stem from a girl who has yet to master the art of living smoothly.
A lot can rest in first impressions- it is the difference between being ‘that intelligent female who knows a lot about 17th century literature’ and being ‘that girl who parades around with yesterday’s lasagne stuck to her face’. And never are first impressions quite so important than when you start university; when every impression is both first and nightmarishly immortal. It’s not breaking news to reveal that a drunken slobbery kiss the night before is a terribly awkward encounter in Tesco’s the day after.
But even those ‘did I really lick his face last night?’ encounters do not compare to the events of my first day of higher education. It started with the mishap we all dread- walking into the wrong class- complete with a sorry face of pleading embarrassment together with lost eyes longing for a hug and a forgiving cup of tea. The mathematics seminar group looked almost offended when I asked if this was the literature seminar. It wasn’t.
But all hope was not lost.
I turned around to see a young man waiting in the seats opposite the room I had attempted to enter. He was witness to my shortcoming and in a blaze of nervous adrenaline I blurted out my unrefined introductions. ‘Are you waiting for this room?’. I was relieved to learn that he was indeed waiting for the same class as me and- seeing a fine opportunity to start my quest for making friends- I began to chant my pleasantries.
‘Oh! That’s so cool! Where are you from?! That’s awesome! I’m from North Yorkshire! I really like your jumper! Do you have any plans for tonight?! That sounds awesome! Me? Oh! I need a night off, had a bit of a mad one last night that ended in me and my flatmates comparing dolphin impressions in the kitchen! …So, is it American literature you’re studying?’
‘Oh no’ he said.
‘I’m teaching it.’
And that is how not to make a fruitful first impression with your lecturers.
Yesterday I befell an inevitable ageing that, as always, provides me with the troubling realisation I am getting old. Yet, as my optimistic flatmate and dear friend consoled me on several occasions, I am no longer an ‘old’ teenager but, rather, a ‘young’ adult. But perhaps that is just an unconvincing attempt of a girl who is half way to forty clinging onto youth like a squirrel to a shining acorn.
But a change in age seems only fitting in my world that, in the past few months, has changed entirely; it seems almost crazy that I am nearing the final few weeks of my first semester at the University of East Anglia.
I awoke on my birthday to a shower of felt-tipped confetti, a bundle of flowers and a room of friends. With a mouthful of cheesecake, an armful of hugs and earful of The Beatles on blast, turning twenty was, in a most shocking turn of events, a most blissful of occasion.
University, thus far, has been a dazzle of successes and failures and the shortness of this post can not reflect the abundance of adventure and the exquisite moments I have had here. In finding friends who are impossibly amazing writers and poets, I am in a sea of limitless inspiration and encouragement. Though living in Norwich still proves to overwhelm me, it is a place I am most glad to have found myself entirely lost in.
Above photographed is my room’s door! How is it that I might have been so lucky as to twirl my fingers around its creators hand?
In only a number of hours I shall be leaving my home town with the destination of university. My suitcases have piled up alongside my nerves and I am quite assuredly terrified.
Though it has been a long time coming, I can not say that I feel totally prepared, for indeed, I don’t entirely know what to expect and therefore what it is I have been preparing myself for. I’ve spent my life in the same old town with the same faces and the prospect of change never fails to leave me a little scared.
My nerves, however, are churning amidst a flurry of excitement; I am truly looking forward to meeting new people and experiencing life outside of my little old town. All my farewells leave me knowing I shall have a great deal to miss in my upcoming adventures…
…but an adventure it will be.
There’s not much I shall expect to miss more than this little kitty.
I would estimate that I have least 43 epiphanies everyday. Some are inevitable insane like my decision to take maths at A-level or waking up at half 6 each morning in order to see more of the day. (Both of these, as you can imagine, didn’t end too well!)
I find it very difficult to trust myself. A thought entirely formed in my frazzled head doesn’t always feel like one I should go by, not least dedicate time to.
Yet, on the rare occasion, my leaps of faith turn out for the better.
For example, one of my new years resolutions (yes, I occasionally conform to society’s trivialities!) was to start only drinking water and whatever the date is today will be the number of days I have stuck to it.
Although that means I have given up my beloved cranberry juice and my bladder appears to take great joy in waking me up at crazy hours in the night, I have already started to feel better for it.
Not so long ago I had a potentially life-changing epiphany. I spent many hours and days arguing with myself, trying to convince myself that it was just another of my crazy ideas spouted from a mind that isn’t always the most solid. But, there was no talking myself out of it.
After the reassurance and even encouragement of my family, friends and teachers my one-off epiphany I had at 3 in the morning has now turned to reality.
Although it may not seem like a big deal, in fact the more I think about it, the less big it becomes, I have decided to spend another year in my home town before leaving for uni.
This isn’t because of my grades nor is it due to some aspiration of mine to see all corners of the world before my nineteenth birthday.
I’m doing it entirely for myself.
Before I leave my home I want to be the best person I can be and I know what I need to change in order for that to happen. I want to undo my mistake of taking maths and complete an A-level in art, amongst other things.
I now feel a lot less pressure and I’m happier for it.
Just don’t be afraid to occasionally trust your early-hour epiphanies, even if you know that they will seem even a little crazy the next morning.