On Brexit: Looking forward

The first version of this post was emotional, an attempt to be light-hearted, nonsensical at times and written by a woman hurt and torn apart by the decisions of 51% of the country.  The truth is I cannot be light-hearted.  I cannot fill this blog post with jolly anecdotes of my life today, I cannot be completely upbeat and excited. I am trying to be positive.  To see the silver lining.  I am hurt, but I respect the decision. Ultimately, I’m glad and proud to hail from a country where we have referenda and allow the results to be counted in a way that really allows all of us to feel that we had a say.  I am reminded at this time that I am glad to be from a democratic country that allows its people to make its own decisions. Even if it all felt a bit Eurovision-y.

 

If you voted leave, I will not insult you, I am not here to judge you. I respect your decision, I trust you respect mine, I hope you had legitimate reasons, as I hope remain voters had theirs. I hope we all used our heads and our hearts when we put our X in those boxes.  I hope our reasons were founded in respect of others, tolerance and by thinking of what is best for our country and not just ourselves.  I cannot fault anyone for the way they chose and my primary critique of this whole debacle is directed toward the political system that sought to divide us.  Sought to throw out messages, see how they’d work and then adopt them if they gained traction.  There was no legitimacy or genuine meaning behind the words of any political party. The campaigns have been selfish, insulting and personal. Collectively, this applies to Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and although my heart hurts to say it, the Green party also.

 

It turns out, that we live in a political world where parties will say almost anything for power.  I know many people will be thinking, ‘that’s always been true’ and you’re probably right, but for me, this disturbing fact has never before reared its hideous head in such an overt and vile manner. They will spread untruths, misleading ‘facts’ and dark ideas all in the name of securing the mark of your pencil (or pen).   They will pretend they regularly drink in some ‘working men’s’ pub’, they will pretend that they know what it’s like for ordinary people, the will say things like,  ‘people have legitimate concerns over immigration’ even if the party they represent did not hold that view until the 2015 general election.  They say ‘take back control’, ‘we’re better together’ – when really, there’s just uncertainty on any and all lines.

 

If you know me, there is no secret that I am an enthusiastic left-winger and I have never felt more of a disconnect from my country.  I’m not in Britain right now but my culture, my accent, my values – or so I thought, were inherently British.  At the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony I was someone who clambered excitedly on the back of the #ProudToBeBritish lion but today, I feel mauled and separate. I have been known to cry heartily at policies passed down by our government.  But today, it is the system.  It is all of them. Unfortunately, my favourite man in British politics, Mr Corbyn, let me down by not being honest with his opinion, my least favourite folks in politics, Mr Johnson, Mr Farage and Mr Gove, hurt me with their words of imperialism, of close-mindedness, and of hate. The Labour Party has been saying things like, ‘we need to change and listen to the opinions of the public’ and all I hear is, ‘we need to be more populist and more Conservative-Lite, because that’s how we get votes’.  There is no concern for offering a real alternative.  Only to be in charge.

 

The campaigns were centred in negativity.  In the downsides of either option.  There has been a distinct ignorance of the opportunities we were faced with following a decision to remain or a decision to stay.

 

For now it only seems right that we focus on the good.  Of the opportunities we have following our decision to leave the EU.  Let’s try to move away from immigration because the rhetoric used by our leaders has been out rightly xenophobic and unhelpful.

 

If you are an EU citizen living the UK – I promise that you will find people who welcome you, who appreciate all you do for the UK and are proud to have you on our shores.  They are there. They are leave and remain voters. If not – give me a shout and I’ll be happy to thank you for coming to my country and contributing to our economy by working there, spending British pounds and for your metaphorical dumpling in our multicultural soup (that looks more like a primary school dinner divided into sections right now).  Thank you for the businesses you have built, the opportunities you have created, the skills gaps you have filled and your presence in the UK.

 

If you need me I’ll be eating ice cream, hoping for Scottish independence, a serious and considered discussion with Northern Ireland, being wrapped under a blanket, intermittently sobbing, trying to understand the future of Britain and British politics.

 

IEC: The Unexpected Language Barrier

Originally, this was supposed to be all about culture shock; however it’s turned into a linguistic analysis of British-Canadian communication.  Or as I’ve come to know it; the minefield that is everyday conversation.

I recently read a really interesting article on BBC News about how Americans and Brits swear differently.  It got me thinking about how fanny doesn’t mean ‘bum’ in England and how friendships are built on mutual disrespect and insults. I wouldn’t say I’m one to partake in ‘banter’- because generally when I am, I say horrible things to people I love, and I always sound far too horrible. And then I spend weeks reliving them and feeling like the world’s worst person.

Side note: sorry again Han about the thing I said at Christmas, I didn’t mean it at all and I’m really sorry.

Anyway, this led me to contemplate my experiences here in Canada and how our Canuck friends across the ocean, like Americans, use the English language far differently to back in old Blighty.

This is the Language Barrier

That’s right.  And I bet you weren’t expecting there to be one when you hopped on the plane at Gatwick/Heathrow/Birmingham/Manchester/Belfast to arrive in Canada not realising what anyone really meant when they spoke to you.  You still might not realise it.

I’ll tell you how I did.

So, after a couple of months of unemployment, I began working at a temp job in downtown Toronto at the end of April.  It’s an amazing office with lovely people who are some of the nicest and accommodating folk I’ve ever met.  Even when I inadvertently offend them.  Like the occasion I will now retell to you.

Here it is:

“Good Morning MJ, You all right?”

“Great thanks”

That was it.

It’s not like MJ, my dear colleague, was seriously offended and ran off crying and my previously Zen-like work environment was forever crushed. Not at all.

A few days later we went for a walk, and I was telling her about cultural differences and how everyone says ‘How are you?’ as a normal greeting.  Which to me (and maybe this is different if you’re not from Gloucestershire/ are me) sounds like something had been wrong, or as if I’d been going through a particularly traumatic event in my life and you wanted to check on me, like, ‘how are you during this tragic life event?’ or ‘how are you following the diagnosis of your terminal illness?’.

To me, that’s the level of sincerity with which I take a question such as ‘how are you?’  So much so, that I have only recently developed a decent response.

‘Good thanks, you?’

MJ cackled at this story.  It turns out that largely, in Toronto at least, ‘you all right?’ is exactly the same as my interpretation of ‘how are you?’

‘You all right after being hit by that train?’

‘You all right? You look tired’

I get it.  But she’d said that it had affected her so much, that she’d even mentioned it to a friend, who’s response was, ‘oh my gosh, did you have a sad/angry face or something?’

Who would have ever thought that this difference could cause so much anxiety?

Maybe it’s just me, and anyone else who experiences this move is able to adapt smoothly and seamlessly.  Not me! Not at all!

I love living in Canada and I love the food and the people and after almost 4 months I’m starting, slowly but surely, to adapt.

I’ve learnt that self-deprecating humour is regularly met with genuine sympathy.  Take for example, another classic Lorna + Customer Service People moment (previous experience is detailed here).

It was lunchtime.  I went to purchase my lunch in Sobeys, the local grocery store near to my workplace.  A common trend prior to these experiences is that I spend far too long contemplating a purchase or a food choice.  I had been stood in front of the glass pane deciding between a prepared chicken breast with sweet potatoes AND roast asparagus or just chicken and sweet potato and maybe grabbing an apple or something.  This truly was the source of the entire problem.

So, the nice lady behind the service counter arrives and asks me what I would like.

The only thing I’m confident I want is the chicken.

I’m about 90% on the sweet potatoes and 50% on the asparagus.  To this day, I’m not even sure if I like asparagus – but that’s not the story.

‘What can I get you?’

‘Can I get the chicken breast please’ – looks around the glass pane as if contemplating an additional choice, which I am. I just thought it was blatant.

Thinking about the sweet potatoes and about to pipe up when…

‘Here you go, thanks have a good day.  Next please’

I’m handed a plastic container containing a single, dry, refrigerated chicken breast.  No sides at all.  This was literally the worst situation that could’ve happened to me.  What do I do?  A chicken breast is not a meal.

It is now on reflection, and with a better knowledge of Sobeys and feeling much calmer, that I could’ve purchased a nice side salad and all of my problems would have been solved.

But that is most definitely NOT what I did.

Instead, I look at the chicken breast and all I feel is panic. I definitely will not be piping up to the lady who has just handed me this, in this context, random piece of meat.  I will also not be putting it down somewhere in a different section of the supermarket.  So I make a final decision.  There is nothing else for it but to purchase the chicken breast and LEAVE as soon as possible.  I have decided that in the middle of a grocery store I have no other viable alternatives.  Like buy a side salad. So I made the world’s most random and useless purchase and head back up to the office.  Where I promptly drop my new chicken breast off in my bag and decide to relay this, in my opinion, hilarious tale of ‘the time I tried to get lunch and came back with a single piece of chicken’.

And this is where the cultural difference comes in.

I thought, this tale would be met with responses such as;

‘You’re an idiot’

‘Why didn’t you just choose some sides?’

‘How is this a thing?’

Instead of the teasing and the jeering and what I had imagined would be some kind of clever new ‘chicken-for-lunch Pegram’ nickname, I was met with genuine concern and compassion.

Offers of alternative lunches.  Suggestions that I march back and ask for the sides I did not have chance to select.  Concern.  Assurances that service has always been terrible there.  Straight faces filled with sympathy for the poor British girl who cannot navigate a simple ‘I want food’, ‘good here is food’ transaction.

Instead, I decided to have the chicken breast for dinner, although I already had several chicken breasts at home, and went to get Subway.  It felt like the safe option.

But it is these responses that throw me occasionally.  I spent most of my first month at my lovely new job just trying to figure out what people were saying to me.

‘Have a good day’ – that’s so nice. Canadians are so polite.  It’s just BYE. Like any normal person would say, it’s just a regularly used alternative, akin to ‘see you later’ or ‘cheerio’ – I don’t believe anyone says cheerio anymore except my Gran, but it’s still an alternative!

It was exhausting.  But it gets better and more comfortable and after a while, like with anywhere else in the world, you adapt and you learn and you stop asking people if they’re all right, unless they’re red or blotchy.

There are also significant benefits to being ‘new in the country’.

When a joke doesn’t go over well:  ‘That would’ve killed in the UK’ – no it wouldn’t have but no one has to know.

When you accidently swear in the workplace: ‘oh that’s not rude in England’ or ‘I’m going to start saying bloody more, it’s so cute’.

It’s an excellent chance to practice all of your regional accents and to incorporate any regional slang you wanted to make your own but couldn’t before.  I used to live in Nottingham where everyone calls you ‘duck’.  But being from Gloucestershire I always wanted to refer to everyone as duck but felt a fraud. Not in Canada! Ducks are EVERYWHERE here!  And no one says I sound like a farmer and I can convincingly say things like, ‘I sound just like Fiona Bruce’ (BBC News presenter and host of Antiques Roadshow), and next to nobody knows who that is, so it might as well be true.

It’s also a great chance to hear about parts of your own country you’ve:

  1. Never heard of
  2. Never been to

Almost everyone has a UK story, just as everyone in the UK has a Canada story.

‘My sister lives in England, Norwich – I visited once, lovely place’

I’m not even sure where Norwich is.  I’m sure it’s lovely.  I don’t know.  But I still thank them for calling Norwich, a place I have no connection to, lovely and reinforce the notion.

‘Thank you! I’ve not been, but I’ve heard it is, indeed, lovely’ – from you, because you just told me.  It could be a terrible place.  I don’t know.  The whole of the East is a mystery to me.  If it even is East.  There is no pride in my lack of knowledge of Britain.  However I’ve been learning more from completing the county quiz on Sporcle in my free time.

There’s also times when you forget you’re abroad – which are some of my favourite times because that’s when I realise I’m starting to feel like I stand out less, and you forget that you should maybe try and adapt to the language you’re in.

‘I’m just nipping to the loo’

‘I’ll pop it in the rubbish’

‘I was just in the lift when…’

Sometimes there’s confusion, other times there’s a look of pure endearment.  My boss regularly says things like, ‘you can ask me anything with that accent’.  Not secured a raise yet though.

Initially, it can be daunting and tiring and it can also feel like people are being somehow insincere with you.  Or, you can become suspicious of what message is trying to be communicated.  Just ride this wave of uncertainty.  Add a layer to that thick British, or otherwise, accent of yours and embrace this new cultural change.  I imagine that this whole experience would be 50 – 100 times worse if English wasn’t my first language.  Generally, I’ve found that everyone is so keen to help here and if you get confused, just ask!! Who doesn’t love a little chat about comparing how you say things.  Just remember it’s AL-U-MIN-I-UM and OREG-AAH-NO. 🙂

 

IEC: Your New Currency

One of the trickiest parts of moving to a new country is navigating the currency.  I tell you now, that you need to try and see past the adorable beaver on the 5 cents, and the fact that a toonie is so named due to a singular dollar having a loon bird on it.  The toonie actually has polar bears on it.  This is your money now.

It can be quite satisfying (if you’re a brit – prior to potential Brexit) popping your currency into the Google currency exchange and seeing how many thousands of dollars your one thousand pounds is worth. This is a short lived luxury when you arrive and realise that you now have a limited supply of those pounds.  It’s easy for the first couple of weeks to get by halving everything and thinking that products are generally cheaper or similarly priced to back home, except this changes when you start to work and live in dollars all the time.

Value the Canadian Dollar for what it is not how many pounds it could be

You need to start seeing the Canadian dollar for what it is; not compared to anything else.  Think about in the UK, you know that a pound (frantically searches Canadian keyboard for pound sign to find it is not there ☹), is probably not enough to grab a decent sandwich at Tesco, you know that a pound might snag you a cheapy coffee somewhere and that it should buy you at least a chocolate bar.

You need to establish these cues in Canada immediately, before you find yourself converting your wages into pounds in order to calculate your monthly budget on groceries per pound. It doesn’t work, will stress you out and you’ll end up spending more money than you need to. Stop it.

In Downtown Toronto,  3 bags of milk (approximately 3 litres) is around $4.27.  A good deal on bread is 2/$5.  Chicken can be ridiculously expensive, I’ve seen $23 for 4 chicken breasts!

Do not view the Canadian dollar as the equivalent to your home currency

Avoiding this can be way harder than it sounds because this is absolutely how we operate on holiday and in the beginning, you’ll probably feel a little like you’re on holiday, we convert what we need and spend our holiday figuring out how much these flip flops were in pounds – what a deal! When you live in a new country, you can’t do this , because you can’t go home and make more of your home currency, or you can, but it would be very inconvenient.  You’re making Canadian currency now, so you need to work entirely in Canadian.  

Do not start trying to buy milk for $1 because it won’t happen. This is not Asda, this is Loblaws.  This is not Tesco, it is Sobey’s. This is your new grocery shop mantra.  You’ll also get really depressed at the conversion and will quickly decide you can never buy anything.  It’s difficult, and it will mean that your budgets are off for a while.   

Aside from groceries, working this way can screw you over in terms of rent, and the wages you’ll accept.  A 1 bedroom condo in downtown Toronto is approximately $1500-1800 a month in the downtown core, so based on the rule that your rent shouldn’t be more than 30% of your income you need to ideally make 5000 a month to cover it. Or live with someone else.  

Now, this also works in reverse.  “$45 for a shirt!!” I hear you cry – thinking in pounds. This happens to me a lot! You are allowed to think a little about the conversion here, but only to keep you on track in terms of allowing yourself new clothes. A good way to cope and help to find those cues is to start to thinking in number of hours you work per item. If you’re on minimum wage, then a shirt is about 4 hours work. That’s a good reference point to go by.  How many hours is this shirt – a strange but effective question to always keep in mind.  

The minimum wage here in Ontario is about $11.25 an hour. Be thinking about that milk & rent price in comparison. $11.25 is not 11 pounds 25.  Nor is it almost 6 pounds.  It is 2 lots of milk bags and maybe some M&Ms.  

Compare all the time, but switch currencies as little as possible.

TAX is sometimes included, and sometimes not

This is not a reason to not total your grocery shop as you go along.  HST in Ontario is about 13% so add about 15% (because that maths is way easier) and settle in for a nice surprise at the checkout, rather than the nightmare of not doing so. Classic experiences I have had have included preparing the correct change to find I owe the cashier an extra $1.65.  Fun.   Sometimes however, you will be expecting to pay extra for tax and have find that it was already included on your way round.  Hooray!

Things that are weirdly expensive:

  • Chicken, as previously mentioned
  • Makeup wipes, for some reason, feel extortionately priced, I have recently discovered that Winners do some excellent deals on makeup wipes –and they don’t burn your face off or anything!
  • Shoes! I am yet to find the equivalent Primark/New Look kinds of deals on shoes, however as it’s currently summer Ardene do some lovely flip flop/sandal basic shoes. So those are an option, also, H&M do a bigger range of shoes here in Ontario than in the UK.
  • Microwaves – just try and buy this handy appliance for less than $100. Would recommend Canadian Tire/Costco/Walmart for your hunt.

Weirdly cheap

  • This is generally food based because eating out feels a bit cheaper here. Tim Hortons for example is excellent for a snappy breakfast on the go. E.g my rushed breakfast this morning consisted of an  Iced Coffee and a Cream Cheese bagel coming to the hefty total of $4! Timmie’s is a great spot to rely on in your first weeks in the country because there are so many of them and they are usually an excellent deal.  It’s also one of those truly Canadian institutions, with Tim Horton himself being an NHL’er with the Toronto Maple Leafs back in the ‘60s.   Speak to any Canadian about this and they will know all about Tim – this mainly happened to me while on my flight over.  The tale of Tim Horton + the tale of his company is actually a really interesting one, despite partially marred by tragedy, but I digress.
  • Elaborate cakes.  Basically in all of the supermarkets I’ve been in there is a gorgeous section in Bakery, full of really ornate gorgeous cupcakes and cakes.  Cupcakes are around $2-3 each and cakes are anything from $9-20 up.  It’s incredible and will quickly become an essential.

 

Extra Money Info

  • Tipping is far more part of the culture here.  It’s pretty common to tip with each drink you buy at a bar and between 15-20% at restaurants.  You also tip at the hairdressers, in taxis and especially when you order take-out.  You can tip online when you get delivery here which brings up a whole new interesting debate of whether to tip when the driver arrives or online.
  • Canada is phasing out pennies, so while if you pay by debit or credit you’ll still pay 57c or the .99, if you’re paying by cash it’s normally rounded up or down – so try not to hang around for your penny change, it’s not coming.  However, if you do score a penny, they’re quite cute and have little maple leaves on!