Well, we’re here. I’m afraid the idea of doing one of these in transit was never likely to take off; there really was too much going on at any given moment. Indeed, this is the first chance I have had to sit down and think about what we’ve done since we arrived in Canada, and it is – of course – early in the morning, and I’m unable to sleep. That much, at least, hasn’t changed.
I think the first thing to say is that the weather is not at all what we expected, and not what we had packed for. It has been uniformly sunny and warm since we reached Prince George, and there is really very little snow left on the ground, at least in the city. What snow there is looks grimy and frozen, but at least we have proof that we will have some serious snow next winter. Having said that, the locals have been complaining that winters have been ‘mild’: rarely getting below -20, and hardly worth the effort of getting the skis out. I’m sure it will feel plenty cold enough for us, though.
So, what are the first impressions of Canada? Having been here before, there are certain things we knew to expect, but even so, it can take you by surprise. For example, I have been regularly coming back into Britain over the past 18 months from various European airports, and even as a native with a valid passport, I generally have felt myself to be under the suspicion of the surly immigration officials; they don’t acknowledge you, they try to stare you down, and the most you might get is a mumbled ‘thank you’ as they look for the next victim. We arrived at Vancouver airport on Monday evening, it was around 2am by our body clocks and we had two tired children in tow. In addition, we were not simply arriving, showing passports and moving on; we had forms to present and documents to collect.
The welcome we got was friendly, warm and interested. We were looked after and helped, both at the passport desk, and at the immigration desk. The process was somewhat long-winded, with four of us to process, but was completed in a way which made us feel welcome, and made us feel that we were in an entirely new country, one where they do things in a more civilised way.
The most obvious difference between Canada and the UK is that everyone you meet is pleased to see you, and interested in you. It takes some time to understand that your waiter showing you to your table in the restaurant or the clerk at the car hire desk is initiating a conversation by asking how you are, not just reading the bit in the script where it says ‘be polite to your customer’. I am finding it difficult to overcome that Brit reticence, and not just mumble ‘OK’ while staring into the middle distance. I’ll get there, but it is a bit of a culture shock.
Our first few days here have felt uneasily like being on holiday – I think partly because the last time we were here, we were on holiday, and partly because any change in routine will have that effect. To offset this, we have been making sure that we do some practical things each day – registering ourselves for Social Insurance, visiting the boys’ new school, buying some practical items we will need for when we move in.
Because we are not yet in our own new home, this activity is interspersed with more eating out than we would normally do, and more driving around looking at things. This just adds to the holiday atmosphere, however, and we all feel that we need to be in a place we can call our own as soon as practical. Like it or not, routine is what we really need right now.
At the moment, we are living in the basement of our friends’ house. This will, I am sure, conjure up some odd pictures for those back home, but here comes another of those cultural differences. Over here, basements tend to be part of the living space – indeed, the rooms we’re sleeping, playing and working in at the moment are easily as comfortable as the equivalent rooms in our old home. And because Prince George is hilly (I’d go so far as to say steep in places), basements need not necessarily be underground, so you need not worry; we have not become a family of cave-dwellers!
The reference above to our former home is something I typed with some relief. After what has seemed like months of struggle, we have at last shaken off the last of our UK encumbrances, namely the mortgage; sold our house to a very nice family, who will, we’re sure, be as happy in it as we were, and therefore freed up the required funds to buy all the things we need in Canada. Like a house, and a car or two.
The house purchase should be completed in the next week, and all manner of things will become easier then, once I have an address to call my own – quite apart from anything else, I can never remember the address of the house we are lodging in, and this has made several transaction appear somewhat strange; I can feel people suppressing the desire to ask me why I don’t know where I live.
It has only been a few days, but already I have a number of stories to tell; of supermarkets and used car salesmen; of banks and solicitors; of schools and houses, and not least, of being stopped and asked if I’m the guy who is writing in the paper. But the stories of my fame will have to wait for the next letter; it’s still a busy time for us all, and I’m sure there are things I should be doing instead of writing to you.
Thanks to all who have sent good wishes, I’d like to assure you that we’re doing well and enjoying this part of our new lives. Still, it will be nice when it settles down a bit.