Sunday, November 7, 2010

(2005) Vive la Difference

November 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Canada is a modern technological country, with state-of-the-art electronics, consumer goods, and many public and private organisations embracing the online world.

Nevertheless, since arriving here, we've often commented how in many ways this country is a bit like the UK was several decades ago.

Many of the differences are good. Like the gentler pace of life, uncrowded roads, and returnable bottles (encourages recycling).

Some differences are quaint, like top-loading washing machines. I remember Mum having a top-loader back in Guernsey when I was only a few years old, but I haven't seen one since outside of commercial laundromats. I don't think they're sold for domestic use over there. Ali freaked when she saw one sitting in the corner of our temporary apartment last year.

Then there are the occasional ugly reminders of years gone by. Over the last few weeks we've been hit by industrial action that brought back unpleasant reminders of the 1970's. First the teachers went out on strike, so Megan was at home for a couple of weeks. Then I turned up for work one morning to find a picket line outside the office. This is where the ugliness hit home. They are all highly vocal about the rights of workers to join a union. But the hypocrisy of the union movement showed through very clearly in their outright bullying and threatening attitude to keeping their members toeing the union line. I felt way more intimidated by the shop stewards supposedly looking after my interests than by any employers (unionised or not) that I've worked for. And, of course, they are amazingly tight-lipped on any questions of an individual's right to NOT belong to a union. Closed shops were made illegal in most civilised countries years ago, but union membership is compulsory in BC Government.

On a brighter note, we held a party to celebrate a year in Canada. We had a full house, with friends, neighbours, and a few work colleagues.

Another small landmark...I used my new credit card for groceries last month. Ali was able to get one in her name early on, thanks to her having held a card in Guernsey that the local branch of the company were prepared to recognise for credit check purposes. But it's taken a while to get me on the American credit map. This is a critical catch-22 for newcomers, something which I was able to overcome by talking to our friendly local bank staff.

Then Halloween reminded us once more that we were in North America. In Guernsey we came to dread this time of year, with evening knocks on the door and surly demands for cash, often starting out in mid-October. Over here, we love the family party atmosphere of the evening. And Ali got into pumpkin carving, inspired by the displays at Government House last year.


  1. Demands for cash? From whom may I ask? That's rather shocking-don't give em a dime.

  2. Sam, Halloween is (as far as I can tell) primarily an American event. I always knew about it as a day on the calendar of course, but the first time I ever heard of trick-or-treating I think was watching ET. All the dressing up and wandering around the streets baffled me at the time because people the other side of the pond simply didn't go in for that.

    I think the "tradition" became established in the following years but as a new import, growing up without any real history, it got altered along the way. In my old neck o'the woods kids started coming around with clear expectations of receiving cash. Maybe that grew out of the long established but vanishing tradition of "penny for the Guy" that would have been going on at the same time, prior to Guy Fawkes night on November 5.

    Anyway, we humoured the occasional visitor for the first few years, but over time it started getting out of hand and rather menacing. Eventually we stood firm, reminding people that Halloween was only October 31, not the preceeding two weeks, and only giving out candy. By the time we left for Canada things were settling down a bit but it was pretty ugly for a few years. It was certainly never the fun event that it is here.

  3. Whoa! That's insane. I dare say noone in NY would even THINK about knocking on someone's door and asking for cash oh my!! Here in the states we're more than satisfied with candy and the only 'cash' I ever got was a penny or two (usually from the old folks who didn't bother buying candy) You know it's really interesting learning what goes on in the rest of the world. Very, very interesting-thanks for explaining!


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