There are harder places to move to, from The UK, than Canada. They speak English, have a culture influenced by colonial rule and there aren’t any wars right now. It was still a big step for me, though. I spent some 25 years living in Worcestershire. In the small town, near the field. The one with the horse in it, next to that tree.
There are a few aspects to life here that took some getting used to. There are a few aspects that I am still not used to. Thankfully, there are a few aspects that I have embraced.
When I used to go Trick Or Treating, it was always with a bit of guilt and the whole experience usually ended up being less fun than anticipated. None of the adults we encountered, as we knocked on doors, were very pleased with it. Much of the generation that came before mine believe Halloween to be a horrible celebration from That There America. The words “Trick or Treat” were taken literally, as a threat. For the most part, doors were opened and sweets dispensed with annoyance – or doors were never answered.
What I used to prefer about Halloween in England was that dressing up in fancy dress (American English: “costume dress”) involved dressing as a ghoul, monster or other scary creature. In North America, it is common for people to dress as some kind of random character (eg. nurses, school girls, superheroes etc…). This is now becoming more common in Britain, but is still more of a North American thing.
I definitely prefer the way Halloween is celebrated in Canada. It is a festival that everyone looks forward to, but there are a few customs that help make Trick or Treating easier for residents and kids. First of all, Trick or Treaters only go out on Halloween night. In England, they are around every night for the best part of a week. Secondly, there is an accepted signal – the porch light. If it is switched on, Trick or Treaters are welcome. If it is off, don’t knock. Thirdly, kids are usually accompanied by parents at the end of the driveway and only tend to visit their own neighbourhood. These behaviours make a massive difference to everyone. Kids dressed in costume with their faces hidden are not seen as a threat.
The last Halloween that I worked (at a bookstore), I dressed as The Mad Hatter. I’m not sure if there’s much in life that is more awesome than that, even if I did intimidate several children. It’s all good.
2. Apple Pie
I never really got this. Those North Americans with their rich foods. You just don’t need it, when you have Custard Cream biscuits and, on special occasions, a trifle. It certainly didn’t resonate with me when Jason Schwartzman had sex with an apple pie. That isn’t to say I didn’t have the occasional Apple Crumble made by my Mother, but it wasn’t usually a song and a dance. Apple Pie has taken on a life of its own in North America. Especially at Thanks Giving…
Thanksgiving, in Canada, is similar to harvest festival in Europe – giving thanks to God for the harvest. In The United States, it can also be considered giving thanks to the Natives who helped the English Colonists of Plymouth Colony (Captain John Smith – the whole Pocahontus thing, remember?).
The dates of Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving vary, but both involve having a big meal amongst family on the kind of scale normally reserved for Christmas. And Apple Pie (or sometimes Pumpkin Pie).
4. High Fives and Fist Pumps
I have no idea where this came from, but one day I simply woke up and realised that I had started giving out high-fives. Especially at work. Admittedly, it is with a massive sense of irony. Just managed to survive an encounter with a particularly “intensive” customer? High Five. Couldn’t decide what to buy for lunch, and end up returning to the store with a filthy McDonald’s Big Mac? High Five. I’ve actually got a few people giving each other ironic high-fives. Quite a feat for a country that invented the Alanis Morrisette version of irony.
5. The Words “Cart”, “Dessert” and “Tronna”.
Rather than the word ‘trolley’, Canadians favour ‘cart’. For example, ‘shopping cart’. Since my job involves endlessly searching for books, many of which are hidden amongst book carts, I had to quickly let go of the word trolley. It led to blank stares. From time to time, I will yell at my colleagues “IS IT ON THE TROLLEY?” in the futile hope they will laugh at the vague reference to some long forgotten comedy from 1985 Britain that even I shouldn’t be able to remember. I was 5 years old for Christs’ sake. Why would my Canadian colleagues have a bloody clue what I am on about? Doesn’t stop me doing it, though.
If I asked for Pudding instead of Dessert, I would keep getting mousse when what I really want is the world’s biggest chunk of cake.
Tronna is how people here pronouce Toronto. People think I’m pompous enough as it is, so I have quickly learnt to drop the second “T” sound.
I’ll next write about some of the things I’m too stubborn to embrace 😉