The true meaning of culture shock

When you get off the plane in your new country of choice, you will inevitably experience the joys (or not) of culture shock. What might really surprise you is the form this takes; not necessarily the actual shock of the culture (the people, the humour, the way things are done, the pubs, the food etc) but the everyday differences that you hadn’t anticipated.

As a dual-citizen Brit/Canadian, who now splits my time between the two countries, I am qualified to make the following sweeping statements, alluding to some of the things that might shock/surprise you if you make the move from the UK to Canada.

How long it takes to boil a kettle.

It may seem trivial – OK it is trivial – but every time I get back to Canada and make myself a cup of tea, or worse, some toast, I am shocked to find myself standing around for hours while the kettle boils /toaster toasts. I am almost certain there is a technical explanation for this, which has something to do with “voltage”. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. It’s painful. To utilise these wasted hours, I have decided to take up a new hobby which can be undertaken just at these very times. Marathon running maybe.

Roundabout ineptitude.

Do not naturally assume that a Canadian driver knows the rules of a roundabout. It’s not their fault; they have never been taught. They don’t even know what they’re called. (For some reason they are referred to as traffic circles). I am not arrogantly saying that everyone in the UK is an excellent driver, but we did grow up with roundabouts. I once shouted this at a driver on a Canadian roundabout whilst he was madly gesticulating to me after HE pulled out on ME.

The accent mocking.

Canada is a multi-national country of immigrants. But people (often strangers) will still find it necessary, and acceptable, to repeat my words back to me in an exaggerated fake British accent. I do not find it funny.

The friendliness of the people.

Leaving England, with its mostly stoic, sour-faced, grumbling population, and being faced with the polite jolliness of the Canadian man, or woman, or even child, on the street, can be unnerving. As a naturally paranoid Brit, my first response when faced with a cheery “how are you?” from a complete stranger is at first suspicion, followed by relief, at the realisation that the question is rhetorical. But still, a smile is always nicer than a frown.

Unless you are coming direct from an English pub to a Canadian one…

…In which case, you will be shocked to find you have just left all your new best friends, with whom you have just spent four drunken hours engaged in hilarious name-calling (or as we call it, banter), and you are now engaged in real, serious conversation, including but not limited to: yoga, bears or hockey. But mostly hockey.

The cleanliness.

Everything is clean in Canada – the streets, the houses, the parks, the beaches. I am sure there are exceptions, but I have never seen them. After a visit to Canada, when returning to the UK, I am ashamed to see that the country is literally used as a tip.

The healthiness of the people.

When you walk down a street in England, you will smoke at least ten cigarettes, even if you have never smoked in your life.  In Canada, smokers are made to feel like pariahs.. as are people who don’t exercise, people who eat junk food, and people who don’t own yoga pants.

It’s all swings and traffic circles, I suppose.

Article by Juliet Sullivan