One of our loyal readers recently asked why I haven't talked more about my experience moving from France to Vancouver, Canada back in March. Truth is, review samples and other obligations were quick to pile up, and I've had to allocate my time wisely.
Scott asked Geoff and me to update our blogs more frequently, however, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to delight you with a Yakov Smirnoff-esque list of differences between my native country and the Great White North (or, to be fair to British Columbia's surprisingly mild climate and thick pine forests, the Great Green North).
Now, before we begin, I should acknowledge that I'm not much of a Frenchman. I went to high school in Scotland, and I've spent the past four years living in a sort of North American bubble under a rooftop in Nantes, France. So, you might say I speak more as an Americanized European than a dyed-in-the-wool Frenchie. Still, a number of things jumped out at me after my arrival in Vancouver.
I've witnessed a similar veneer of politeness in Scotland, but back there, it often seemed to have a hypocritical and patronizing aftertaste. In France, meanwhile, people subscribe to entirely different social norms, making no efforts to conceal their bad mood or to refrain from poking fun at you. There's something more frank and natural about the French, but it can feel a little abrasive, especially for tourists used to more civil interactions.
The grid can make navigation much, much easier, but it has other implications. Instead of talking about street numbers (e.g. 22 rue Jean Jaurès), I can give directions by simply naming the nearest intersection. Instead of nimbly cutting through small, diagonal streets, however, I need to follow the same long street for multiple blocks, waiting for the light to turn at each intersection, and when on foot, sometimes awkwardly following the same pedestrian. I do give Vancouver props for being very walkable, though; some North American cities don't look like they were designed with pedestrians in mind.
Okay, let's not go there. Nevertheless, the North American pharmacy is a concept entirely alien to the average European. On the Old Continent, pharmacies sell drugs, soaps, vitamins, cosmetics,
placebos homeopathic tablets, and maybe a handful of other little items on the side. If you want to buy a sandwich, a candy bar, or a light bulb, you have to head to the nearest supermarket or convenience store. Mixing the two just ain't done. But here? Casual shopping and buying life-saving medication seems to go together like bread and butter.
I still haven't fully grasped the benefits of this overlap between supermarkets and drug stores, however. Some grocery items seem to be cheaper at pharmacies, but I'm never quite sure where I should go for what, and I'm sometimes forced to visit both. Too much freedom! Back in Europe, the average-size supermarket serves as your one-stop shop for everything besides prescription drugs.
Over here, puzzlingly enough, businesses don't mind letting you spend the money you were busy earning the rest of the week. Actually, I believe France's Sunday lockdowns have to do with some type of local or national legislation. Either way, I hate it, and being able to go out and buy things any day of the week is a refreshing change. (In case you're wondering, no, I don't believe France has a particularly large population of orthodox Jews. Just lazy bureaucrats. Lots of 'em.)
North American banks go much further than nickel and diming their customers, of course. TR is a U.S.-based business, so I still receive paychecks in U.S. dollars—and because of the skewed exchange rates used by Canadian banks, currency conversion costs me about three times as much as it did back in France. Yes, converting U.S. dollars to Euros is apparently cheaper than converting them to Canadian dollars. Who woulda thunk it?
On the flip side, my bank (TD Canada trust) keeps the sort of hours that would make a French banker faint. I can visit my branch Monday through Friday between 8:00 AM and 4:00-8:00 PM, depending on the day. In France, my bank keeps its doors shut every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoon, plus holidays.
Luckily, Vancouverites seem to feed each other less excessively than some other North Americans. I recall eating at a diner in North Carolina during my first trip to the United States six years ago; it was the first time I ever ate to the point of being nauseous. I had ordered a salad.
I've encountered plenty more little differences, some of which escape me right now. If anything, however, I'm struck by how alike these two continents are. We have many of the same store chains, brands, and foods; we drive many of the same cars; we speak the same languages; we watch the same movies; laugh at the same jokes, and are warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter. I still relish the small peculiarities, if only because they put into perspective things I might otherwise have taken for granted. But I somehow keep forgetting that I'm half a world away.
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