It has been one month since our arrival in Toronto. And as expected, I have mixed emotions about being back in the city. I’m not sure if my return to Toronto is classed as expatriating, or repatriating, which may or may not explain the mixed emotions I’m harboring. True, I have lived in Canada before, and as a teen I lived in Toronto. But never as an adult. But I’ve never identified with Toronto as being home. Home has always been London to me. And so I’m left feeling like I’m in No Man’s Land due to more reasons than one.
As I expected, the adjustment has been one of the hardest I’ve gone through as an expat. This may come as a surprise to everyone as I have lived in the Middle East and in the Far East. However, none of those experiences left me with culture shock or this feeling of loss and confusion. Perhaps this is because I expected everything to be so polar opposite to life as I’d come to know it. Or perhaps I welcomed all those wonderful differences that reminded me that I was no longer in my home. And by extension, that I was no longer in my comfort zone. There is an other element to this feeling but as of yet… I haven’t been able to put my finger on it.
Lost in the big city
From the outside, Toronto would seem like an easy country to assimilate in to. But I’ve never found this to be the case. One of the reasons I believe is down to the sheer size of the place. Toronto is a huge city. Although actually only measuring 630 km² (in comparison with London 1,572km²), it feels larger. This is most likely due to the ridiculous urban sprawl that spreads as far as the eye can see known as the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Most people that live in ‘Toronto’, actually live in the GTA. Therefore the size of Toronto inclusive of the GTA is actually about 7,124km².
In addition to this, everything is bigger here. Houses are bigger, road intersections are bigger. It can take a good 30 secs on the pedestrian countdown to get from one side of the street to the other. Everyone seems to drive a huge car, and shopping trolleys in the supermarket mirror that size down the aisles. You can’t buy 1L bottles of fizzy drinks here. And I have yet to see a 1L carton of milk. Nope its got to be 2L and above. The bigger the better. Needless to say, I feel overwhelmed by this city and its sprawling rash of suburbia which I now reside in. I’ve always been one for convenience and minimal living. And so far, living in Toronto (which we will hence refer to as including both the city and the GTA) is neither of those things.
An inconvenient city
For me, getting around on my own two feet is convenient. I believe it is natural, environmentally friendly and healthy. Sadly, since our arrival, I’ve gone from walking, everywhere to needing to drive again. I grew up driving around suburbia as a teenager with much confidence on the road. However, now, me behind the wheel is comparable with that of an old nana maneuvering a boat! And to make matters worse, drivers here are awful! Impatient, aggressive and certainly lacking in common sense on the road. I miss being able to walk to places. But the nearest thing I can walk to is a park, a school or another house. Anything else like a coffee shop or a bus stop is a good 25 min walk.
Upon arriving at the bus stop or train station (that never runs in suburbia), I’m a good hour away from the that 630km² of city where, supposedly all the action is. And so most of my days have been spent catching up on sleep, writing, watching TV or reading (all things I’m grateful for having time to do) and looking for jobs (I’ll get to that).
Having known ahead of time that trekking to the city was indeed a trek, worthy of packing snacks and water, I didn’t let that deter me from exploring this new city. And so hubby and I walked the 25 min walk through a sleepy suburban subdivision to purchase a paper ticket to board a bus (or if we were lucky) a train to downtown Toronto. The cost of the return was $20 each. And that was just for the bus or train (same price for either) in and out of city. That wasn’t inclusive of getting around in the city! (And people say London transport is expensive!) With only two subway lines running perpendicular through the city, I would hardly say public transport is cutting edge. But it seems to work for the locals.
We’ve perused around a few neighbourhoods in Toronto to see what there was to see and do. Apart from the beautiful houses we walked passed, there was little to see. There isn’t much history in Toronto and sadly many historic buildings are being torn down in the name of development. None of the neighbourhoods stand out as offering anything the others couldn’t. But perhaps this is a naive first-hand impression of the city. I’m hoping this will change over time. But for now, although I can see that Toronto has had new developments (in the way of a condo epidemic), I can’t see that the city has anything more to offer than it always had.
The Good, the bad and the ugly
The good news is that I am breathing fresh air again and eating fresh produce that is home grown and not shipped into the country (well some are but not everything). There is no humidity and so my hair is not suffering anymore either (yay!- sorry, I love my hair). I have slowly but surely acclimated to a slightly cooler climate and have been thankful that we arrived in the summer. I have had the opportunity to hang out with friends that I would only see once a year if I was lucky. And the best part was that it was like no time had passed. And of course, I get to spend time with my Dad and worry and nag him in person rather than over a Skype call millions of miles away.
The bad news, is that life feels a bit stagnant at the moment. I know it has only been a month and my feelings are mainly due to having zero opportunity to integrate and engage with the city or the country. In this past month I have really began to appreciate what a ‘typical’ expat wife goes through (which by the way, I don’t think I could ever do and totally take my hats off to you ladies). See, every time we’ve moved countries, I’ve always had work. So I have had a reason to walk out the door and engage with my new setting. Right now I have no reason other than to get groceries. This leaves me feel like a middle-aged, minivan driving housewife as I drive through suburbia. And so I feel a little lost some days with what to do with myself and a little guilty when I’ve accomplished very little in a day.
We are still waiting for my husbands papers to arrive (we’re nearly there!) and even for our stuff to arrive. I am also still waiting to find work and to apply for some courses (one of the main reasons I wanted to come back). But perhaps more importantly, I know we will be waiting a lot longer for the big picture to arrive. To be in a position to truly enjoy the country. Having a home and getting out to those stunning lakes during the summer. And well…. I guess although being a primary school teacher by day should mean I have endless patience… I don’t.
The ugly news…. and this is something I haven’t really want to admit because… well I’m in Canada. And this is a beautiful country and everyone said it would be great here and everyone wants to move here and Justin Trudeau is a sexy prime minister etc etc.. But, I don’t like it here. And by here I mean, I don’t like Toronto. It’s just not me. I don’t want to live a life where I have to drive everywhere. I get a little bit nervous when I see someone has been shot at least once a day on the local news (and yes I know London has a far higher crime rate). And I certainly don’t want to live in suburbia (but I’ll leave that for another post). I know I sound like a petulant teenager, whinging about what are seen as luxuries to other people. Of course there are far worse places in the world I could be. And it is a privilege to have the right to live in a country like Canada when others are queuing up and banging on the door, begging to be let in. I know this. I’m all too aware of this. But if I could just have my whinge for a moment…. it will pass. I really hope this opinion changes but for now, I have to be honest with myself.
Sticking through it
People that know me will know I certainly never let first impressions determine the future. And I can certainly admit when I am wrong about something. I am in this for the long haul. Because despite my feelings of reservation at the moment, I sure as hell am not packing up bags and boxes to move after only a year! No, we decided we were going to be more sensible and stay somewhere long enough to sow the seeds and reap the fruit. So that is what we will do!
Mariam at the Andthenwemovedto blog, wrote a brilliant article with tips on how to learn to love the new place you move to, which you can find here. I’ll certainly be following some of the tips I haven’t already been doing.
There are so many positives to living in Canada and I am excited to have the opportunity to experience it. I will approach this as I have my other moves. Be a tourist in the city, try and meet other British expats and try and exploit the benefits of a lifestyle in this country (aka the great outdoors) while we are here. What’s more, not all Canadian cities are like Toronto. I lived in Ottawa (the nation’s capital) before and adored it. Montreal is beautiful and is known for its European flair (why did I give up French in high school!). So who knows… maybe we’ll move within the country! haha
it’s early days, I know. And so I’ll continue on waiting and watching as our new adventure unfolds here. I also know I’m not the only expat out there that has ever felt lost, confused or disliked their new home and for that reason I wanted to share this. Because those that have been flexing that expat muscle for a while know that this life we lead is far from perfect.
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