O Canada, My Home and Native Land

By Chris Mills on at

When I first started telling people I was moving from my hometown of London to Montreal, the only difference in the responses I started getting was the number of fingers people predicted I would lose to frostbite. But a few months on, I wish people had warned me about a few other things, too.

Excellent case in point: the buses. Montreal doesn't have a particularly amazing subway system (it's like the Tube, but all in French and with frequent power cuts). As a result, everyone who's anyone/doesn't own a car uses the buses to get everywhere. This shouldn't be a problem -- I'm from London, I know the basic concept of how a bus works.

Only, in Montreal, the buses don't open their doors automatically -- you have to press the button, then, when the bus comes to the stop, you put your hands on the door, and it opens. But I didn't realise the second bit, which is why on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I rode most of the Montreal bus system, becoming more and more worried that the real reason the bus driver wouldn't open the door is because he wanted to kidnap me. Or something.

Anyway, once I'd escaped the evil clutches of public transport, it came time to buy a 'cellphone'. Sadly, this isn't really possible in North America, unless you have Scrooge-esque piles of money just lying around. I know we like to whine a little in the UK about mobile phone providers -- especially when they jack prices up halfway through your two-year contract -- but really, the UK is a sunny 4G paradise by comparison.

Not only are Canada's cellphones ludicrously expensive -- I pay about £50 a month for a gig of data, and basically fuck-all else (want to leave me a voicemail? You can't, because I didn't want to pay $10 a month for the privilege of a mailbox) -- but it's all stupidly complicated. I can use my data allowance in certain areas of Quebec (Montreal, bascially), but elsewhere in my own province, or in Canada, I pay some kind of roaming rate so expensive that my tactic for dealing with the cell bill is to sit in the shower gently sobbing.

That said, when Montrealers want to complain about something, they at least make a decent hash of it. Whereas I think the most motivated I ever got about a cause in the UK was a strongly-worded Change.org petition, in the few months I've been here, I've already witnessed more protests (and more police violence) storming through the shopping district than you'll ever see in a lifetime of being a Londoner. That whole stereotype of Canadians being lovely, friendly people doesn't quite hold up when you're watching groups of them pepper-spraying each other.

One thing I do particularly miss is access to good alcohol. Not only have they not really heard of cider over here, but the only liquor stores allowed by law are a government-owned chain, SAQ, that seems to mostly stock a government-mandated range of Canadian-grown wine, a selection of novelty shots, and vodka for thirty quid a bottle.

And actually, whilst mentioning other bad cultural traditions: poutine. In case you're not aware, this is a Quebecois dish that involves taking a good meal (chips), and ruining it with the addition of gravy and cheese curds. The end result is basically what you find on the floor of the 24-hour McDonalds at 4am after a drunk person challenges you to finish five happy meals in one sitting.

That said, Canada's not all bad. Netflix is definitely more well-stocked over here; there's an amazing coffee chain called Tim Horton's that does a dozen doughnuts for quite literally less than a medium latte in London, and more importantly, the entire bloody place doesn't shut down every time there's a little bit of snow. Seriously -- over the last two days, Montreal's had more snow than London gets in a year, and the government's response has been to clear the pavement, rather than issue warnings about 'no travel unless absolutely necessary' whilst huddling under the duvet.

Chris Mills is a British expat who's moved to Canada ostensibly for tax reasons, but really just to gorge himself on maple-coated doghnuts and gravy-covered chips. You can follow him on Twitter, or catch up with his former life as a Gizmodo UK staffer here.

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Image Credit: Poutine from Shutterstock