I’m a newbie expat. I have moved once; from the UK to Toronto just over a year ago. It is my first experience living abroad. When I speak to well-travelled expats who have lived in what sounds like a zillion different countries, I am seriously impressed and in awe. Part of me would love a lifestyle so exciting – full of travel and experiences in new places. The other part of me thinks the whole thing is completely terrifying – having to pack up every other year, resettle, make new friends and maybe even learn a new language; time after time after time. My hat goes off to those individuals and families who take that huge leap.
I’m awful at languages. Despite learning German and Spanish (admittedly, poorly) whilst at school, plus some Slovakian during a 3-month stint in Eastern Europe, I can now only speak about three words in each language. When I found out we were moving to Canada, I was secretly quite relieved by the fact it is largely an English speaking country. But then again, I think that was exactly what tricked me the most. The lack of language barrier – the idea that culturally the UK and Canada aren’t that different. This fact sent me flying, spiraling through the air but landing in a bit of a heap when I arrived on ‘Torontonian’ soil.
Over on Scribbles from Overseas, I blog a lot about the challenges and struggles of settling into a new place. One slightly more amusing chapter of my story, has been the subtle, but definitely apparent differences in lifestyle and language. Words like trousers in the UK are pants in Canada (pants, by the way, are underwear in the UK), crisps are chips, sweets are candy, petrol is gas, etc.
These all feel like rather minor little differences now. I’m used to them. It even feels more natural to call the tube the subway than the subway the tube. But every now and then words do crop up in a conversation which leave me flailing my arms around, trying to give elaborate descriptions of everyday objects unfamiliar to my host citizens. The ones that pop to mind are TV aerial (antenna) and Blue Tac (yet to learn Canadian equivalent).
Another thing I find bizarre is that my accent has changed. It hasn’t changed to contain traces of Canadian twang as you might expect (although I think ‘ey’ has slipped into my vocabulary), but has rather turned into a more southern British accent. My detective skills have determined this is due to my typically rather sloppy accent – dropping ‘T’s, speaking quickly, and containing a jumble of midlands and south-west English dialect. People just don’t understand me. It’s not uncommon for me to repeat sentences to be understood. Hence why I have to force myself to speak slowly and, generally, in a much shinier Queen’s English kind of way.
There are little things here that still catch me out. People consider it rude to ask where the toilet is – it’s called a ‘bathroom here’. I’ve also found myself in a heated discussion over the correct definition of a turnip. Thankfully, my experiences of the differences between British and Canadian English have never amounted to severe embarrassment, rather more sideways glances and befuddled looks. A girl I know here, also a UK expat, told me a story when she first started her job. She innocently asked her co-worker if she could borrow a rubber. Her office roared with laughter. For any confused readers, a rubber in the UK is an eraser. In Canada it means a condom. Hence the pink cheeked awkwardness!
All in all my experience in Toronto continues to be colored with wonderful experience.Language has erred more on the side of comical differences rather than barriers., If you are moving to a ‘same language’ country don’t fall into the trap of expecting things to be similar to home and then feeling very homesick when they aren’t!
Sarah Hunter moved from the UK to Toronto just over a year ago - following her partner and his work across 'the pond'. She currently works in an administrative role in the city, however, spends her days dreaming of becoming an established writer. She used the opportunity of moving abroad to start her own blog - Scribbles From Overseas.