March 2, 2009

Semi-quarterly report on life in Canada....

We've been temporary residents of Canada for almost five months. Some days it seems like five years - not in a bad way. It's just that our life has changed so much since October. In an early post we wrote about things we missed in the U.S. We've gotten used to life in Canada. Here's some random thoughts from the past five months...

• We can survive with two ice trays and no icemaker. We’ve made it this far. In a pinch, snow works - -as long as we’re certain to get it from a place Duke does not frequent.
• Winter is much more tolerable when it’s pretty outside and lots of activities like skiing. It is a long winter though.
• Canadians seem to know more about U.S. politics than most Americans.
• They don’t hand out good grades here – they are earned. An average mark is truly average. Where we came from it seemed like a “B” was average and everyone was on honor roll. Not the case in this part of Canada. Some exams are even sent to the Ministry of Education to be graded! Canadians say “marks” not “grades” and they “write” exams instead of “take” exams.
• We’re spending more time at home, which is good. Although, if the kids were involved in hockey, it might be a different story. Water polo four times a week and basketball for Louis is nothing compared to the schedule we kept in the U.S.
• We assume a business is closed over the weekend, unless it’s a major retail establishment. The bad side is, we have to be very patient when it comes to getting things done. We’re still impatient Americans.
• We're used to no drive thru ATMs and getting to know the people in the bank.
• Skiing has become a big part of our lives and we’re really enjoying it. We’ve had the opportunity to ski a lot here. The kids have moved from “pizza” to “French fries.” For skiers out there you know that’s moving from a snow plow to parallel. 
• We eat a lot less fast food because it’s not convenient. The only drive thru restaurants are the American ones like McDonalds, BK and Wendy’s. And they are few and far between. We love Tim Horton’s though.
• Canadians take the time out for meals. That’s a good thing. They sit down and eat rather than eating on the run – for the most part anyway. This likely accounts for the limited drive thrus. They really do take a lunch hour. Louis has a full hour for lunch and can home if mom wanted him to.
• Speaking of lunch – the kids both go to peanut free schools. When they’ve eaten PB&J for years, this has been a challenge. But we’ve found great alternatives and they have healthier lunches. Danielle’s school has a soup everyday and that’s it – everyone brings a sandwich. The PTA at Louis’ school offers Subway or pizza once a month. We refill a thermos and other containers rather than juice boxes and disposable bottles. Can’t think of the last time we purchased a water bottle.
• We’re much better about recycling.
• We’re getting used to military time.
• Kish wishes she paid more attention to those “metric system” math classes.
• Montreal police are as (un)friendly as Illinois police. But, they’re more fun to look at because they are supposed to be on strike and they wear these bright camo-type pants. Interesting. They don’t have a sense of humor either.
• A stop sign in the neighborhood is not just a suggestion according to the Montreal police. Kish found this out the hard way.
• While the economy is not that great in Canada either, most people seem to have been fiscally conservative all these years so it’s not affecting them as much. You don’t hear a lot about bank foreclosures here because they were not handing out wacky loans. The paperwork we had to deal with to buy our home was unbelievable. Yet, several banks reported profits recently. Imagine that…profits and no bailouts. Ironically, the economy in Canada really got dicey at the beginning of October -- just when the Pisani's arrived. How's that for timing? 
• Canadians tolerate taxes. High taxes. They don’t know any other way.
• A student can attend McGill – a university many say is on par with any Ivy League school – for around 3K/year. Hence, the high taxes. But still a good deal. We may look into Canadian citizenship for Danielle.
• In Quebec, all kids have to attend a French school unless they can prove they need to go to an English school – like in our case. If one parent was not educated in English, in north America, then the kids have to go to French school, regardless if they speak French or not when starting the school.
• In high school kids only take Quebec history in Grade 9 and Grade 10. In Grade 10 they take a written exam before they can move on to Grade 11. This year the class is only offered in French at Danielle's school and she's hanging in there. Fortunately, after a lot of parents complained, it will be offered in English as well next year. Hopefully if Danielle ever goes on Jeopardy there will be a Quebec history category. 
• Canadians don’t understand how the heck the U.S. manages without a universal healthcare program. We’re starting to wonder too after talking to people from different “first” world countries. Recently after a visit to the doctor with Louis, Kish waited in a long time at the receptionist desk to “check out” only to be told that there was nothing to check out – it was covered by medicare. While “free” it’s not really free, we know.
• Property taxes do not go toward school – that’s all covered by the federal and prudential government taxes. Property taxes and mortgage interest rates are not tax deductible. That's not good.
• You don’t see many big cars on the road.
• Canadians take vacations – and nice vacations. Most medical clinics have a traveler’s clinic where they can get vaccinations prior to going to “the islands.” At a recent physical, the doctor was surprised that Kish didn’t know when her last Hepatitis vaccination was. Apparently it’s a common vaccine in Canada because of “the islands.”
• Americans can go to Cuba via Canada. You can simply ask the Cuban customs guy to not stamp your passport. Canadians love Cuba – it’s supposed to be beautiful. We’re going to think about this trip…we’re adventurous but not that much. Plus, we have those passports with a chip in it – our luck we would be detained. But then again, that’s closed, right?
• Girls’ rugby is a big deal in Quebec. And the school team gets to go to places like New Brunswick for tournaments. Did you know they don’t wear pads or helmets? Yikes. 
• Most cars keep those car-top carriers on all year long. We found out recently it’s for transporting the stinky hockey gear – because they don’t have big cars and well, it’s stinky.
• We have not seen grass since early December. The snow just keeps accumulating.
• Very few people we know in Quebec go to church.
• Snow tires really are a good thing. Annoying to purchase and switch out, but a good thing.
• We’ve given up on finding good pizza. We have found awesome large pita though so we make our own. When in Quebec, do as the Quebecois do.
• It’s interesting checking out the curling scores and ratings in the paper.
• Crime rates are creeping up in Canada. Some attribute this factor to the number of guns making the way into the country. Legally owning a gun in Canada -- mainly for hunting -- comes with a lot of paperwork.
• Canadians are critical of their politicians too. We’ve learned a lot about politics from the Canadian comedy shows. It's confusing because there are so many parties. There's even a Pot party.
• We don’t know of any teenagers with cars. They all take public transportation. We have a bus route through the neighborhood and a train station walking distance away. It’s too bad more US cities don’t have this plan.
• Drinking age is 18 in Canada. It’s no big deal here, really. Kids can’t get a learner’s permit until they turn 16. Most don’t bother with driving until later anyway because of the other transportation options.
• There’s a province called Labrador in Canada. We want to go there just to say we’ve been. And take Duke

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