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Monday, April 11, 2005

1:44 p.m. - Emigration rocks

Last week, a good friend of mine (one of those 28-year long friendships) asked me for my thoughts on emigration because her and her husband are thinking of relocating their family to climes more conducive to fun. I promised wholeheartedly to respond soon, then said I’d work on it over the weekend and post today.

So I suppose it is a great testament to the success of our emigration that I still haven’t had time to respond in a considered manner due to the fact I was busy gardening in sunny heat whilst it was snowing in Manchester on the weekend.

I was also gardening (again - and with still more to do – and that’s only one quarter of the garden finished) because of this great adventure we’ve embarked upon – building a house. Not to say that T and her family will go and build a house but just to make the point that it will take one hell of a long time to settle into a new world so you need to be prepared for the upheaval, and thinking, “that’s it, I’ve had enough of this”, on a regular basis. The point is, when you think about the traffic and the noise and the crime rates and the pokey houses, you’ll just know that you can’t go back to live in England. Even if really think you want to, you know it will do your head in to a worse degree.

So here’s an amalgamation of considered and non-considered babble that I got around to:

Location location location: I didn’t really get a choice where I moved to. When I married it was as good as standing on the runway at Manchester with my thumb out and a cardboard sign around my neck saying, “BC”. It just so happens that I hitched that ride with plenty of enthusiasm. Here’s my thoughs on choosing a place to move to:
a) Go there for a reason. For something that will make you and your children happy. For us it was the mountains and the space – the beach and the vineyards are a bonus.
b) Find a place that will improve your quality of life. Lower cost of living, less commuting time, a beneficial exchange rate. Imagine never having to worry money to the same extent. You (or one of you) will probably still have to work just to be able to eat and enjoy yourselves without eating up your savings too, but if the cost of living is less and you’re more secure in your finances, you can enjoy things more without worrying about redundancies, this month’s figures, increases in school fees. I’m not sure I’d feel quite the same about Canada if the struggle of life was equivalent or more than that in the UK.
c) Beasties: No matter how often I tell myself that I’ll probably never see a bear whilst I’m hiking, I know people who have so I usually carry a knife and will probably buy some pepper spray too. It’s considered to be kind of sad really – like wearing 5 season mountaineering boots and walking poles to go to Styal Mill Country Park – but it takes the fear away just a little bit. Where I would have gone camping wild without a thought back home I don’t think I could do it in Canada. I’m just not used to living in a country where there are things more powerful than unarmed humans and I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. It’s one of my main dislikes about Canada. I don’t really like the idea of snakes, scorpions or black widow spiders either so there’s that to consider when choosing a location (Australia).
d) Although tempting to move somewhere hot, I also like the fact that Canada has a winter. My friend in Australia says santa doesn’t have the same feeling when he’s sitting drinking from an ice-cold stubbie in his shades. The coastal lowlands here are a mild 0-8 degrees above freezing in the winter so I suppose thre’s parts of the US that are the same.
e) Politics – do you really want to be a part of George W’s world? At least Canadians are the global peacekeepers (even if their national sport – hockey – involves beating the living #### out of all the other countries players)

Finances: Have a job to go to when you get where you’re going or be confident of the employment market. Alternatively have lots and lots of money saved up. Employers are reluctant to hire immigrants partly because they want to look after their own and partly because locals know the safety laws, tax laws, markets etc. better than new immigrants. I was lucky enough to find a manager who positively discriminates towards Europeans. Check out what benefits you’d be entitled to on your arrival wherever. In Canada we were unable to claim any unemployment until we’d been in the country a year and had to pay for our medical insurance too (this is usually paid by an employers insurance plan or otherwise you have to prove you’ve been skint for a year before it’s paid for by the government). Our savings were whittled away in the first 9 months.

Home sickness: Mostly I miss people. So yes, T, you will miss your mum and the girls but you’ll make new friends and unlike me, you’re family are very likely to visit you which makes it all the more special. You’ll look forwards very much to showing them your new, improved world. Unlike me, you’ll be losing your number one babysitter after hubby and I’m imagining that will be hard for you (both). I also have to say that England ain’t all bad. I miss the history – castles, the old mills, the old English pub. History here is a 100 year old house that they’re about to tear down to build a shopping mall on top of, it’s an ancient fort (a few fence posts stuck in the ground), it’s the wild wild west ramshackle ranches and it’s Indian paintings in the forest. It’s history but it’s not my history. In the middle of summer here, I miss the lush green fields but then I remember that what makes them lush and green is the rain so I put my sunglasses on and go back to pruning the cacti. I also miss public transport and the ease with which, in England, one can walk from shop to shop without getting back in the car.

Belongings: Be prepared to sell your things or pay lots of money and time to have it moved. It took them 3 months (from the day of order to the day of arrival) to get our possessions to us in Canada. Do not use JM Campbell to move your stuff.

Culture Shock: Moving to Canada, the culture shock was not something immediately noticeable. It’s not like this is France and they eat completely different foods or India where religious beliefs and customs are different. Some of my expectations were shattered: they’re not as environmentally friendly as they think they are, all driving gas guzzling trucks and cutting down trees. The workplace is more like England in the 80’s – very unionized and, not so much high pressure, but aggressive (too close to the US) in that you’re more likely to have a blazing row at work than a “quiet, respectful chat”. These are things I’d never have found out from anywhere before I arrived and people probably have different hang-ups but so long as you’re prepared for hang-ups of some kind you’ll be OK. I find I have to remind myself to chill out and go with the flow a lot. It’s so easy in a negative situation to think, “Canada sucks” but then I just have to remember that, no it doesn’t, remember the M6 and M25 and look forward to my ride home through the vineyards.

The beurocracy is a killer and probably an essential part of every emigration. My forms took 2 hours Just to Check before I put them in the mail. On arrival here, I had to have an itemized list of everything I was importing. We had to privately insure our vehicle temporarily in one province for transportation across the country then insure it again (with a provincial government agency) in the province we moved to. I had to re-take my driving test after 13 years of driving in the UK (curse Britain for driving on the wrong side of the road). I couldn’t start my job without a social insurance number which took 2 weeks to process. I have to carry a medical insurance card at all times – even though it’s a government insurance plan. I have to carry a permanent resident card. Best of all, for some local government rules, success or failure depended on the office we visited or the government agent you talk to because actually I got my social insurance number in 2 days.

Credit: I’m not sure how I could’ve coped if my husband had not lived in Canada. I had no credit rating upon my arrival. The first thing you have to do is get a credit card from the bank and use it to get your credit rating. Without that, I couldn’t have got a phone, electricity at the house, a mortgage, a car loan, ANYTHING. If you have relatives anywhere in the world that you can stay with, that might be the best country for your family to move to.

Moving money: Don’t let anyone tell you the economy is global. Do not be fooled by HSBC’s claims that by 9:00 am you can wire funds to wherever. Expect to take 2 weeks to get HSBC UK to transferr money to HSBC in a different country. Even if the account’s in the same name and the same currency in both countries. DO not listen to your bank when they say it won’t be a problem. Make them give you authorization forms to take fax instructions – otherwise they want a letter. The twin towers incident ruined lives globally.

Start early: It took me 9 months to get my Canadian visa sorted and I was married to a Canadian. As far as I know you don’t have any family ties to affiliate you to a particular country except Scotland and last time I went, there was no border guard on the M6 (or is it the M74 – my GOD I can’t remember!). That means you’ll probably have to convince some government that you’re a) happily married and b) worthy of membership of their society. You’ll have to jump through hoops, collect points, stamps and anything else. Some countries require a bond of $10,000 (Australia). The sooner you start research the better – and start saving the pennies. Immigration isn’t cheap.

Living the Good Life: Tom and Barbara made it look easy.

Tom & Barb - childhood icons
(c) Andy Click on photo for a larger image
We had a great plan to be self sufficient, rent a house out to pay for the semi-retired lifestyle. There was I, about to become a mountain guide and gardener in my spare time. But no. 3 months working as a ski instructor and I knew I wanted to ski for fun, not for a measly salary. I wasn’t so good at it. I’m not enough of a lovie or a party-animal and my husband couldn't afford to slide into insignificance so, we went back to the real world. You might not believe it now but work DOES add value to your life. Imagine stopping at the age of 30. OK, fine. Seems great huh? But now think of all the money you won’t make between now and 50. Money isn’t everything but being able to go out for a meal when you can’t face the washing up and being able to afford those little extras like haircuts, holidays and a bottle of wine is everything. As far as the actual practical view on gardening (if you want to build yourself a “patch”), watch this space. I started digging my lawn in November!

Relationship challenges: Your marriage needs to be sound because you will feel like screaming at eachother and throwing in the towel and everyone will be adjusting in their own ways and at their own paces. There will be times when you want to run home to your mum or your friends but you can’t. When there’s nowhere else to go. Don’t ever take to living in a caravan because when the only other room is the bathroom it’s really no fun.

Moving to Canada has been a real experience for me. I had some really bad, dark moments because I felt isolated. Getting back to work and expanding my range of friends has really helped. I’ve had to take on new things and stop doing old things that I’ve been doing for years (Oh OK bike racing) and the withdrawl’s been crippling but you have to get on with life right? On the other hand, there’s 4000ft mountains within spitting distance. I don’t need to leave the city to see a bald eagle sitting in the tree and last night a pair of Golden Eagles flew over the house whilst we were in the hot tub. I’ve watched a female Osprey feed her young with fish I watched her catch in the lake. I was a volunteer at the Canadian Ironman race. I helped my community raise money to build an old-folks home in the village and maintain the parks and rec and provide a youth centre near the beach. I get 275 hours bright sunshine during August. You had 466 all summer in Manchester. So I know where I’d rather be. Here, getting whinged at by my “employees” and looking out the window at snow on the mountains, knowing that at 4:30 tonight I’ll be cracking open a can of cheaper-than-England Old Speckled Hen ale and admiring the builder’s tiling work in the kitchen.

Hope this helps.x

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