My stay in Canada is sadly over. I have had the honour of being the first nine.ch employee – almost a pioneer – to travel to Canada’s vast expanses.
It was an impressive and fascinating time, during which I occasionally faced minor challenges, but which allowed me to grow as a person.
Canada is an entirely extraordinary country which has real similarities to Switzerland and which I quickly took into my heart. We’re familiar with the forests and the trees, the many rivers and lakes; both countries also share Western culture and its values. That makes settling down here very simple. Nonetheless, Canada also has singular characteristics which you have to get to know first. Here are a few examples – or as I like to say: “Tajno and the great big world in Canada.”
##Shopping To begin with, I explored the local supermarkets. The North American continent quickly and impressively makes it clear why these retail meccas are effectively called “super” markets. The stores are enormous and it’s easy to comprehend why Google has started indexing the buildings via Streetview. There have been a few times when I’ve would have liked to be able to type ”CTRL + F” to find something in the supermarket. Once you’ve got used to it a little you can find almost every product in the store you’ve just entered, thanks to the varied selection on offer.
I found a little bit of home in every larger supermarket in the form of Lindt chocolate bars. And although I’m not a massive fan of this brand, I have to confess that Canadian chocolate just isn’t on a par with ours. The same is true of cheese: it’s not that it was bad – in Canada you can buy good Canadian cheeses. Despite this, I still caught myself buying authentic Tilsiter, Gruyère and Emmental. Made in Switzerland, once again. By the way, organic produce in Canada is much more expensive than at home, for example 1 litre of organic cow’s milk costs around the equivalent of CHF 4.00.
##Local transport I also “got to know” local public transport. As the vast expanses of land in Canada imply, people here are used to having their own vehicle. This is clear from the prices too – here, a pickup costs around the same as a small car would cost back home. My first look around the neighbourhood streets confirmed my fears – in front of every house there were at least two cars. I knew it – without a car, I’m lost here.
And this was quickly confirmed. I learnt the differences between the public transport system in Switzerland and the system here more quickly than I thought I would. Outside peak times, which generally start earlier than in Zurich, the local bus leaves every 60-90 minutes. Bus shelters are the exception to the rule and this meant that waiting in -5 degree temperatures and drizzle was not exactly pleasurable. Bus stop signs are a challenge too, as they sometimes don’t even exist, or sometimes they are just marked out with a 5 cm board. Without my smartphone, I’d have been completely stranded. The few timetables on display were from 2013 and the online timetable hardly ever worked for journeys needing to be planned more than six hours in advance. There’s also the fact that bus drivers would often happily leave five minutes earlier or later. They’d also just drive straight past people who were waiting – it’s all part and parcel of the fact that Canadians just don’t need local public transport.
Generally speaking, the other passengers on the bus were all students, as the regional university is in Kelowna, which attracts a lot of students from the entire Okanagan region. In the mornings, there were also senior citizens and towards evening there were passengers who may have been tipsy but were always friendly.
##People I can confirm the truth of the statement that Canadians are the friendliest people in the world without reservation. The people here all interact with one another with a great deal of respect and friendliness. Despite being in a more populous region (Okanagan has approx. 300,000 inhabitants), I was sometimes greeted in the middle of the street.
I’ve got a few anecdotes on this subject from the beginning of my time in Canada: when out shopping, I was standing at the till with five full shopping bags. An older lady came up to me and asked me indignantly how I was planning to get home with all these bags. When I explained I was going to take the bus, she wasn’t at all pleased: “That’s not possible with all those bags! Where do you live? I wanna drive you home! No, you should not take the bus with that amount of bags!”. It look me a while to convince the lady to let me take the bus home. That was one of the many friendly gestures I experienced when in Canada. And I would have loved to take this friendliness home with me.
Here’s another anecdote: at the beginning of my stay, I of course got lost when on the bus and took a lovely 40 minute trip around half the city before I confessed to my humiliation and shamefacedly asked the bus driver for help. Expecting the usual grumpy reaction from the bus driver, I was treated to a surprise. The bus drivers are all extremely friendly and helpful. My bus driver explained everything I needed to know and she even wanted to drop me off at a crossroads where there wasn’t a bus stop. She also advised me to ask the bus driver if I ever had any questions. “Ask your driver” was the creed.
Another peculiarity I had to get used to was that when boarding the bus you say hello to the driver and when getting off you say thank you and goodbye. This seems to be the natural thing to do here, at first I wasn’t accustomed to it, then it became a pleasure! Every time I got off the bus, it was with a smile. Such a thing is fundamentally motivating, but I was still pleased to acquire my own car shortly afterwards.
##The surrounding area Without a doubt, to see anything outside the city, you need a car. In Canada, there are no buses which drive up every hill or into every village. Although Canada does have a long-distance bus system (Greyhounds), this “only” operates from city to city. So to see a bit more of the natural environment, a car was a must.
And that’s how I got to know the vastness of Canada and what that means: On a “day trip” I covered 900 kilometres in one day in the car, spent two hours paddling in a canoe in between and walked around 12 kilometres along the lakeshore. Presumably this was a successful, typically Canadian day. The vastness of the landscape and the untouched natural environment are unbelievably breathtaking. Several times, I stood there overwhelmed by the panorama of a mountain, a glade or a lake and enjoying the absolute calm, listening only to the birdsong or the rush of a waterfall, breathing in deeply. It’s moments like this that make Canada into the paradise we imagine it to be.
And that’s what I’m really going to miss about it. I’ve fallen in love with the vast forests and the endless opportunities to leave all your cares behind. The chance to clear your head, to be alone and to recharge your body with natural energy – that’s what I’ll miss when I’m back in Switzerland. I can completely understand why people emigrate to Canada. You can’t help but like this wonderful country, with its warm, friendly people and breathtaking nature where the feeling of wellbeing is instantaneous.
With a quiet, wistful “O Canada – Our Home and native land” (“Uu Kanata! nangmini nunavut!” in Inuktitut, the Eskimo language) I bid you goodbye and offer my thanks to you and nine.ch for a unique and unforgettable time.