Third Culture Christmas

Third Culture Christmas is a guest post I sent to Tall Blonde Tales for Blogmas! Here it is in all its glory!

I am a Third Culture Kid, which means that before I was 18, I lived in countries other than one of my parents’ nationalities. I have lived in France, Switzerland, the UK, the USA, and now I’m currently in Canada. People ask me what Christmas traditions have I picked up from my life of diverse cultural exposure? Read on to find out!

French Traditions:

I was too young to remember living in France, but my parents still taught me French culture after we moved to the USA. One of my early memories was being confused about how Santa arrived with presents. In France, when Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve, he arrives on a donkey, not a sleigh. As I got older, there are three French foods that we have had at Christmas, depending on availability and quality expected. 

Bûche de Noël or Yule log, is one of our favourites! France is one of those cultures that observes the Feast of the Kings on Twelfth Night. A common dessert is the Galette de Rois. There is no proper English translation for the galette, but you can look it up here: Galette des Rois: A Sweet French Tradition – FAYLI

I sometimes have the galette for my birthday cake because my birthday falls within the twelve days of Christmas! When I moved to Canada, I was ecstatic to find authentic Bûche de Noël and Galette de Rois at a French patisserie! Another food that my family enjoys is foie gras, but availability depends on where you live. The last time I had foie gras at Christmas was when I lived in England! 

English Traditions:

On that note, I have had some memorable food while living in London, England! My family attempted a Christmas pudding a few times. I loved lighting it and watching the alcohol burn off! I found it hard to eat though since it’s soaked in so much booze. One year, my family had a goose for Christmas. It was incredible! Goose fat adds a certain special flavour to food, and it reminded me of French food. I haven’t had a goose since leaving England, but I will never forget how incredible it is!

One story that is always told in England around Christmas is the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. When World War I started in 1914, the soldiers were all told they would be home by Christmas. When that didn’t happen, British, French and German soldiers laid down their weapons and had fun together. This happened all along the Western Front. The saddest part was all the men who engaged in the truce were censured severely and the generals tried to cover it up. I personally think it was a beautiful act of fraternity, peace, love and cultural sensitivity.

I have seen cartoons, advertisements and other things that commemorate the Christmas Truce. One of the movies I see during the Christmas season is Joyeux Noël, which is the story of the Christmas Truce. You can read more about the movie here: Joyeux Noel (2005) – Plot Summary. Even though I don’t live in England anymore, I still have a little remembrance of the Christmas Truce.

The Christmas Pantomime:

I wanted to give an extra special shoutout to an English Christmas tradition: The Christmas Pantomime. If you are ever in the UK in December or January, see if you can go to a Christmas panto! I personally recommend the ones at the small theatres rather than the large ones. The small theatres feel more personal and there is a lot of audience participation in the Christmas panto. I was part of a community theatre and I did two Christmas pantos. I played Dick Whittington’s cat when I was 12, which was the best role I ever had! Makes me feel like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet! 

A bit of history. The panto originated out of the Commedia dell’Arte, which was a popular theatre tradition in Europe for 200 years. It really is worth learning about, and pantos have classic scenes that are right out of the Commedia dell’Arte. For instance, there is the cooking scene and the school scene. Also, the principal boy is played by a woman and the dame is played by a man. 

One thing that my parents and I realized is that colonization of the Americas was happening at the same time as the Commedia dell’Arte. The Puritans, who were against the arts for religious reasons, were among the first settlers in what is now the USA. So, the panto tradition never crossed the Atlantic. My parents and I have had discussions about whether the panto can become an accepted theatre tradition in the USA. We have certainly found distinct cultural differences between American and English humour. I could write an entire post about the panto tradition and this particular historical significance, but I will stop right here.

American Traditions:

I moved to the USA when I was two years old. At the time, my parents didn’t know if we would ever live in another country again. But what my Mum did was collect Christmas stories from wherever we travelled and lived and put them in a binder that we would read every Christmas. We continue to read those stories, even though we have now lived in five countries. The stories include classics like The Gift of the Magi, to more current stories.

A few years after we repatriated to the USA after living in London, we decided to go to Yosemite National Park for Christmas. We arrived there at the Winter Solstice, and there happened to be a full moon then! That doesn’t happen often. Ansel Adams photographed a full moon at Yosemite at the Winter Solstice, right when it was over Half Dome (which is an iconic feature of Yosemite). We had to stay pretty late to see the full moon over Half Dome. I tried to take a photo, but I didn’t do it justice. The park was abuzz with people trying to see what Ansel Adams saw when he took his iconic photos.

photo of snow capped mountain under blue night sky

Photo by Ian Beckley on Pexels.com

Canadian Traditions:

I was in for a couple of Christmas surprises when I moved to Canada. I became a huge fan of Canadian comedy, and their holiday comedy is cathartic when dealing with holiday stress. Our political and new satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes has some incredible holiday sketches on YouTube. Since Canada has long winters, we have to have something to keep us entertained. Canadian Christmas comedy is a great way to decompress. Here’s one of my favourite videos to laugh at Christmas stress:

Christmas Light displays are hugely popular in Canada as well. I am already getting notifications about light displays at the zoo, and malls! My city has a river walk that you can do to see all these light displays. Additionally, they have a site where they list houses that have light displays that you can walk or drive by to see. Even if it’s not Christmas, I have noticed there is a real love of light, especially in the winter.

person walks outdoor during night

Photo by David Guerrero on Pexels.com

Other Traditions:

I got to know a lot of Russians while I was living in London. I learned that Russian Christmas is generally celebrated on January 6th or 7th, depending on the Orthodox calendar. New Year is more popular in Russia than Christmas though. It used to be on a different date from January 1st, but then it changed to meet more Western standards. So, I have heard things about Old New Year, versus New New Year. Additionally, one Russian saying is that you will spend the New Year the way you meet it (Как Новый год встретишь, так его и проведешь). Yes, I speak Russian, but that’s not the point. Because of that saying, Russians have some cultural practices to help them meet the New Year ready for a fresh start. 

You can find this movie called The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! on YouTube. It’s a Russian New Year comedy made in 1975, and it showcases traditions for Russian New Year. It has English subtitles, so don’t worry about not understanding it. Although to be fair, I started watching it when I was first learning Russian, and I was still able to pick up the story by watching what the actors were doing. Whenever I remember watching the comedy for New Year, I do so. Plus, I still believe that you do spend the New Year the way you meet it, although some things you have to take with a grain of salt.

No matter where I am in the world, nothing makes me happier than a white Christmas! I have always loved snow as a kid and that has never gone away! That’s a Christmas tradition that is universal for me!

Merry Christmas/Joyeux Noël/с Рождеством! Happy New Year/Bonne Année/с Новым Годом!

Winter: London vs. Calgary

I get so many questions about what winter has been like in Calgary compared to London, so I decided to write everything about it down. That way, if anyone asks me, I can be like, “See my blog post!”

Did You Know?

London and Calgary are both 52 degrees north. I’m not kidding. The fact they are both so different just shows me how our world is unique and beautiful! It hit me that I was going that far north again when I was flying from YVR to YYC. The plane was flying north for more than half the flight and I thought, “Okay, this is real!” So, what are the differences in winter between London and Calgary? Read on to find out!

Sunrise, Sunset:

I looked up differences between sunrise and sunset times in London and compared them to Calgary. It just seemed a little off compared to what I knew in London. The sun rises and sets a half-hour later in Calgary. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma why that is if they are both 52 degrees north.

Before I moved to Calgary, I mentioned to a friend of mine here how I struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder in London. My friend recommended buying special lightbulbs, aka SAD lights. It was like this moment in Legally Blonde.

I'm sorry. I just hallucinated.

How could I have grown up in London and NEVER found out about this?! I don’t think SAD lights are a thing there! Talk about a stiff upper lip. Lol.

During my quarantine period after moving here (see my Quarantine Diaries I and II), the clocks went back. There was no way I was waking up before 8 am! I then went to Canadian Tire (which I love more than Home Depot) and got some SAD lights. Voila! Cleared my fatigue right up!

As I got older in London, SAD got worse for me. It didn’t matter what I did (walks, Vitamin D, etc). Nothing worked. I got to the point I couldn’t stand another English winter and moved to Sunny California! My thing to say was, “Ask me if I miss London!” So, you can imagine how pissed off I was to know that the constant fatigue I felt in London could have been remedied with SAD lights!

Temperatures and Humidity:

Zero degrees Celsius in England? More like Absolute Zero. Yep, the humidity was such that I could feel the cold cut through me. I knew people in England who would buy cold-weather clothes from other countries because what they had in England was not sufficient. Don’t even get me started on shoes. When someone in England says it’s cold, believe it. I read Canada by Mike Myers, and he described the cold as bone-chilling. Okay, it says a lot if a Canadian describes English temperatures as bone-chilling. I knew people from other cold-weather climates think it was much colder in London than it actually was.

On the bright side, I became a big tea drinker. Nothing like a cup of tea to warm me from the inside out. No wonder that became a cultural thing! Here in Calgary, sometimes the heat in my apartment can be too much because it’s not humid. In London, it would be sheer bliss!

Dealing with Snow:

In February 2009, there was a massive snow dump of 8 inches in London (more in other parts). I kid you not, the city completely shut down. It was fun to get a couple of days off, but it made the UK look like a laughing stock to other countries. I mean, it’s not LA. You would expect the largest city above 50 degrees north to not shut down over a little snow, but it did. It snowed some more the following year and things were only slightly better.

That wasn’t even the whole story. People didn’t know how to shovel their front walk or said they wouldn’t do it because they were afraid of being sued for doing it wrong. So many people ended up in emergency rooms with broken bones because of it. My Mum ended up being one of them. She blamed herself because she didn’t grow up around snow. I don’t think she was to blame. It can happen to anyone. It’s even more likely if your country doesn’t handle snow properly. Our friends who were from northerly climates were the most sympathetic about what happened.

I reached the end of my rope with London when it came to snow. Plus, it knocked the confidence I had from living in snowy climates. Therefore, I was rather dubious about ever living in a snowy climate again. It took me a while to get my snow confidence in Calgary, but it did come back. If anything, I have learned more here than I did in other snowy climates, but that’s a whole other post. I will say this though, I wasn’t expecting to feel like hibernating when the temperatures were the lowest in February.

Staying Physically and Emotionally Healthy:

I didn’t know what it was like to be really sick with a cold or flu until I moved to London. After that, I just accepted the fact my immunity was bad. Even though I did everything I could to boost my immunity, it didn’t work. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I realized my body was feeling like it was constantly fighting infection. I don’t know what it was about England that made my immunity worse, but I know I wasn’t unusual. I knew other people who moved to England and felt it impacted their health. The most famous example is Srinivasa Ramanujan who died of tuberculosis after living in England. It’s not usually that extreme though and everyone is different. In contrast, I felt like my health got better in Calgary.

I have noticed big cultural differences in other factors like obtaining good quality fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods, and winter activities. It almost surprised me how good produce is readily available in Calgary. Plus, I feel like the level of food quality is higher overall than both the US and UK. Even though I haven’t participated in winter activities in Canada just yet, I am excited about doing so! I noticed that in London, there weren’t any activities that I could label as “winter activities” like they do in more Arctic climates. It makes me wonder how that impacts well-being too.

Overall, I would say that Calgary winter is much better for me. My tricks for combating SAD work. I have had to get my mind around the fact that it’s actually really sunny here. I don’t think I am really built for England. What do you think about what I said about my winter comparissons?

Fifth Month Theme: Spring? What? Confusion All Around!

This is my weirdest month so far! Plus, I had some culture shock going on. Read on to find out more!

What is Spring Like?

How do I answer this? People ask me about spring, but I can’t give direct answers. The best I can do is send photos. The river started melting and I got snaps of its progress. I’ve included ones from last month to show the progress. I feel like sometimes I’m snapping the receding ice shelf in Greenland.

February 15:

February 28:

March 10, 13:

There was a big melt and we decided to call it the Canadian Slush Fund. Then it froze when the temperature dropped. At least the city cleaned it up so it wasn’t so slippery. 

After the big melt, grass shoots started growing! We were stroking them lovingly. I didn’t realize how much I was craving the sight of green, living things. Although, my favourite shirt to wear at the moment is green with flowers and paisley. Plus, when I went to get some clothes for warmer weather, I gravitated to ones with flowers on them. Now I know to get house plants next winter. Evergreen doesn’t satisfy my needs for seeing green, living things because let’s face it, sometimes it doesn’t look green.

What can I say about the temperature? It gets erratic. The hottest it’s got is just between 10 and 20 degrees C, which is typical for cold weather in California. Then all of a sudden, it’s subzero again. At no other time has the phrase, “Don’t like the weather? Wait 20 minutes.” been more applicable.

It makes me laugh how there’s “spring” here just like there’s “winter” in California. One minute, I am walking in the sun, getting warm weather clothes, seeing grass shoots and nesting birds. The next minute, it’s plunged into snow! 

How do I Feel About Snow Now?

This video sums it up. I’m going to watch comedy until spring comes back!

My feet are a mess after shoving them into boots for five months. I am glad I used to be a ballet dancer though because I know how to take care of my feet. However, I have had to change up how I take care of my feet and I am still learning. Does anyone have any tips for that? I am so glad I got a footbath for my birthday! Right now, I feel like I need a major pedicure. Recently, I saw a comedy skit that talked about winter foot. Okay, too much!

I have been making a point of staying warm during these erratic temperatures so that I don’t weaken my immune system. I will be getting the COVID-19 shot in either May or June. Yes, I have pandemic fatigue, but I keep telling myself I need to hold on just a bit longer. 

A few days ago, I woke up, saw it had snowed and said, “I knew it!” I said it while laughing but felt annoyed too. Sometimes, I am quoting the above video so I end up saying, “Oh F**K!!” I took a photo of the snow, sent it to my friends with the following caption:

I did not photoshop this!

And Now:

I am writing this when there are warnings for both high wind and a snow squall for the next 24 hours. I hope this is just March going out like a lion. One thing has made my month. I found Cadbury Creme Eggs! They made my Easter back in England and it’s been 8 years since I have had them! Sugar binge!

It helps to laugh at this situation though. I have heard this season being described as “After Winter” or “False Hope”. I have created responses to the question “Is it spring?” according to how certain politicians would spin it. It’s all in good fun. When you get a situation where you don’t know how to answer, it’s funny to remember people actually make this their existence. I heard this is the warmest year on record, so sometimes I wonder if I am in for a shock next year?

Some Things to Look Forward To:

Once my feet recover a bit and the warm weather stabilizes, I am going to get out more and enjoy nature. The other day, I was in NW Calgary near the Bow River. I don’t see as much of the Bow River as I would like. I frequent the Elbow River more. Anyway, I saw what I think was a hawk there! It was hard to see or get a good photo of it. Plus, I heard a lot of geese and ducks calling. The Bow looked really beautiful at this time when the ice was melting.

I want to explore more of the Bow River. Plus, I hear that bald eagles are starting to next at certain points of the Bow. Additionally, golden eagles will be migrating back to Alberta soon, and I want to see them too. Watch this space!

Immigration Was Weird Too:

I applied to extend my stay here this month. This is the first time I have had to deal with immigration paperwork completely online. When I applied for UK citizenship, I did it on paper. It was only a couple of years after the first iPhone came out. Life was just starting to go digital, but the Home Office hadn’t caught on yet. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer pen and paper.

Since my Mum and I were applying together, we had a joint online application. We had to apply to extend our stay 30 days before our status expired. It was over a month ago when we started preparing our documents. Then, all of a sudden, the system wouldn’t let me upload my application form. I tried different solutions to figure out what was wrong. I must have refilled my application several times and checked it over several times a day. Anyone who knows me knows nothing gets me testier and worked up like immigration paperwork. Every day, I reached an impasse. We tried to find out how to do a paper application, but the IRCC website was super cryptic. Plus, the IRCC has to grant you permission to do a paper application. It didn’t help to email them or call them either. 

I didn’t think to Google the answer. I assumed because it was a secure system that tips for applying online weren’t allowed to get posted on the internet. Then, the last day to apply came around and we were just about to give up the online application and send a paper application by courier. Out of desperation, I Googled it and realized I had ticked the wrong box on my form! The relief!

And Another Thing About Immigration:

I know six-month cut-offs for certain visas are a common theme around the world. Here’s why I hate it. It’s like governments know that around the six-month point, you’re likely reaching a low point with adjusting to a culture. Therefore, they require you to apply to extend your stay when you’re already under a lot of pressure. I knew in February that I was going to hit that low soon. It hit me when we were struggling to apply to extend our stay. Fortunately, it’s not the first time I have been through this, and my Mum was supportive. She let me vent, cry and have some time to chill. Then, the next morning, she asked me, “What happened?” That question was a great way to unpack everything. I’ll be doing the same for her someday.

Right now, I’m not ready to say exactly what happened, but I will do a post on how to survive that culture shock dip. In the meantime, I’m going to eat some Cadbury Creme Eggs and watch Canadian comedy while waiting for the weather to pass.

Women’s History Month 2021: One Letdown After Another

Hi everyone, I have been feeling the need to vent about gender inequality of late. The pandemic has exposed rampant discrimination towards women and there have been SO many failures especially during Women’s History Month.

One thing I wanted to mention is I changed my site from UCan2 to Third Culture Kid Can in case you got confused. It’s still me!

Note: I am going to share my own personal experiences of discrimination, particularly as an expat.

Content Warning: Gender and racial-based violence.

Harry and Meghan Interview with Oprah:

After living in England for 13 years, I could write an entire post about the Royal Family. I can say where I was when (insert here) happened. Let me give a summary here. The interview confirmed what I already knew about the Royal Family. Combine Wallace Simpson with Princess Diana. Add a dose of racism. Voila! The racism part was only new in the sense that it’s a new tune than it’s been. After all, no person of colour has ever married into the Royal Family before.

In case you missed the interview, here’s a link: http://box720p.com/play.php?movie=tt141172ttttt88

I was able to see what my friends in England were posting on Facebook about the impending nuptials. There were articles that weren’t making it into international news. My friends were commenting on how disgustingly racist and xenophobic those articles were. The bottom line of our views was, “It’s the 21st century! Stop this crap!” I hope someday, racist and xenophobic media lose their credibility. This interview exposed what media sources we shouldn’t trust. Look for the temper tantrums and ignore the source for good!

My American friends know that I am seriously disillusioned with the Royal Family. One of my friends told me, “I watched Harry and Meghan’s wedding.” I said, “Okay.” That was the end of that conversation. I don’t mind hearing about the Royal Family per se. People know that I only talk about them if I want to talk about them. It’s a mixed bag for me. I do keep up with what’s going on in the UK because it is my passport country. On the other hand, you can only hear so much about the Royal Family. Although, these days I feel it’s important to have these conversations, especially after the interview.

Sexual Harassment Statistics in the UK:

UN Women UK released a statistic that 97% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed. I’m one of them and I certainly believe it when they say how rampant it is. Please note, the following is my own personal experience, but I honestly believe I am not the only one who has experienced these types of harassment. I am talking about this because this is NOT okay!

I was a pre-teen when I moved to London. Within my first year, I had to be careful of what I said or did. I could just be minding my own business, and somehow that showed a guy I was into him and he would totally hit on me! This happened so frequently and it confused me terribly. I was going through culture shock at the same time. I found myself wondering, “Is this normal in England? Or is it normal everywhere?” I didn’t tell my parents what was going on because the shame was overwhelming!

Fortunately, my Mum figured out what was going on. One time at school, this boy in my class called me a “Stupid American Bitch”. I didn’t even know what that word meant at the time. My Mum called the school to yell at them and eventually pulled me out! Later on, she noticed guys would make eyes at me and she would give them dirty looks.

I went to a girls’ school for a while because I didn’t want to deal with boys. It wasn’t any better because they were bullies in their own way. Plus, they just accepted sexual harassment from boys and men as normal and I didn’t. I developed the attitude, “I don’t care if this is culturally acceptable! This is not okay!”

It Never Got Better:

As I got older and began to look more like a woman, the harassment came thick and fast. Guys kept making eyes at me or whistling at me whenever I was out. I was walking down my street and I got hit on SIX TIMES by SIX DIFFERENT MEN! I turned around and went home ready to punch any guy that hit on me again!

One time, I was at the pharmacy picking up medicine for my Mum and the guy serving me hit on me! I refused to go to that pharmacy again. Another time, this homeless guy grabbed me after he asked me for money. Fortunately, I broke free and ran away! There were a lot more incidents where that came from.

The only support I could rely on was my Mum. My friends told me I should be flattered that I get hit on so much. I developed my own survival skills. If anyone tried to stop me in the street, I would either outright ignore them, or yell, “NO!” before they had a chance to say anything. I know now that sometimes, it was rude because the person meant no harm. On the other hand, I was traumatized. I developed my “DON’T MESS WITH ME” look and used it all the time when I was out.

Then I Started Working As A Chef:

Sexual harassment got absolutely brutal once I entered the workplace! Plus, being in a kitchen where there are hot and sharp things, you fear for your safety if you speak up. One time, I used physical force on a guy who was sexually harassing me at work, and who got disciplinary action? Me. By now, I was on medication for panic attacks. The trauma from harassment had compounded after several years. I eventually stopped working as a chef because I learned sexual harassment and assault is an occupational hazard for female chefs.

Here’s one of the biggest ironies I learned. The most significant change I had made as a teenager was to dress in bulky clothes and look ugly. Okay, I know now it’s an outdated view that women’s clothes provoke men. I thought the people who were slut-shaming me were right. I’m not saying they were right, but I will say this. Dressing down definitely reduced the number of street harassment incidents I experienced. I was willing to do it as long as it happened less.

Trouble is, I HATE wearing bulky clothes all the time! It makes my body hurt and sometimes, I just wanted to wear a dress or take my sweater off or something. I mean, come on! Just let women wear what they want! Their clothing is NOT their consent! When I moved to California, I started to relax more with my clothing.

After I was sexually harassed at work, I knew the clothes assumption was wrong. I wore chef whites like everyone else and I was still harassed! Now, I just wear what I want. I have my own style and I’m proud of it!

When I Repatriated:

I learned the hard way how American guys were toxic. Culture definitely influences toxic behaviour patterns in people. I was used to how guys were toxic in England. Guys in America seemed to have a more violent side to their toxic behaviour. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that guns are legal in the US.

Additionally, it was surprising to me to learn that women in the US are far more supportive of each other than in the UK. It was hard for me to develop close female friendships in the UK. Plus, I feel women in the US are aware of how toxic men can be, and they know they have to stick up for each other. I was in two abusive relationships after I repatriated. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire for me. Fortunately, I learned to develop close female friendships and that helped me heal. I don’t like Madeline Albright per se, but her quote that I used for my post is so right!

I decided to apply to go to Mills College in Oakland because I needed a safe place to continue healing. It worked! It was the best decision I could have made and it has set me up with a lot of skills for life. That was why I was so upset when my senior year got cut short because of the pandemic. See my previous post, COVID-19: One Year On. What’s My Story?

And Then This Past Week Happened:

Last Tuesday, there the shootings in Atlanta happened where six Asian sex workers were killed. When the domestic terrorist blamed his violent actions on his sex addiction, uh no. Just no! Other people deal with addiction and they aren’t out and about shooting people. Also, yellow fever much? I thought this was about the worst it could get with Women’s History Month. I was wrong.

The next day, I got an announcement that my beloved Alma Mater is going to close. I was inconsolable. I know that universities have been suffering because of the pandemic, but Mills was suffering financially even before the pandemic. The amount of information I have about why Mills is closing is a whole other post. Basically, Mills was in financial trouble a few years ago. Therefore, the vultures descended and finished the school off. I have been getting information the last few days that makes me angry and sad and hurt that the president and Board of Trustees have killed Mills. It’s like in Guardians of the Galaxy when Rocket yells, “You killed Groot!”

I am working to fight against this along with other alums. To me, Mills is forever! Plus, after all the crap that has happened during Women’s History Month, Mills’ work is FAR from done! Mills closing is just another reason why I never want to live in the US again. Someone said to me that it’s super expensive to live in the Bay Area now and he doesn’t see how any school can survive there long-term anymore. I definitely agree. Income inequality is through the roof there and it’s hard to see it getting better any time soon!

Okay, rant over. What are your thoughts on Women’s History Month this year and progress on women’s rights?

Finances: Part II- In Transition

Hey everyone! I just wanted to say before starting this post that I have had trouble with my self-hosted website system. So, thanks to those who have notified me about not being able to interact on my blog. I will be switching to a new host soon, so bear with me! Fingers crossed it works out this time!

This is a continuation of my posts on expat finances. I am learning a lot as I go, especially now that I’m an adult and have more financial responsibility than I did when I previously moved to another country. See my previous post Finances: Part I- The Basics for my first post on this subject. Now, without further ado, let’s bust these money taboos!

Previous Experiences:

I was really young with my first two international moves. However, when I was old enough, my parents told me stories of their money experiences while transitioning and adjusting to a new culture.

When I repatriated to the US, things were relatively easy for me. I didn’t have assets in the UK, so I decided to move all my money to the US. Additionally, the exchange rates were favourable between the US Dollar and the Pound Sterling at that time. 

Financially Transitioning to A New Country:

There is a common misconception that Third Culture Kids are wealthy because of their mobile lifestyle. Family wealth is not always a factor in being able to move overseas. There are a variety of factors that make a mobile lifestyle possible. Companies can pay expenses for transitioning overseas, and include other perks for expats, so that’s a big deal. Additionally, it depends on where you are moving and how you move. Believe me, moving across an ocean and most, or all of another country can really compound the costs of moving. Plus, everyone’s situation is different, and people handle money differently.

As an example, I had to cancel my cell phone number in England before I moved. So far, I have been able to keep my US number while living in Canada. I had to upgrade my cell phone plan to allow calls within Canada and also be able to call the US when I have needed to do so. My initial plan was to change to a Canadian cell phone number after a month. However, Canada has some of the most expensive cell phone plans of any country, and I still have to make calls to the US now and then. I decided to keep my US cell phone number for a little while until I feel more financially stable.

Open A Bank Account Before or After Moving?

That’s a critical decision. When I moved to the US, there was no urgent need for me to have money there, so I waited until after I moved to open a bank account. However, with moving to Canada during the pandemic, I knew that I would have to quarantine for two weeks and I needed to be sure I had a bank account there. My Mum decided to wait to open one until after we arrived.

I bank with HSBC, so I was able to set up a bank account in Canada to be ready for when I got there. I had to go through an application and setup process that took some time, but it was worth it. Plus, I was able to sort out any problems before I moved! On the other hand, I couldn’t get a debit card for the account until I had arrived in Canada. After quarantine, I had to go to my branch to sign a couple more papers, and then I could get a debit card.

We realized later that I had the right idea all along. Additionally, we learned that the finances with moving to another country never really end, and it’s too much for one person to bear. Mum decided to take on extra tasks with moving so that I would have more bandwidth to deal with the finances. The reason why the situation ultimately worked out was that my Mum and I communicate well. 

Striking A Balance:

When you’re in transition, it’s not a time to cut corners. If you need to pay for something, suck it up and do it! I’ve had to pay more for my US cell phone plan, but so what? It works here in Canada and that’s all I ask! Plus, in my Quarantine Diaries Week 1 and Week 2, I talked about my Mum and I not getting our mattresses from Overstock. I caved and ordered them from Amazon because we had been sleeping on the floor for NINE days! We needed mattresses so badly we didn’t care about buying them again. Overstock delivered the mattresses a month later.

At the same time, unimportant costs can add up. As I said in my Finances Part I post, you are one decision away from making a financial mistake. I learned over the years to save any potential discounts for a time when I might really need them. There is no better time to use discounts than doing an international move. 

Want to know how much it cost me and my Mum to fly from San Francisco to Calgary via Vancouver? Nothing. We saved our credit card points for a time we really needed them. Of course, I offset our carbon emissions, and I was happy to put a little money towards it. My attitude was, “Sorry Mother Earth! I know you’re hurting, but my Mum and I need to get out of a crappy situation! Here’s a little something for you to say thanks.”

What You Need to Get Settled:

Again, it depends on your personal circumstances. You need to decide how much furniture you need to get and whether you actually need it. If your place is already furnished, great!

Sometimes, you can’t know what you need until you actually get there. My Mum and I had to buy PROPER winter clothes when we arrived. When my Mum was talking about getting winter clothes in California, I said, “You don’t go to California to get winter clothes.” Get what I mean?

Additionally, you have to get used to what shops are around when you move to a new country. I had to ask a Canadian friend what the difference is between Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Plus, when I discovered Co-ops in Calgary, I felt like a kid in a candy store! It was the best Co-op I had ever seen! Your general daily expenses are not going to settle until you decide where you like to shop and for what.

A Note on Healthcare:

Getting used to a new country’s medical system is something you need to budget for! Different countries have different rules for when new immigrants qualify for healthcare. That is if they have a government healthcare system.

In the UK, it took about a year to qualify for healthcare. Although, from what I saw with my family and friends, they don’t give quality healthcare to new immigrants until they have paid taxes for a while. In the US, you have to pay ALL medical bills until you get insurance! You absolutely MUST read the fine print of what your insurance covers! Plus, medical costs there are sneaky! You learn a lot of soft skills to save money on healthcare costs. For example, I decided early on what hospital I would want to go to if I had an emergency. I was certain of their quality care, but they didn’t charge me any out-of-pocket costs for using their resources like a hospital gown, or soap. It pisses me off that hospitals charge unreasonable costs that your insurance doesn’t cover!

How I feel when I hear about being absurdly overcharged for out-of-pocket costs:

Canada has a law that you cannot enter without health insurance. Plus, you have to live there a minimum of six months and one day to qualify for their government healthcare. That system works well because it’s a good time to get acquainted with a healthcare system before you qualify for care.

There are Cultural Ways of Dealing with M0ney:

You CANNOT ignore this! Countries will have different ways of banking, managing and transferring money and you have to work with it. It can feel overwhelming at times. 

Before my Mum and I moved to Canada, we had to put a deposit on our new apartment. The landlord told us how to send the money, but at first, I didn’t understand the instructions. I thought it was a simple wire transfer and the instructions didn’t make sense. Google didn’t help too much when I tried to find “what does ______ mean??” I figured because my ISP was in the US, I couldn’t access it. 

Eventually, I figured out the banking feature I had to use was called Interac eTransfer. Even though I had my Canadian bank account, I hadn’t really explored the features since I was busy moving. Then, I suddenly had to do a rent deposit and I was FREAKING OUT!!!! Plus, it seemed counterintuitive to me that there is actually a banking feature that doesn’t charge you fees for using it?! What kind of a country IS this where they don’t charge you for every banking service you use?! After a failed attempt at the Interac eTransfer the first time, I was going to blow like a volcano! Finally, I found a page on HSBC Canada about Interac eTransfer that explained it. 

Mum said, “you’re going to love this service someday!” She was right. There was so much stress the first time, but now I love it! Now, I look back on this story and laugh. That story is another reason why I was glad to open a Canadian bank account before I moved there. I don’t know what I would have done about the deposit if I didn’t have a Canadian bank account!

Final Notes:

Bottom line: It takes a MINIMUM of a few grand per person to get settled in a new country. The more you move to a new country, the better you get at making financial decisions. Mistakes don’t completely go away, but you’re less likely to make a serious one if you go by past precedent.

Additionally, it was a lovely surprise to find the best French patisserie in Calgary. Whenever someone does something nice for me or my Mum we get a box of macarons. When you’re an expat, you need a lot of help, and it’s really touching when people come through for you. There’s no better reward than seeing their faces light up when we give them macarons. You’re probably asking, “You have money for that?” The answer, “Yes, I have money for that.” I’m new here, and I’m building connections. Sometimes, I have moved and really been thrown into the deep end because people weren’t willing to help. Canadians are among the most generous people I have had the pleasure of living with, and I have given out a lot of boxes of macarons to say thank you!

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with what I have to say about finances as an expat?