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!
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.
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?
I have been here a month now, and the most common question I ask myself is, “Is this a thing?” I ask myself that because it’s surprising to me, not because I think it’s good or bad. Then, I try and find out if it is a thing and I withhold judgement until I have more information! Here are some things I have experienced living here that have made me ask that question and the answers I have got. I’m probably going to be asking myself that question a lot for a while at least. So, if anyone has anything to contribute to my possible “things” please let me know in the comments!
On a different note, I have been making changes on my page because I’m going independent. If you’re having problems with my interacting on my blog, please let me know either in the comments or through my contact page. Bear with me please with this transition!
What I have noticed about Canadian TV shows is that they are very real and don’t have that in-your-face that US TV shows and movies have. Every country puts its stamp on their TV shows, and I like the personal and transparent aspect of Canadian TV shows. I fell in love with English comedies while living in London. They will always have a special place in my heart!
I was pleasantly astounded that Schitt’s Creek put LGBTQIA+ representation front and centre of their show! No wonder they have won several awards for that! As much as I would love to see that happen with US TV shows, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, since conservatives have quite the grip on media.
I have got some good recommendations for other Canadian shows, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of them in the future! I have found TV shows and entertainment are an excellent gateway to understanding a culture. Plus, right now, I can learn a lot about how people speak and spell words here in Canada. At this time, I am a little overwhelmed with that considering I am already fluent in both American English and English English and I’m trying to figure out how and when to relate to which dialect or when to abandon the rules with both dialects completely with Canadian English.
Currently, I am watching movies from the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, which I can do for free through my local library. I will write a post on that later. Right now, I’m still trying to find out what’s a “thing” with Canadian TV and movies, but I’ll get there!
I’m in love with the food here! I discovered the joys of the Co-op and Cal & Gary’s my first day out of quarantine! Still exploring what they have to offer at this point, but I’m hooked! I’m really into organic, local and ethically sourced foods since I’m a trained chef, and it appeals to my French side. I know this sounds crazy, but it doesn’t feel like the food is slowly killing you here because corporations get away with putting SO much crap in it! I know a few things about Canadian laws on food and trade with the US, but I’m still learning about it. Frankly, I think the fact that the US just lets corporations do whatever they want makes the population more unhealthy, even if you personally take care of yourself. Plus, giving corporations free rein strips people of their livelihoods, and that’s one of the things that has lead to that orange baboon being in the White House for four years. I told my Mum that and she hadn’t thought about that, but she thinks I’m right.
It was a weird thing to realize that you can’t get completely cold water from the cold water tap! I have lived in Colorado, where the pipes would freeze sometimes, but you could still get cold water. I joked with my Mum that the tepid water from the cold tap is like the tepidarium in Roman baths!
Winter Infrastructure and Lifestyle:
I used to take my water bottle everywhere with me back in California. It helped with getting my required 2L per day of liquid to carry it around. Now, there is no way I can take it with me without the water freezing, so I have to drink as much as I can before and after I go out! I also started drinking 2.5L of water a day because of the dry climate. Additionally, I have been using lotion and chapstick a lot more! Every store I go into has Burt’s Bees chapstick, and I can see it’s for a good reason.
I can tell if it has snowed during the night because someone comes by with a snowblower at about 6:30 am and it’s loud and stinky! Worst alarm clock EVER! It makes me pull the blankets over my head and hope I fall back to sleep!
I’m doing fine acclimatizing to subzero temperatures, and so far, I have learned how to deal with -10 C ish pretty well! I come alive whenever there is snow! I have missed that feeling after living in California and London. Lately, I heard that California is getting “cold”, so I created a meme. Basically, no one in the US is getting any sympathy from me when they say it’s cold! There are a few exceptions, but this meme sums me up pretty well.
Most of all, I love taking walks in the winter weather and seeing other people taking walks and enjoying the outdoors. Life seems more deliberate here, unlike the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley, which is a recipe for burnout, and why people are doing a mass exodus of the Bay Area.
I could write an entire post about winter lifestyle here (including what I see when I take a walk), but so far, I just want to mention those few things. More later!
I wanted to say a few things to follow up on my post about Remembrance Day. First of all, I noticed on Remembrance Day a nearby flag was flying at half-mast. I got this feeling that I have only ever had in England whenever I saw Armistice Day customs. It’s a feeling of realization that it really was world wars you’re talking about here.
Additionally, I was outside the day before Remembrance Day. When I passed the monument to an unknown soldier, I noticed a flame burning and people laying a poppy wreath. I smiled respectfully to myself and lowered my head as another memory of England cropped up. I went to that memorial again when I visited a local library. I saw the eternal flame burning and took some photos of the memorial with the poppy wreaths. I definitely felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for England, and also a realization that Canadians really love their country!
The US doesn’t fly the flag at half-mast on November 11. The US used to call November 11 Armistice Day, like in England, but they changed it. My Mum remembers when that happened, and my grandparents were really upset with the name change. To them, it was a slap in the face to get rid of a name that signified the termination of The War to End All Wars. It’s like changing the name made the US forget about the sacrifice during the World Wars and isolated themselves further from the world. My Mum told me to NEVER forget that the US did that, and I promised her I never will!
After my mandatory 2 week quarantine upon arrival, it was weird for me to go outside and find out how many places have successfully reopened with COVID measures in place! I avoided stores like the plague back in California. I only went to Costco a few times in the seven months we were on lockdown. I trust a lot of stores here in Calgary since they are transparent about what they are doing about COVID procedures.
When I was in Safeway and found that they have arrows on the floor to indicate where to go, I was like, “Wait, WHAT?” 😮 I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. It was just inconceivable to me that stores would do that. I have had to get used to that though and be conscious about it. I was at the Co-op the other day and it slipped my mind briefly to check the arrows, and I got told off before going down an aisle in the wrong direction. I deserved that. Now, my Mum and I keep reminding each other to watch the arrows until it becomes routine. Lately, there have been some more restrictions, so I can see businesses are being more careful, and I’m completely willing to respect that!
Additionally, when I found out I could subscribe to updates to restrictions on the Alberta government website and there’s a contact tracing app, it blew my mind! 😮Can you blame me after coming from a country whose COVID response is nothing short of pathetic?
Overall, I feel I can relax a bit here when it comes to COVID. Cases have been going up in Alberta recently, so we are still careful when we go outside. When we left California, we figured out that you basically can’t go outside without being borderline paranoid anymore. So, I had a bit of paranoia at first when I went out for the first few times in Calgary, but a bit of perspective has helped. I go out more often than I did back in California, especially since it’s more of a necessity as a preventative measure for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I still have no idea how it’s going to affect me yet since I had it really bad in England! Plus, it’s a nice treat after being among the good people in the USA who have been sheltering in place for seven months and staying disease-free! Note: I’m NOT getting complacent though! The last thing I want is COVID!
If you have seen my Quarantine Diaries posts, you will know I was amazed to find black squirrels here! I have seen more city wildlife since then, like rabbits and magpies. Whenever I go for a walk in the park, the rabbits come right up to me! I have noticed people feeding them, so I get why they are tame. One of our friends did warn us that rabbits are pests in Canada, so I’m not so sure about feeding them until I know for sure that it’s a thing. The rabbits kind of remind me of the squirrels at UC Berkeley. The squirrels there are just as tame and they know the students give them nuts. When I did a summer class there, I always had nuts on hand for the squirrels. Plus, those squirrels are the subject of many UC Berkeley memes, beside bears.
I haven’t seen so many magpies since England! There’s a superstition on how many magpies you see, “One for sorrow. Two for joy. Three for a girl. Four for a boy.” I gave up on that superstition though because I see so many lone magpies here, I’m just like, “Whatever!” Still, there are three magpies that frequent the front and backyard. We call one of them Belle and the other two are clearly a couple, so we call them Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie since they strut around like they’re a celebrity couple!
We have started putting birdseed out for the birds since we know from living in England that not a lot of animals make it through the winter, and England’s climate is less harsh than Canada’s.
The other day, I was walking home and it was snowing, and I saw SO many rabbits out! It makes me wonder if they go and grab as much food as possible when it starts snowing! Thing, or not a thing? 🤔
Disclaimer: This is just my own personal experience so far!
I have successfully resumed my chronic pain treatment and it’s been going so well! One of my observations is that there are so many chiropractic centres around here. Clearly, chiropractic has more recognition as a healthcare profession in Canada. In the US, I have had some bad experiences with chiropractic care, and even the good chiropractors aren’t at the same level as chiropractors in Canada. Legally, chiropractors can’t diagnose your problems in the US. Additionally, even though I have had some good chiropractors in the US, the care didn’t provide any more than just occasional pain relief. My treatment and care recommendations have been sticking more than before, which is great!
Additionally, I went to the dentist since I needed a check-up and a problem that needed attention. It was the most thorough appointment I have ever had! The hygienist saw me before the dentist did (it’s the other way around in the US). I got some excellent oral care tips from the hygienist, which was also a first! The dentist explained possible steps in my care very well. I understand that a good dentist is a good dentist, and maybe that would have happened where I was getting care before, but who knows?
Diversity and Representation:
I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood in London, and the diversity enriched my life like nothing else! When I repatriated to the USA, I wondered if I would ever have that again. I got some diverse, multicultural experiences in the USA, but it wasn’t to the same extent as London. I guess one of the defining factors for me leaving the USA, was not just that lack of diversity in my life, but also living at a time of terrible polarization the last four years. Someone who was your friend before, could become your enemy overnight.
Before I moved to Calgary, my friends told me Alberta was rather white, so I was kind of bracing myself. I’m white myself, but because I identify as multicultural and multiethnic, I’m not white by US standards. If anything, white Americans have explicitly said to me that I’m not American if I have spent any part of my life overseas and ostracized me in other ways too. My reaction is, “Fine. I would rather be an expat anyway!”
I was pleasantly surprised to move here and find it was more diverse than I thought it would be! I have connected with other immigrants, and I have already met another Third Culture Kid this past month! (Doing a little dance right here!)
Another thing I noticed is there is more representation overall. Since I have had to buy some good winter clothes, I have been looking at clothing websites a lot. All these websites I have visited have racially and ethnically diverse models. Plus, I have seen some ads from time to time and they have diverse representation, and minoritized groups are portrayed in a positive way. I can honestly say I’m impressed! Go Canada! 👏👏👏🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦
What is the most important tool that you need before you move? Information. I don’t mean just any information. I mean information from a variety of sources. You want to go to a country with an open mind. In order to achieve that, you need to explore all possible areas of knowledge. Here are the kinds of sources I suggest:
Do you have friends who live in the country that you are moving to? Pick their brain about life there. I have friends who are open to answering my questions about life in Canada. Canadians are big on job networking, so I am establishing business contacts in Canada through LinkedIn. The alum network at my college has been useful too. Long-term expats from your home country can be especially helpful. I have often found them friendly and happy to answer questions. Also, read blogs of people who have lived overseas. It doesn’t matter if they are expats from your home country or not. Wisdom from people who are expats goes a long way!
Follow news stories in the country you are moving to, if possible. I know some news links don’t work if you’re in another country. Keep trying though! Get recommendations on good news sites from people you trust. Sometimes, that’s not possible, so I find a general rule of thumb for figuring out a good news site is seeing if it appears in other sources. I found this especially helpful with moving back to the US from London. I admit I got into a negative spiral from reading news about the US. Then I repatriated and found out the news was overhyped.
A Personal Story:
I remember a professor I had in college once met the French ambassador to the US. She asked him what surprised him most about the US when he first arrived. He said that he was surprised Americans don’t know much about world news. He traced it back to how news is presented in the US versus the world. In any other country they start their news programs with world news, then national news, and if there is time, local news. In the US, news programs start off with local news, then national news, and if there’s time, international news. I think the French ambassador had a point. I think the news programs show what they prioritize by the order of their news.
What’s the point of me telling this story? If you are in the US and want to get quality world news, you have to actively search for it. I follow good news sources, but I am skeptical sometimes. It’s a struggle to get good international news in the US if you don’t know where to get it. I personally think it’s disgraceful that it’s a struggle to get quality world news in the US. People should be able to access quality world news no matter where they are. I have often run across the attitude in the US of world news saying, “What has this got to do with me?” Answer: Everything. Surely the pandemic should have shown that? We’re a globalized society and one country’s actions have global repercussions.
Websites on History and/or Culture:
I recommend reading about the history and culture of your future home before you leave. When I moved to London from the US, it was before the internet really took off, and I was a kid who just took life as it came to me. I was in for a big culture shock! Now that I’m an adult and the internet is readily available, I can explore information at my own leisure. I didn’t research anything about the US when I repatriated. I thought it wasn’t necessary because I was American. However, my point from above about finding news from the US being overhyped in London was an important lesson for me that news is not always trustworthy. Listening to that overhyped stuff made me crash emotionally when I was going through reverse culture shock and I discovered that it wasn’t true.
Books and Movies:
I recommend watching movies and reading books to whet your appetite for your new country. If the actors, film location, or stories are related to your new country, it can be your own guided tour. Beware of cultural stereotypes though! You don’t want to embarrass yourself for believing stereotypes. I’m currently listening to Canada by Mike Myers on audiobooks (since I’m packing my books). I definitely intend to watch Brokeback Mountain before I leave, which is set in Alberta. Fly Away Home was one of my favorite movies growing up! Amy is a Third Culture Kid and the movie shows her personal journey adjusting to another country. No wonder I related to it so strongly! I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I want to see it again soon!
Your Own Personal Experience:
I made the mistake of not visiting London before I moved there. I felt I would have got a lot more information before making a decision to move. A long time ago, I visited Montreal. I must have been about 8 years old at the time and I remember loving it! I haven’t visited Canada since then, but I am confident I am going to love it there.
I’ve been soaking up information like a sponge! Even though I have been through culture shock before and I know what to expect, I am hoping the information I get will lessen the blow. I can’t forget that I am moving at a time of political turmoil and social unrest in the US and it has adversely affected how Americans are perceived overseas. I have always said that there is nothing more humbling than moving away from your own country and seeing it through the eyes of the world.
When I was living in London, I was acutely aware of how the US was perceived abroad, and I don’t believe it has improved, to say the least. The fact that the EU has not included the US in the countries that are allowed to travel there speaks volumes. My hope is that if I show that I love Canada, I’m not a careless idiot, and I can adapt to their culture, that people will be accepting and understanding that I wanted to move to escape political, economic, and social turmoil.
Do you have any other sources future expats should utilize? Do you like the sources I came up with? Let me know in the comments! See you next time!