A Canadian in England – My First Impressions

As I mentioned in a previous tweet and explained in my last blog, I’m living in the UK in a small north-western town called Kendal.  I’ve been here for two weeks and have four more to go before I return to my beloved home in Toronto. You might be wondering what exactly brought me here and I’m happy to explain.

As your typical Canadian mixed breed, I descended from various expats from the British Isles (as well as a proud Mohawk – but that’s another story). I’ve watched Coronation Street for most of my life.  I majored in English literature and over the years I’ve seen every Merchant Ivory, BBC, PBS, Masterpiece Theatre, Upstairs Downstairs, Jane Austen, Bronte Sister, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy dramatization ever created.  That’s enough to make one slightly obsessed with England.   So when it came time for me to find a comprehensive furniture restoration and upholstery course and there was none in Canada but several in England, I figured enough was enough and I had better see Mecca before I die (and while the Canadian dollar was at an all time high).

The first weekend in Kendal was spent with Ivan, but he’s returned to Toronto to look after our three fur kids and resume his job.  As a result, I felt quite lonely during the first week of school.  My weekdays start in Kendal’s McDonald’s restaurant because it’s open before 8 am and they have the precious drug I so desperately crave: free WI-FI.  I buy a McDonald’s cafe latte (they’re quite good with chocolate sprinkles) and log on to my net book to connect with all those back home from 8 to just before 9 am. Then it’s a short walk to school for a full day of hands on study from 9 am till 5 pm.  During the school day we invariably begin with tea in the morning, have tea once again mid-morning, tea with lunch, and finally mid-afternoon tea. Then it’s time to head home. (Actually, quite a bit is accomplished during the school day but I’ll write more about that in another blog).

So here I am, living in the land of repressed emotions and good television.  Finally!  Here are some of my early impressions and my favourite things:

Open for Dogs
Open for Dogs - how welcoming!

  • Dogs are welcome in many cafe’s, pubs, and even some restaurants.  The owners of these establishments openly advertise dog accessibility with hand-made signs and even professionally made signage like this.
  • Luxury cheese is affordable.  A Scottish woman in my class who travelled to Calgary last summer said they were surprised to find cheese in Canada was so expensive.  In the meantime I’m getting my fill of yummy cheeses with descriptive (and entertaining) names like: Applewood, Stinking Bishop, and Lincolnshire Poacher.
  • There’s no litter in England!  I’m awed by the lack of it.  I couldn’t FIND any litter in the London tube.  And I looked hard.  Even more strange, Ivan and I couldn’t find a garbage or recycling can anywhere in the tube and train stations (we later realized it was because of worry over terrorism) and STILL there wasn’t any litter.  Thumbs up, Britain! Give a hoot, don’t pollute, Torontonians!
  • I love the cobblestone streets, 19th century buildings, meandering stone fences, fields of sheep, double decker buses, monkey puzzle trees (there are a few in Vancouver, too), and old graveyards with leaning gravestones.
  • Often British words and phrases are quite different from Canada’s.  Instead of asking someone “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” here people ask: “Are you alright?”  At first I thought I must really be looking unwell.  One thing I really like is that people quite frequently refer to friends, strangers, and customers with the endearment “love.” It’s sweet and unexpected.   It also spreads goodwill.  How could you ever be churlish to a clerk who calls you “Love”?!
  • Most houses in the UK are a sensible size.  Canadian homes are getting bigger and bigger with multiple carports.  Most of the homes here in the UK are row houses; fully attached townhouses or at least semi-attached.  As a result, neighbourhoods are walkable because towns are far more compact.  I haven’t seen the suburban sprawl we get in Canada; which inherently makes many of our communities car dependant.
  • Charity Shops and 2nd hand stores are plentiful.  There are two on every block!  Instead of being a jumbled dumping ground (like they often are in Canada), these UK shops are beautifully organized.  I scour them whenever I can and have already purchased a sweet Laura Ashley skirt for only 5 pounds!
  • Milk is still delivered!

    Milk Delivery
    Milk Delivery in Kendal

Please send me your comments.  I’d love to hear from you!  Till next time, have a brilliant day! 🙂

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