Thursday, April 04, 2013

Relocation, relocation, relocation!

Here in Edmonton, Alberta just shy of 2 weeks.

It's a funny thing, international travel. In We Need to Talk About Kevin Eva, the travel-writing protagonist, explains to those impressed with her adventurous spirit that she's terrified before every trip: the idea of it overwhelms her. But, in bits, the task is so banal she can manage to get it done: book a ticket; pack a case; get to the airport; board a plane. And these few simple acts, completed one at a time, lead you to a strange place where you just have to exist. I feel a bit like this about the last months and days.

Culture shock or homesickness are the process your body and mind go through in order to catch up with the undeniable reality: the surroundings, habits and people you so recently faced every day are gone. You are confronted with the unfamiliar at every turn, forced to create a new routine and face every person as a stranger.

I've been very fortunate because Jon had done much of the scary admin in the 5 months before my arrival: navigating immigration; finding a home; sorting eligibility for healthcare; making contacts; learning how to cope with the weather; getting used to the transport system etc. Not sure how he managed it all on his own, to be honest. One of those 'had to get on with it' things, I guess.

Two observations, for now:

I am enjoying how laid back and friendly people are. In comparison, encounters with new people in Britain are suspicious: characterised by an "I don't know you yet - prove yourself to me" attitude. Connected with this, there is much more openness in Edmontonian conversation. Generally, those I've met are more talkative and happier to chat away about the trivia of their daily lives than their British counterparts. There's no obvious fear of a 'bovvered?' reaction. As a newcomer, this is welcome. Though my intolerant, cynical national characteristics may kick back in once I feel more settled and everyone starts irritating me!

I am not enjoying the weekly shop.

It is much more expensive so, for example, we buy the cheapest Canola oil rather than olive. There are things you can't get that I'm used to eating / drinking (stock; orange squash; a range of cheeses...)

More importantly: I see now that I was an 'ethical' shopper in the UK because of what was on offer. Fairtrade isn't really a thing here. Almost everything comes packaged in three layers of plastic. (You can get freerange eggs, much more pricey, but they come in a plastic box unlike the battery kind. What to do?!) There is a separate organic supermarket in the city, should one have the money and time to visit it. Similarly, one can buy less environmentally hazardous cleaning products - but it's not without significant consumer sacrifice. In the regular stores organic / envonronmentally-friendly is rare and costly. I haven't to date bothered too much about buying organic (as opposed to ethical) because food standards in the UK are pretty rigorous. But here, 'organic' may mean that your piece of beef or pint of milk has not been pumped full of chemicals and hormones. It may mean your tomato is not an affront-to-nature giant grown in a huge, energy sapping greenhouse.

I find myself concerned about the contents of my dinner, for the first time ever. And worrying about what we will feed the children once they are at that stage.

No doubt the unfamiliarity of it all exaggerates the anxiety. Obesity and strange allergies etc are more of a problem here. An Edmontonian's carbon footprint is huge. And yet people thrive. And if I think things are bad, I can reflect on the situation of our neighbours to the south and realise how good I have it.

If one chooses to live in a place that's a three-hour drive from its nearest neighbour and is under feet of snow for 7 months of the year, one must take some culinary adaptation on the chin.

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