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My Canada Story

Photo ©Alan Albert

You seem familiar, yet somehow strange–are you by any chance Canadian?

This New Yorker cartoon caption sums up the relationship many Americans have with Canada. We know Canada like we might casually know any next-door neighbor. We’re cordial, say “hello,” and go about our own business.

Sure, most Americans know something about our northern neighbor. We’ve scanned headlines about universal health care, same-sex marriage, and hockey mania. We’ve seen photos of majestic mountains, quiet coves, towering evergreens, and vast stretches of arctic wilderness. We may have read surveys calling Vancouver the best city in the world to live, comparing chic Montreal to Paris, and ranking Toronto among the planet’s most multicultural metropolises. We’re familiar with Canada, but we may not really know our Canadian neighbors–until something happens that makes us take notice.

For my family, it was a job offer.

And after our unanticipated move over the border, as my family and I began figuring out how to manage the transition to our new Canadian home, we quickly discovered that crossing the border on vacation–something we’d done many times–wasn’t the same as living and working in a different country.

Because Canada is a different country. Of course, that sounds silly; we knew we were moving to a new nation with its own government, money, and laws. Yet because Canada felt so comfortable–so similar to the United States–we were surprised at how many things we needed to sort out.

The permits we needed to begin working. The documents we needed to move our car. How to arrange for health insurance and file our tax returns. Unlike many immigrants heading abroad, we didn’t need to learn a new language or adapt to exotic customs. We were going to the country right next door. Yet there were still plenty of challenges.

After we sorted out the paperwork, though, we began to adjust to our adopted country. We soon learned to embrace Canada’s multicultural esthetic, sampling new foods, joining in local festivals, and getting acquainted with expats from across the globe. We came to appreciate the active, outdoor-oriented culture, where people make time to go skiing, ride their bikes, or walk along the waterfront. And we began to slow our hurry-up attitudes to a more laid-back Canadian speed.

Over time, we’ve also discovered many other differences between Canadian and American culture. We’ve become acquainted with Timbits. Learned what toques are and why the kids needed them for soccer. Figured out why there’s a holiday on the Queen of England’s birthday.

If you’re exploring this website, you may be thinking about moving to Canada or you may already be here. Whatever your reason for considering Canada–that neighbor who’s familiar yet just a bit different–welcome. I’d like to introduce you to my new Canadian home.

— Excerpted from the book, Living Abroad in Canada. To read more, buy the book.

Photo ©Alan Albert