I’ve been in the UK for two years now. Somehow I’ve managed to survive without the ocean nearby, driving on the wrong side, and saying strange things like ‘Heyup’ and ‘gobsmacked’.
And during those two years, I’ve often talked about how much I enjoy living in England. How much fun I have over here, traveling as much as I can, soaking up as much of the rich history there is in this part of the world. And while I’ve mentioned how weird things like driving and language are here, I haven’t really talked about day-to-day differences between here and Canada.
So, here’s my list of comparisons of life in Canada versus life in England… Warning: I have a lot of built-up annoyances, so sorry in advance for my ranting and rambling!
Driving and Language
First things first: They drive and talk funny here. Actually, don’t even get me started on the driving here. Or the way they talk. The language here is just bizarre, and the driving is stressful. Give me left hand drive and Maritime slang any day.
Okay, I know I said don’t get me started on driving in England. But this has to be mentioned. It took me a minute to get used to all the roundabouts here. At first, I was cursing them. The damn things are everywhere. However, after you drive from Nottingham to Norfolk and go through a roundabout every 100m, you think, well… At least I didn’t have to stop at 1000 red lights. They do help traffic keep moving. Usually.
Enter the magic roundabout.
I’m sure there’s an engineer sitting somewhere thinking he’s a genius, designing a giant roundabout made up of a bunch of mini roundabouts. But for everyone else that has ever gone through one of these, I’m sure we’re all thinking, what kind of complete bloody moron came up with this idea?
Just when you get used to roundabouts in England, and entering them while checking to your right for vehicles, and going through them clockwise… You come across a magic roundabout. And enter it turning right. And go through it anti-clockwise. And just when you’ve exited the first one, you go right into another one.
Repeat this FIVE TIMES to get to your final exit, back to a regular road. Probably with white knuckles and sweat trickling down your face and a slew of curse words leaving your mouth. And carry on, driving these ridiculous roads in this country.
After a few cruises, you get a bit used to the driving. It’s not so bad, it’s just tiny and cramped and busy and everyone’s in a rush to get everywhere so you get tailgated a lot and don’t ever go on relaxing Sunday drives because how can you actually relax when driving in this country? Sigh, deep breaths.
But, I said not to get me started on the driving. So, moving on… let’s discuss the parking. I’m sure we have all related to this meme at least once in our driving careers:
But I feel like this almost every time I try to park in any space in England. They’re so damn small! I admire anyone that owns an SUV or truck in this country; I wouldn’t have the patience to try to park it anywhere here. I struggle enough with my i40.
I actually had a dedicated space in the secure parking lot at my old building, but if I pulled in and the guys beside and opposite me were there, I couldn’t get into it, and had to park on the street. On one side of me was a brick wall, and with another car on the other side of me (who likes to park right on the line), I couldn’t physically get out of my car once I did get in the spot, ’cause there just wasn’t enough space between my door and the brick wall to get out.
England car parks are great for motorcycles and Smart cars; not so much for a mid-sized sedan. I totally understand why tiny cars are so popular over here now. And thank goodness my mirrors automatically fold in.
Not only is the size of the spaces annoying, but you have to pay for parking nearly everywhere you go. Even in some places where you don’t have to pay (first two hours are free, etc), you still have to get a ticket and display it. There’s no just driving somewhere, pulling in and parking, or hoping to find parking nearby if the place doesn’t have its own lot. It’s a good thing public transport is pretty decent here.
Cars – Size
In case you missed it, tiny cars are very popular in the UK. At home, you see lots and lots of trucks and SUVs. Not here. Like I mentioned, the roads are really narrow, and so are most parking spaces. But you also don’t need bigger vehicles to get you through snow here, since that’s just not really a thing in England.
But it’s not the only reason to buy economy size. Vehicles here are taxed based on either the size of the engine, or fuel type and carbon dioxide emissions. The smaller the engine, or lower the emissions, the cheaper the tax.
Cars – Manual vs Automatic
Vehicles over here also tend to be manual more so than automatic. This is due to a couple of things, I think:
1. Roads are narrower (have I mentioned that before or?) and there are plenty of hills in places like the Peak District, for instance, which require a lot of braking and good control of your vehicle. Standards give you the benefit of engine braking and reducing the chances of your brakes overheating.
2. In earlier days, standards were better on fuel than automatics, and the cost for automatics was higher as well. Brits tend to be a bit stuck in the past it seems, so changing to the automatic lifestyle can be difficult for these folks.
3. The layout of the roads in Canada vs the UK is completely different. At home, we often have long, straight stretches, everything is fairly far away, and we have stop signs and lights everywhere; in the UK, roads are narrow (I think I might’ve said this before? No?), twisty and turn-y, and there’s not many stop signs or lights – there’s roundabouts or yields at intersections. Manuals aren’t really necessary and can just be annoying with all the stopping and starting in towns at home.
4. Brits have two types of driving licenses: manual and automatic. Foolish, I know. Manual license holders can drive automatics, but automatic license holders can’t drive manuals. So, most take the test in manuals and seem to stick to buying them.
In Canada, licence plates are tied to you. In England, licence plates are tied to the car. I don’t mean this literally; licence plates are obviously still stuck on cars in Canada. But rather than registering a plate to you and moving it from car to car when you get a new vehicle, in the UK, licence plates go with the cars.
The licence plates also describe the car itself; every plate has first: an area code to identify where it was first registered (mine’s EX for Essex) then: an age identifier to determine the year of the car (1 for January, 6 for September, so 65 means September 2015), and lastly: just some random letters.
Anywho. Moving on from driving and vehicles, finally…
And since we’re on the topic of licensing… In the UK, the law requires you to purchase a licence to watch live TV. Yes, watching TV can be a difficult and complicated task, so you have to take a test and make sure you’re qualified to watch a live program.
I kid, the Brits aren’t quite that foolish. But you really do need to buy a licence if you’re going to watch or record anything as it’s being shown on TV or on any online TV service. Not just live sports or talk shows, it includes soaps, series, documentaries, and even movies. It’s not cheap, at £154.50, and that’s on top of whatever monthly fees you pay your provider for the TV channels or online subscriptions. But if you’re caught watching live TV without one, it’s a fine of up to £1000. They take their TV watching seriously here.
Great Britain is not a huge land mass. The UK is about 243 600km². Canada is about 9 984 670km². And while Canada has a population of about 36 657 000, the UK has about 66 274 000 people. So, Canada has 30 million less people in more than 40x the area. And people here wonder why I hate crowds and the busyness of cities here.
I love how far apart our houses are at home. That you can have a big house with a big yard and not have any neighbours peering into your backyard from their bedroom window.
But I also love that you have your own space, and people aren’t always so damn close to you in general. When I go into town here, I’m always just walking around trying to avoid running into people, which is difficult not only because of the amount of people, but because there’s no organization in how people walk/shop.
At home, people tend to stick to the right. Even when grocery shopping, you usually walk with your cart down the right hand side, and step off to the left to grab something from a shelf on that side. Here, it’s a free-for-all. You’ll constantly be cut off and walked in front of, and do that awkward side-step dance when facing someone, trying to figure out which way to go. I hate it.
The only exception for this is in London, actually, when you’re on escalators and you keep to the right if you’re standing, and left to pass if you’re walking up/down them. So, thanks London underground for being the one place in England with organized masses of people.
We follow the rules in Canada. (Well, mostly.) Crosswalks were made for a reason. USE THEM. You hardly ever see people jaywalk at home, but here, you hardly ever see anyone use actual crosswalks. And even if they do, they’ll cross when it says don’t walk.
Unbelievably annoying as a driver, but much more convenient as a pedestrian. Pedestrians hardly ever have the right of way here, so honestly, I suppose I can’t really fault people too much for this. You can wait at a crossing for ages and ages before being able to (legally) cross here.
Walking in England
This whole ‘rambling’ thing will never be comfortable to me. I mean, I love a good walk; I hike in the Peak District on my days off as much as I can. But if you walk across someone’s pasture, that’s trespassing in Canada. But over here, nah… walk wherever the heck you want.
In the year 2000, Ramblers won the ‘right to roam’ – the freedom to walk over mountains, moorland, heath and common land (basically the countryside) without having to stick to the paths. So, nearly every time I go on a walk over here, I end up walking through a sheep or cattle pasture.
It may be to the dismay of farmers, and I can’t blame ’em if this law upsets ’em, but as a walker, it’s pretty cool to not have to worry if you’re trespassing or not, and just enjoy the walk, wherever you may end up. I still don’t think I’ll ever be totally comfortable walking through farmer’s fields (especially ones I’ve never met), though.
No, I don’t mean that Brits are dirty scumbags. Well, not all of them anyway. 😉
I mean, there are hardly any friggin’ garbage bins in public areas in England. I realize this is because of the bomb threats, which aren’t so much of an issue in Canada. But you can find them scattered everywhere at home, and I find this makes the streets very clean there. Here, you see garbage and litter everywhere.
Drinking in Public
This may be one of the reasons Canada seems cleaner to me too… In Canada, you can’t just stroll through the park with a can of beer. Can smoke weed though.
Outside of Quebec, it is illegal in Canada to drink alcohol, or even have an open container of alcohol in a public place. Here in the UK, you can buy a beer in a pub and drink it in the street.
One perk of living in England.
But, that also means people are more likely to litter by leaving their empty beer cans and bottles just laying around in the street, so…
Although I’ve always kinda hated tipping unless service was really fantastic, I’ve always tipped everywhere regardless – Tim’s, cabbies, salons/spas… At least 15%, even if it wasn’t very good service. In Canada, you just have to. Tip everyone, all the time.
So this is another perk of living in the UK – you’re not expected to tip cab drivers, or bartenders, or even pubs where you order your food at the bar and they bring it to your table after. It’s really great for customers like me who are cheap buggers, but I’m sure I’d hate it as a waitress or bartender, or any job in the service industry.
Generally speaking, you tend to only tip over here in places like restaurants where they take you to your seat, come to you to take your order, and deliver your food. Whereas in fast food places, coffee shops, and bars, etc. it’s not necessary.
GST/HST and VAT
At home, prices displayed on shelves are pre-tax. So you don’t actually know exactly how much your purchase will be until you get to the till. Which I didn’t realize was absolutely ridiculous until moving to the UK, where the displayed price is the actual price. Taxes (VAT) included.
One of the best things about the UK… you don’t have to file your own taxes. You simply send in a form to HMRC, and the government calculates it for you, and it’s deducted from your pay. As it should be. None of this nonsense:
In Canada, employees talk to you. They acknowledge when you walk into their shop, and often ask if you need any help finding anything. If you pick up an item of clothing and don’t put it back, they’ll ask if you want to try it on and have a fitting room started for you.
Which, I never really minded until coming to the UK, realizing nobody talks to you or bothers you, and you can shop in peace and not worry about being watched the whole time. So, thanks UK, for letting me stroll through your shops without being asked if I need help finding a pair of jeans. I know it’s not very Canadian of me, but the politeness is just a bit too much sometimes.
Credit/Debit vs Card
I never really understood why you have to state whether it’s a debit or credit card you’re paying with at home – either way, I need the machine. I always just assumed it was due to different fees for the store owners whether it’s a debit or credit purchase.
But over here in the UK, it’s just simply, ‘cash or card?’ when paying a bill. Which is something just as insignificant as whether the tax is included in the displayed price or not, but still something I enjoy about living over here.
Speaking of cards, it’s absolutely absurd to have to pay to get your own money out of the bank. I’ve always been so, so irritated when my bank machine wasn’t around and I had to use RBC or some other bank’s machine and pay extortionate fees like $2-3 just to take cash out. So I’m over-the-moon about the majority of ATMs over here not charging any fees for withdrawals, even if you’re not with that bank.
Also foolish to have to pay to open a bank account in the first place. Bank fees altogether are unfair.
Monthly vs Bi-Weekly Pay
And since we’re talking about money, getting paid only once a month is a pain in the rear. You have to be very aware of your spending here, and the five weeks between December pay and January pay are very, very stressful. Just give me smaller paycheques more often, dammit.
In Nova Scotia, there’s Nova Scotia Power. And that’s the one and only company you can use. You pay whatever they tell you to, and that’s that.
In England, there’s so many energy providers, it’s unbelievably hard to choose which one to go with – there’s actually sites you can visit like uswitch or comparethemarket which will help you sort through the best deals.
They all have different rates and offers, and if you don’t like the current one you’re on, you can switch to a different plan, or a different provider very easily. There’s different ways to pay too; variable direct debit, fixed direct debit, pay as you go… options are endless.
Vacation vs Holiday
Here in the UK, you don’t go on vacation. You go on a holiday. And you can go on them a lot more frequently than you can in Canada, because not only is travel a heck of a lot cheaper, we get 28 days of vacation here vs 10-15 in Nova Scotia.
So if you’ve ever wondered why/how I can go on so many trips here, it’s because I work 12 hour shifts and get 28 days of paid vacation time, and I can fly to Dublin cheaper than buying a Sunday dinner at the local pub.
Come on, Canada, get cheaper flights already!
Speaking of holidays, it seems that there aren’t many in the UK. Although there are 8 bank holidays in the year, they aren’t spread out very evenly. There’s New Year’s Day (January), Good Friday and Easter Monday (March/April), Early May Bank Holiday (May), Spring Bank Holiday (late May), Summer Bank Holiday (late August), Christmas and Boxing Day (December).
In Nova Scotia, there’s nearly a holiday every month: New Year’s Day (January), Family Heritage Day (February), Good Friday and Easter Monday (March/April), Victoria Day (May), Canada Day (July), Natal Day (August), Labour Day (September), Thanksgiving (October), Remembrance Day (November), Christmas and Boxing Day (December).
So, we may only get 10-15 days vacation in Nova Scotia, but it’s (kinda) made up for with the well-spread-out holidays.
Another little thing (but pretty frequent for me since I work in healthcare, checking patient’s birthdays all day) is the way dates are written: M/D/Y (NS) vs D/M/Y (UK). It’s kinda nice knowing that the day is always written first here, though… People go back and forth at home and you have to guess a lot of the time which is the month and which is the day.
It’s not just written differently, however. People also say “1st January” instead of “January 1st” here. Which will never not be awkward for me to say, but I’m not sure any of the British ways of speaking English will ever be natural for me.
Moving on to house and home… I’ve got some beef with the way these houses are designed.
Why do they make glass doors for showers/tubs which only cover half the shower? When I first discovered these, I thought, what a great idea; no need to deal with shower curtains.
Now, I’m fully against the damn things. Water sprays everywhere! I hardly ever get out of the shower and step onto a dry floor, and I’ve even got a bath mat there to help soak it up! Plus, they’re a pain to clean, with all the soap scum that gets on ’em. So give me a longer door, or give me my good old-fashioned shower curtain back.
While we’re on the topic of doors… Whoever came up with the idea of needing a key to lock a door from the inside… is a complete goon. Hellooo, fire hazards!
I mean, it took me quite a while to grasp the concept of turning the handle up before locking, but now that I’ve mastered that skill, I don’t mind it so much. Still don’t really get the point of it; think I’ll just stick to Team Deadbolts.
For those of you unfamiliar with this mechanism, you can’t lock these type of doors until you turn the handle up after shutting the door. Why? Who knows. Is what it is.
Double tap sinks
Why? Honestly, why are they still selling this type of sink???
I mean, I get the original purpose of them, like ‘there only ever used to be cold water taps before boilers, then a second tap was added for hot water’ or to keep them separate so cold drinking water didn’t get contaminated from dust and debris or whatever in the hot water tank, but that was years and years ago!
Time to update England, I don’t want one hand scalded from the crazy hot water while the other is frozen with cold water. Or to waste time filling the sink with water just to wash my hands. Get with the times, people!
It’s just weird to keep a washer in the kitchen. I want it hidden away somewhere that I won’t see it, and I can shut a door on it so it’s not so loud. Not right smack-dab in the middle of my kitchen.
Plus, why the hell do they make appliances so damn small over here?? Just to fit under the counter in the kitchen? No, I want my big ‘American’ washer so I don’t have to do 16 loads just to get through a week’s worth of laundry. And an ‘American’ sized fridge so I don’t have to go for groceries every other day.
And why is it so common to not have tumble dryers? Do these people enjoy waiting three days for laundry to dry on a rack?
Seriously, these people make such simple things about households so complicated.
The one thing that they actually do make bigger in the UK are plugs. And it’s probably the only thing that I don’t want to be bigger. Just look at the size of my phone charger!
The plugs themselves take up more space too, since they have on/off switches. Which I hated when I first moved here, since I’d plug my phone in to charge and come back some time later just to discover it hadn’t charged at all, as I’d forgotten to flick the plug switch on. I’m fairly neutral about them now though, as it is kinda nice to just switch the plug off to save power instead of unplugging things.
Snow and Weather
I always had this picture in my head of England being constantly cold, wet, grey, and rainy. It’s not. I mean, some days, yes, of course it is. But I thought this place hardly ever saw sun. It does – it was 20+ degrees with clear skies and sunshine this year’s whole Easter long weekend.
What this country doesn’t see is snow. I’ve been here for two years now, and there’s been a slight dusting of snow two, maybe three times. Nothing like Canada, where you get big heapings of snow and have to shovel the stuff constantly.
But when England does get those few snowflakes… the country shuts down. Tram lines stop running, there’s cars pulled over, stuck on the sides of highways… It’s beyond dramatic. Not like home, where plows work all day/night after storms to keep things going.
Even if England did get snow, I’m not sure where they’d put it. Roads often don’t have shoulders; outer walls of houses are right up against the pavement of streets sometimes. So, thank goodness there aren’t snowstorms here.
This is the most snow I’ve seen here in my two years, and it had tram lines stopped and businesses shut down. Chaos everywhere, honestly.
I know Brits don’t want to hear it, but man, they take the NHS for granted here. In Canada, you pay for healthcare through taxes, and while it is mostly free, good luck finding a family doctor. There’s such a shortage of doctors that many people can’t find a GP to take them on, so they go to the emergency department for illnesses and issues that just aren’t in any way emergencies. Which leads to overcrowding, and very lengthy wait times – don’t be surprised to spend the night in emerge just simply waiting to be seen by a doctor.
There are lots of issues with the NHS, of course, as there are with any healthcare system, but you’d never see a patient waiting over a year for an MRI here. In fact, all of our patients at our site here are scanned within six weeks.
I could write an entire post dedicated to the healthcare system differences, though. The only thing I really want to say is that Canada needs to take notes from England’s healthcare system – it’d make a world of difference back home.
There’s all kinds of differences between Canada and England – I’m sure I could write another list of 30 comparisons – but these are the top ones that come to my mind when I think of home in Canada versus life here in the UK.
Both countries have their pros and cons, but there’s just no place like home, eh?