Canada, Expat Living, North America, Toronto

Things I Missed About Canada When I Lived Abroad

June 20, 2013

After moving to Berlin to begin life as an expat in Germany, there came a time when I began to long for the comforts of home. As much as I loved my new life abroad (and I really did), I sometimes missed my friends and former life in Toronto.

Things I Missed About Canada When I Lived Abroad

Hardly surprising but there were also some other rather unexpected things that I missed about Canada.

I Love Toronto

1) Rectangular Shaped Pillows

Did you know that Germans sleep with giant square-shaped pillows? It’s amazing what you discover when you move abroad! Unbelievably, this is actually a common issue for expats who just can’t get used to the odd shape. My solution was to fold my pillow in half to make it slightly resemble the pillows of my homeland. My friend Laurel from Monkeys and Mountains, a fellow Canadian who lives in Munich told me she ordered pillows online as she couldn’t deal with the uncomfortable situation. Should I ever move back to Germany someday, I’ll definitely be bringing some North American styled pillows with me.

2) Stick Deodorant

For the life of me, I was unable to find stick deodorant after I moved to Germany. It’s only available in spray or liquid roll-on form. With every application, I had to flap my arms up and down like a chicken while I waited for my underarms to dry.

3) A “Normal” Washing Machine

Most European washing machines are small and lack the capacity that they do in North America. A load of laundry would take on average, at least two hours to complete. Not only that, our washing machine was a “wild beast”. Set-up in our tiny and awkwardly constructed bathroom, there was no way to hold her down. During the spin cycle, we actually had to sit on the washing machine to tame her and keep her secured in place.

4) A Clothes Dryer

It seems that a clothes dryer is a luxury only for the rich 1% of Germany. The remaining 99% have to hang their clothes to dry on a rack in their flat. It used to take my clothes at least two days to dry completely. They were never soft or fresh smelling. Towels were so dry, hard and prickly that drying off after bathing was akin to a painful loofah exfoliation experience. Ouch.

Toronto Skyline

5) Stand-up Showers

Bathrooms on the other side of the pond are just weird. My friend Amelia, who lives in an old East Berlin flat has a bathtub in her kitchen! My bathroom had a lovely jacuzzi bathtub but no shower. The bathtub was big enough to sit in but not to lay down so you actually had to take your shower sitting down. I flooded the bathroom floor on many occasions because it was so hard to control the spray. It took time to learn the precise manoeuvres required to keep the flooding at a minimum.

6) Canada’s “So Called” Metric System

We Canadians like to claim we use the metric system and officially we do. For example, our road signs dictate maximum speeds in kilometers per hour. However due to the influence of our American neighbours, we measure our weight in pounds and our homes in square feet. It was an adjustment for me to tell others that I was 1.8 meters instead of saying I was 5’8. I often referred to a metric conversion app on my phone.

Toronto Cityscape

7) Finding My Friends in Apartment Buildings

There’s usually a directory posted outside of a building listing people’s names. You simply ring their buzzer to have them let you into the building or courtyard. If your friend hasn’t provided clear directions as how to locate their flat, this is where it starts to get complicated. Apartment suites are not numbered like they are in Canada – usually a person’s family name displays on a small name plate just outside their apartment door.  If they’re temporarily renting as most people do in Berlin, their names will most likely NOT be on the name plate, i.e. I once rented a flat from a woman called S. Sexauer (true story). Their first floor is our second floor. Some buildings have multiple entrances. As most buildings are low rises and don’t have elevators, it’s possible you’ll walk up several flights of stairs only to discover that you’ve chosen the wrong entrance. I’ve been rung into buildings by my friends taking 10-15 minutes to find their flat where I arrive sweaty, flustered and out-of breath.

8) Being Understood

It was a delightful challenge communicating with locals who had limited English skills as they sometimes uttered the most hilarious things like “He sounds like a frog with a tissue in his throat.” or “His baby is coming to life in June, right?” Jokes aside, it forced me to stop using clichéd expressions, popular slang and shallow pop culture references in daily conversation. I liked having to speak clearly and precisely to be understood. Yet despite my best attempts, I landed in hilarious predicaments more often than not. On one of my first dates with a German, he asked about why I moved to Berlin. I rattled off the usual answers, one of them being that I came there to have fun. Thinking nothing of it, a few dates later we began to talk about our past relationships. I told him about a couple of significant long-term relationships when he suddenly looked puzzled and asked “So you only dated these two guys and no one else? You weren’t in an open relationship with them?” In complete shock, I responded “Of course not! Why would you think that?” Apparently, it was because I said I moved there to “have fun.” Anytime someone asked me about why I moved to Berlin after that, I simply said I went there for a lifestyle change.

Now that I’m back home in Toronto, there are just as many things I miss about Berlin!

Have you ever lived abroad? What were the most surprising and hilarious things that you missed about home? Share your expat experiences in the comments below.

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24 Comments

  • Reply Thomas Dembie June 21, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Great post! I can relate to this very well. Funny enough, the deodorant thingy really got to me when I moved to France! As for the dryer, I washed my clothes in a bidet and hung them in my little room. Nasty, but it worked!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 21, 2013 at 7:40 am

      Thomas – The bidet? Ha ha! That’s crazy but whatever works. 🙂

  • Reply A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) June 21, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I can definitely relate to the pillows and appliance situation – I was stuck with a teeny tiny “under the counter” type of fridge for over a year! I actually had to sit on the floor to reach things that were in the back!

    So yes Europe is a fantastic place to live but there are many adjustments to be made, I think. 😛

  • Reply Cheryl Howard June 21, 2013 at 10:22 am

    amontrealer – Ha ha, I had one of those fridges too in my first apartment in Berlin! Funny, these little things that you find out when you move to Europe. 🙂

  • Reply fotoeins | Henry June 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I began switching to body wash for that fresh-out-of-the-shower-let’s-attack-the-day scent. Oddly enough, in Chile, they began “rolling out” the roll-ons a number of years ago to augment the stacks of sprays and liquid roll-ons. As for laundry in Germany, I had to get used to the fact that I’d have it all done at a tiny laudromat down the street from my building in Heidelberg. The general adjustment to “living and personal space” can either be enormously aggravating or highly amusing; often, it’s both.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 21, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      Henry – I found it all incrediby amusing more or less. Small adjustments in the grand scheme of things.

      There were many things which frustrated me more, like the freelance visa application process which took 4-5 months to complete. The waiting time killed me as I was so scared I’d get denied!

  • Reply Miranda June 22, 2013 at 5:16 am

    We just moved to the UK from Canada. Most of the differences you listed for Germany are the same for the UK. I don’t know if we’ll ever get use to not having a dryer for our clothes!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 22, 2013 at 6:26 am

      Miranda – It does take some time to get used to the small differences abroad. Although I missed the dryer too and now happy to have one again, at least you’re not using as much energy. 🙂

  • Reply Andrew June 22, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Neat list.
    I have had no problem finding rectangular (40x80cm) pillows although the big squares are the norm. They are nice for the couch, but not the bed.
    The showers is a weird thing. I have been very lucky to have showers the entire time in Germany. Though to listen to Germans shower is strange, they often seem to turn the water on and off. To just stand in the hot water and let it sooth is less common it seems.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Andrew – Lucky you! I was never able to find them. Just one of the reasons, I enjoyed hotels so much when I was on the road. NORMAL PILLOWS!! Ha ha and that’s pretty funny about the showers. 🙂

  • Reply Runaway Brit June 22, 2013 at 11:11 am

    You should move to Sweden: we have rectangular pillows, stick deodorant, washing machines, dryers, and Swedes can easily understand you. Come to think of it, this must be why there are so many Canadians here – I work in a school here, and most of the teaching staff is Canadian 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Runaway Brit – I’ll keep that in mind when I move back to Europe someday. 🙂

  • Reply Adam Ross June 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Cheryl, i can understand the frustrations you were having missing all the comfort of home. That was funny about the “dried towel” though, he heh. Now that your home, we’ll see what you’ll have to post about things you’ll miss about Berlin. Ha ha!. Oh life.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Adam – I was not frustrated at all! I rather enjoyed these funny differences.

  • Reply Vera June 26, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Being German, I agree with the pillow situation – I have always folded them over to achieve a comfortable result. With the deodorant it was the other way around when I went to Canada: “Why on earth don’t they have ‘normal’ deodorant that is instantly refreshing? What’s with the freaking dryness?!”;) And I think German people don’t usually have dryers because they used to be really intense regarding electricity costs – deemed environmentally unfriendly therefore. I always feel a bit guilty when I use a dryer. Same with what Andrew mentioned with the shower: growing up I was always encouraged to save water and electricity (both for cost and environmental reasons), so when you shower or wash your hands, you turn the tap off while you’re lathering your body or your hands. Same with brushing your teeth. So there you are: some explanations for the mysterious cultural differences:) Let me know should you find out why the pillows are square, though!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

      Vera – I didn’t know you were German! 🙂

      Thanks for the explanations about the shower. I also feel guilty about the dryer as well! I now only use it for sheets and towels since being back in Canada.

      And perspective is such a funny thing! I like how we each see each other’s “normal” as “strange”. 🙂

      Now if only we can solve the mystery of the pillows!

  • Reply Nicole June 27, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Most of those things really haven’t frustrated me that much (excluding the deodorant), but what I miss most frequently about Canada is the dogs. Although Canadian dogs are poorly trained, high-strung, and yappy, I find them much friendlier. In Toronto, I would walk around my hood in Yonge & Eg and pat and play with a couple of dogs easily everyday. In Berlin, I find the dogs more reserved and they seem to have very little interest in other humans. And don’t even think about petting someone else’s dog here, for fear of evil German angry glares! I have serious dog-envy here.
    Other things I miss from Canada include: strong doses of Herbs/Vitamins, Vanilla extract (what’s up with the vanilla powder sugar shit?), and Glad Press n’ Seal (what a fabulous invention!).

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      Nicole – Thanks for your comment. I never saw that about dogs in Berlin! I guess the follow the manner of their owners? LOL. And great list of things to miss. 🙂

  • Reply Conrad June 28, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Can I add, having lived in London for many years and now living in Montreal:

    1. Showers – in the UK water pressure in showers is non-existent, hence the need to have a electric power shower (to which in my flat in London we always had power outages just as I had soaped up my hair)

    2. Coffee – No one outside of USA and Canada seems to be able to make a regular filtered coffee. In the UK, you end up ordering an Americano, which then costs you $8

    3. Store hours – Store hours in Europe are just weird, especially Sunday trading in the UK. And don’t get me started on store hours in France. Who knows when the local dry cleaners will be open!

    4. Free wifi – Cafes with free wifi are very hard to find outside of the US/Canada, especially in Europe.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 29, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Conrad – Thanks for your comment! I agree with the showers and weird store hours. You must come to Berlin though as they have great coffee there and most cafes have free wi-fi. 🙂

  • Reply Audrey June 29, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Oh, those bathtubs! The first time I went to Germany I was staying with a host family and I would flood their bathroom floor every morning… Showers should be the norm everywhere. 😉

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      Audrey – Glad I m not alone in my problem. 😀

  • Reply Laura @Travelocafe June 30, 2013 at 7:24 am

    I was born in Europe. It’s interesting to read about what you missed most from home, while being here in Europe.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      Laura – Yes, I’m sure I’d feel the same reading about a European’s expat experience in North America. 😀

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