Berlin, Canada, Europe, Expat Living, Germany, North America, Toronto

Things That Seem Weird About Toronto After You’ve Lived in Berlin

October 10, 2016
Berlin Sunday Hauptbahnhof

Things That Seem Weird About Toronto After You’ve Lived in Berlin

I’ve been living in Berlin on and off for the past five years, with a two year break when I returned to Toronto to spend time with family and friends, re-explore my homeland, and plot my way back to Berlin. The longer I’ve lived abroad enjoying my expat life, the more I’ve come to find certain aspects about life in Toronto, not to mention Canada in general, just a little bit weird.

Things That Seem Weird About Toronto After You’ve Lived in Berlin

Berlin Sunday Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof, at the beginning of my journey from Berlin to Toronto for a holiday last year.

Even though I sometimes question just where is home is, I feel pretty lucky that I’ve been able to live in what I consider to be two of the world’s best cities. I love Toronto and Berlin, acknowledge the good and bad of both places, but thought I’d take the time to comically highlight some of the things that seem weird about Toronto after you’ve lived in Berlin.

Recommended reading: 10 Reasons Why Berlin is So Cool and 10 Favourite Things About Berlin

1) You think you use the metric system

Only three countries, Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States, use the Imperial system. Canada professes to use the metric system, but it’s really a mixed bag. Sure, when you drive down the highway, you see signs that limit speed to 100 kilometres per hour. Yet, if I were to ask you how tall you are in centimetres or how much you weigh in kilos, many of you would be completely stumped. Same goes if I were to ask you how big your apartment was in square metres.

It happened to me last year when I was at the foreigner’s office in Berlin to hand over some of my “vitals”, like weight and height, in order to get my Blue Card work permit. Aside from the fact that I think it’s rude to ask some of these questions (does anyone ever tell the truth when it comes to their weight?), when they asked me my height, I automatically responded with an enthusiastic “5’8!” They looked at me blankly and said “What is that in centimetres?” I sat there dumbfounded and embarrassed for a moment before doing an online conversion and responding accordingly.

2) No one’s allowed to drink in public

 Things that seem weird about Toronto after you've lived in Berlin Public Drinking

Beers in the park are a Berlin tradition. (Image via Unsplash)

If I were to walk down the street in Toronto or ride the subway with an open beer in hand, not only would I face strange looks, but I’d risk being fined $125 for drinking in public.

I’ve come to take the freedom of public drinking for granted since I’ve lived in Berlin. No one will blink an eye if they see you drinking in public, no matter what time of day. I sometimes buy a beer from a Späti (convenience store) and drink it in the park. It’s a perfect addition to a hot and sweltering day! Once last winter, two friends and I shared an open bottle of wine at 1:00 a.m. while riding the S-Bahn on the way to a club. Yes, we’re that classy.

Apparently the residents of Toronto would like to get on the public drinking bandwagon too, as according to this poll, over 57% of those who participated were in full support.

3) Club’s and bars close early and do a last call

In Toronto, around 1:00 a.m. or latest 2:00 a.m., you’ll hear the bartenders shouting out “last call”, requesting everyone to order their last alcoholic beverage before the venue shuts down for the night. Anyone who wants to continue drinking must either do so at home (house party, yeah!), at an illegal after hours club that often gets raided by the cops, or in Chinatown where they serve “cold tea” that’s really low quality beer.

In Berlin, there are some venue’s that close earlier than others and will similarly, do a last call. Yet, this is at complete discretion of business owners. There are other bars and clubs that only shut down when their last customer leaves, are open from Friday night until Monday morning, and even some that are open 24/7. Hallo, Mein Haus am See!

I’ve had several all-nighters in Berlin, emerging from darkened clubs like Berghain or Kit Kat (just kidding on the last one!), only to discover it was almost noon. In moments like these you have no shame, so you buy a Döner and call it a day. Being as hip as we are in Berlin, according to these portraits we still manage to look good despite being ravaged by no sleep, lots of alcohol, energy drinks, and in many cases, drugs.

Recommended reading: Love and Pride – Berlin CSD 2015 Photos and Berlin Myfest 2015 Street Party in Photos

4) Being forced to buy alcohol at a government owned establishment

We all know why the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) is a “thing” — it garners the Ontario government more than five billion in revenue annually and allows them to monopolize the alcoholic beverage market for Canada’s most populated province. The government has relaxed somewhat and finally allowed some supermarkets to sell beer and cider (not wine or any of the strong stuff), but from what friends have told me the selection is weak. Think Molson Canadian, and not anything along the lines of the region’s tastiest craft beer.

Not being able to buy a bottle of wine or some beer at a convenience store or supermarket at any time of the day totally boggles my mind. The fact that it’s sometimes cheaper than water here, doesn’t hurt either.

5) Shopping on Sundays, what?

Berlin Sunday Alexanderplatz Entertainment

Alexanderplatz. This guy’s celebrating the fact shops were open that day (it was Sunday).

Other things that seem weird about Toronto after you’ve lived in Berlin? 

In Toronto, Sundays are just another day. You can shop to your heart’s content. Here in the German capital, all businesses, with the exception of restaurants, bars, etc. are closed on Sundays. Yet, every now and then, you can go shopping on Sundays. This awakens an excitement in everyone and they hilariously treat it as a revered “special occasion”.

Recommended reading: Photos from a Sunday in Berlin

While Sunday closures are a minor inconvenience, I find it a refreshing concept that Sunday is valued as a day of rest that you can spend with family, friends, or doing whatever you like.

Lazy day lakeside? I’m in! Day trip to Poland for pierogies and beer? I’m there!

6) Drying your clothes in a dryer is a thing

It’s normal in Toronto for most apartments and homes to be equipped with a dryer. As they consume a lot of energy and electricity here is expensive, it’s very rare to find a this appliance outside of a laundry mat.

While, I don’t mind hanging up my clothes to dry, I do miss the fresh smell and soft feeling of my towels and bedding being dried in an actual dryer.

In Berlin, drying yourself off with a towel after a shower or bath is akin to a painful loofah scrub experience.

7) Tipping is excessive 

Szimpla Kaffeehaus

Szimpla Kaffeehaus in Berlin, where I spent around €8 and tipped less than a €1. It’s affordable here.

In Toronto, you have to tip for anything and everything. Take a taxi, get your hair done, eat in a restaurant and you’re expected to tip anywhere from 15-20%. While I understand that people in the service industry aren’t paid very well and live off their tips, it makes me want to cry when I’m forced to dole out so much money. I much prefer the setup in Germany, where people are paid well, don’t expect a tip, and are genuinely surprised and appreciative when you do.

Last June, I met an American actor at Tegel airport. We started chatting while waiting in a long queue to buy snacks. He admitted that he started talking to me once he spied the Roots Canada luggage tag on my suitcase! After 20 minutes of conversation that ranged from his upscale week in Berlin (he pretty much didn’t leave Soho House), to the television series he was filming, and his admiration for our handsome prime minister, we finally reached the checkout. He promptly snapped up a pretzel and juice for about €7, gave the cashier a €20, and told her to keep the “change.” Yeah, he was a rich guy showing off just because he could and it was a bit of a douche move, but the look on her face was priceless. He totally made her day.

8) Cable TV, mobile, and Internet plans are highway robbery

While I don’t have a TV here, my mobile plan only costs €15 a month for 5 GB of data. I also only pay €20 a month for my high-speed Internet, with no caps on how much data I consume. I can binge-watch Netflix (I’m currently making my way through the first six seasons of The Good Wife!) without worrying about going over a data limit.

In Toronto, I used to pay an average of $150 a month for both, equalling around €100 and a difference of €65!

The Canadian telecoms have their hands deep in your pockets, yo and it’s not cool.

9) If I talk about hockey, no one is confused (but “ice hockey” games are kind of fun in Berlin)

 Things that seem weird about Toronto after you've lived in Berlin Ice Hockey.

Pretend this is the Leafs celebrating a Stanley Cup win. (Image via Skeeze)

If I mention hockey in Berlin, I’m often asked to clarify exactly which type of hockey I mean. Do I mean ice hockey or do I mean field hockey? As this is our national sport, you all know what this means without question. You’d probably make fun of me if I used the term “ice hockey” in conversation.

In Toronto, most of you would know what I’m talking about if I tell you that I still get warm and fuzzy feelings whenever I think of the time I met Walter Gretsky at the Air Canada Centre or the other time when I almost fainted because Darcy Tucker looked at me during a Blue and White game at Ricoh Coliseum.

Speaking about “ice hockey”, did you know that Berlin has an ice hockey team, the Eisbären (polar bears)? In a burn to Toronto Maple Leaf fans everywhere, they’ve won accolades more recently than 1967. Interestingly, they’ve a serious inclination to employ pyrotechnics when introducing the players at the beginning of games. I’ve seen players skate out in a ring of fire or past bursts of flames being shot out in a timed sequence. They even focus on the game at hand and of the two games I’ve attended, I’ve yet to see anyone drop their gloves for a jersey removing fist-fight. Also, you don’t have to sever an arm or a leg to watch a game, as you can score a nosebleed seat on the day of a game for about €20.

10) The act of recycling is not a fine art

On with more things things that seem weird about Toronto after you’ve lived in Berlin.

If I walk to the disposal area beside my apartment building in Berlin, I’m greeted with more types of bins than I can count. Outside of the obvious rubbish bins, there’s three whole bins dedicated purely to glass. We separate by colour here – brown, white, and green glass. Then there are more bins for organic waste, paper, and plastic. I’m probably forgetting at least one or two other types of bins.

Seriously, the German government should hold regular training sessions for all of us newcomers just so we can be properly educated on the whole recycling “movement”. Forgetting to follow the rules could bring a stern scolding from a neighbour, or even worse, call to the authorities. When I first moved here, my neighbour reported me to the landlord, when she saw that I’d put cardboard in the paper bin.

At home in Toronto, I lived in some apartment buildings that had a single garbage shoot and maybe a separate room somewhere else in the building (that was always hard to find), with one to three bins maximum that allowed for the most basic recycling.

11) You guys are friendly and it makes me feel all weird inside

Berlin CSD 2015 Photos - Massive Crowds

One of the few times people in Berlin are super friendly is when they’re drunk at massive public celebrations.

When I came home to visit Toronto last summer, I was unnerved by how nice people were. When I was trying to figure out the new train from the airport to Union station, more than one person offered to help me out. In Kensington Market, I forgot to look my way before crossing the street, almost crashed into a cyclist, and he was the one to say “sorry!” even though I was totally at fault. In grocery stores, cashiers would ask “How are you?” I even had long philosophical discussions with my Uber drivers.

If I’m honest, it overwhelmed me as I’m not used to this intense level of engagement. Maybe I’ve been exposed to the famous Berliner Schnauze for way too long (I’ve actually had cyclists crash into me when I was on the sidewalk, not  the bike lane, and then yell at me), but that friendliness that Canadians are world renowned for seems a bit much. It makes me ponder your intentions. Does the cashier at the supermarket really want to know that I had a bad day? Was that cyclist really sorry that I almost caused in accident that may have injured him or damage his bike? Probably not.

I don’t mind the solitude of public transit here in Berlin and I’m content that the baristas in the local coffee shop only greet me with a perfunctory “Guten morgen.”

12) Somewhere along the way, you came to be known as “the Six”

I used to call Toronto the “T-Dot” and at the time, it was cool. At least I considered myself cool whenever I used the term. Yet, if I were to call it that that now, everyone would make fun of me and tell me that the time of the “T-Dot” is over and only old people use that expression.

After I moved to Berlin, I started seeing friends tag their Instagram photos with “the Six “or tweeting statements like “We the Six” and I thought WTF? As an outsider, I find it hilarious that the city allowed Drake to call them the Six and that the name actually stuck.

Reports indicate that the name is here to stay, so the next time I come home, I’ll tweet how I can’t wait to get back to “the Six”, and hope everyone thinks I’m cool again.

13) Riding the Rocket (or the Comet Vomit) is not for the weak

Berlin Sunday S-Bahn at Night

Trains run frequently in Berlin!

Just a couple of days into being home for vacation last year, I was ready to pack it in and head back to Berlin. The requirement for exact change, a ticket, or token upon entry was painful, as was the time it took to get from one side of the city to the other. Riding what seemed like 10,000 buses and even just waiting for a bus to arrive was frustrating. Enduring the ride in a jam packed streetcar along Queen West during rush hour made me want to scream out in frustration. I totally understand why everyone always seemed to be enraged whenever they use the TTC.

I’ve more or less come to appreciate the efficiency and convenience of public transit in Berlin. While the ticket controllers scare the hell out of me and weekend construction is inconvenient, the frequency of trains, buses, and trams, the number of subway lines, the varied options for transit passes are a beautiful thing that make me weep tears of joy.

14) You’re really truly multicultural

Whenever people ask me what I like best about Toronto, this is the first thing I’ll say and I’ll say like a proud and enthusiastic mother. You see and hear it whenever you walk down the street, witness the coupling of a biracial couple at a wedding (I was once married to a Korean), or ponder the countless restaurant options offering up almost every cuisine in the world.

Berlin is way more multicultural than any other German city, but still has a long way to way to go to match what Toronto has become over the years.

15) You call your coins the “Loonie” and the “Toonie” but you have way less coins

Things that seem weird about Toronto after you've lived in Berlin Coins

In the EU, we have alllll the coins. (Image via FraukeFeind)

This is cute but way hard to explain to Germans. I’m often asked “Cheryl, can you explain this ‘Loonie’ and ‘Toonie’ thing?” I tell them how we named our one dollar coin after the bird that appears on one side and that many of our coins actually have animals on them, like the beaver and the moose. I go on to say that it was of course, only natural to name our two dollar coin the “toonie” because we love our Looney Tunes and we’re a humorous sort of people. This is somehow both amusing and confusing, and maybe this is because Germans aren’t known to be funny (just kidding German friends!), but I imagine them to be thinking we’re a bunch of idiots.

But Canada, the fact you don’t use pennies anymore, coupled with the fact you have a limited number of coins, makes me love you hard. Right now, my change purse (or “money bag” as some of my German friends call them), weighs me down. Seriously, I could do a workout with the thing. The one cent coin, the two cent coin, the five cent coin … it’s a never ending parade of coins in the EU.

16) Your rental contracts are short and to the point and don’t include bizarre rules

The lease on my rental apartment on Market Street in Toronto wasn’t more than five pages long and frankly, it was a boring read full of standard legalese and various conditions like prohibiting smoking indoors or owning a pet.

But here in Germany, the rental contracts are a form of entertainment. Aside from the usual legal mumbo jumbo, you’ll find weird rules stating that you’re not allowed to feed pigeons from your balcony, that you must open all of your windows for at least 15 minutes a day (Germans love their “frische Luft”), or that you’re only permitted to BBQ on your balcony three times a year.

17) Justin Trudeau is way hotter than Angela Merkel

Things that seem weird about Toronto after you've lived in Berlin Justin Trudeau

HAWT. (Image via Justin Trudeau)

In saving the best for last about things that seem weird about Toronto after you’ve lived in Berlin, let’s talk about the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Say what you will about his politics, but he’s an extremely good looking guy, especially when compared to all other world leaders. Whenever I look at a photo of him, whether he’s emerging shirtless from a cave or photo bombing a wedding (also shirtless), I have to wipe the drool off my face.

Other things that seem weird about Toronto after you’ve lived in Berlin?

For the purpose of this post, I kept my list somewhat short, but I have an even longer list saved as a draft, which I may or may not share in the future (Sorry, I really suck at keeping commitments).

Recommended reading: Things I Missed About Canada When I Lived Abroad

Do you have anything to add in the meantime? Leave a comment below, as I’d love to hear about your “Toronto vs. Berlin” or any other similar experiences.

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Things That Seem Weird About Toronto After You Live in Berlin

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4 Comments

  • Reply Jasilyn Albert October 19, 2016 at 7:06 AM

    This is awesome! I learned a lot more about Canada than I was expecting too. 🙂 I’m just wondering what’s going to shock or annoy me when I go back to the USA. I feel like nothing will, but my sister and cousin both told me they experienced reverse culture shock so I’m kind of curious as to what that will look like.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard October 22, 2016 at 2:13 PM

      Hi Jasilyn – Thank you! Happy to be repping Canada from abroad. 🙂

      Look forward to hearing how you’ll feel when you visit or move back to the U.S. It was definitely weird for me in the beginning. People seemed so loud and it was weird to hear so much English for example.

  • Reply Abigail October 31, 2016 at 8:40 AM

    This was a very fun read, no matter how long it was you kept me there from start to finish. Both cities seem really amazing and you are lucky to have lived in both. I could wish to experience that someday – but you’ve also encapsulated the same thing that makes every city worth visiting. Just when you think you know about a city, there is much to discover!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard October 31, 2016 at 5:21 PM

      Hiya Abigail –

      Thanks so much for reading and reading through until the end. 😉

      You’re right. I’m still learning new things about Berlin all of the time.

      Cheryl

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