I’m now over four months into my Vancouver adventure, and I can already say that there are some things I’ll never get used to. My unsuccessful interactions with the Canadian service industry is one of them. I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I’m asked to repeat myself every time I order a coffee/coke/sandwich/other food and drink is because the person asking for my order is so distracted by the fact that I have an accent that they stop listening to what I’m saying. So they ask me to say it again. Every. Single. Time.
The situation got so hilariously ridiculous that three of my Canadian friends created some cue cards for me to flash instead of speaking my regular orders. We soon realised that the English-Canadian language barrier doesn’t stop at food and drink, and before I knew it I had a comprehensive set of 41 unique cue cards. Here are a few of my most used translations:
Bin = Garbage
Chips = Fries
Crisps = Chips
Lie in = Sleep in
Lemonade = Sprite
Wellies = Rain Boots
Line = Queue
Hockey = Ice Hockey
Toque = Beanie
Poutine= Chips, cheese and gravy
Loonie = 1 dollar coin
Toonie = 2 dollar coin
Hydro = Electricity
Pop = Fizzy drinks
Take off = Go away
Trunk = Boot
Hoser = Loser/Idiot
Concentrate = Squash
Cilantro – Corriander
Canuck = Canadian
Movie Theatre = Cinema
Apartment = Flat
As you’ll be aware from reading my previous posts, my boyfriend and I travelled to Vancouver on a BUNAC group flight. This means that we booked our seat with BUNAC rather than directly with Air Canada (BUNAC always use Air Canada flights) who sorted out the paperwork for us and met us at Heathrow to give us our documents and make sure we checked in OK. At the other end a SWAP (BUNAC’s North American counterpart) rep met us at Vancouver airport, loaded us all onto a bus and took us to our hostel (one night’s accommodation was included in the package). We also received a t-shirt and a phone card, and we’re able to change our return date for approximately £35 (essential if you want to stay for a year as you can only book a return date 11 months from when you book your flight).
The best thing about the group flight is that it’s a great way to meet other people who are travelling to the same place as you on the same visa, with similar work/travel plans. There were 38 of us on our group flight, and meeting for a drink in the airport bar helped calm the nerves (and not just because of the alcohol) – we soon realised that we were all as terrified as each other. We’d already set up a Facebook group for everyone on the flight, and stalkerish pointing and shouting ‘I recognise you!’ definitely broke the ice. As you know I’d already sorted a place to live, but it proved a great way of getting to know potential housemates and the majority of the others on the flight are now living with each other.
The pain of packing one’s worldly possessions into a suitcase was so much that I’m only just bringing myself to write this post five days after the incident took place…and I’m still suffering post-traumatic stress even thinking about it. Monday 10th January 2011 was one of the most stressful I have ever known, made all the more difficult by the realisation that all my things were just not going to fit.
My first attempt at packing had my suitcase at 28.5kg (my limit was 23kg) and my little ‘shoes’ holdall at 10kg. At that point, all of the clothes in the ‘maybe’ pile had to go, unfortunately along with most of the ‘can’t live without’ pile too. My second attempt was better, with my suitcase weighing in at 22.5kg, however the holdall wouldn’t even do up with less than half my remaining belongings. As a result, my Mum was dispatched to collect a newer, bigger holdall from Argos to fill (and I mean fill) with what was left. My third and final attempt at packing left my suitcase at 22kg, and my new Puma holdall at 18kg, with my hand luggage consisting of a backpack and a laptop satchel.
Backpack – Book, guide book, scarf, gloves, slippers, ear warmer, tissues, flu tablets, throat sweets, bottle of water, deodorant, make up bag, glasses, contact lens case, plasters, purse, passport, immigration documents, padlocks, Vaseline, iPod, diary, pen
Satchel – laptop, laptop charger, money, jewellery, magazines
Suitcase – Coat, salopettes, handbags x 2, hoodie x 2, hooded jacket, jeans x 2, denim skirt, smart trousers x 2, smart tops x 3, dresses x 6, tops x 10, leggings x 6, tights x 2, underwear
Holdall – Snow boots, Trainers x2, heels x2, ballet pumps x 2, work shoes, heeled boots, wash bag, wash bag with hair bits, wash bag with make-up bits, phone charger, camera bits, scarves, hat, ski gloves, good luck/goodbye cards, framed photo
This time in 4 days I’ll be beginning my descent into Vancouver International Airport, which is for some reason abbreviated to YVR. It’s getting pretty close now, and the final countdown has well and truly begun this week with the release of the contact details of other BUNAC participants booked onto the group flight. It just so happens that I’m running low on reading material for the plane, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to matter as there will be 37 other people to talk to!
I was expecting 10-15 others to have booked onto the flight through BUNAC, but it’s great to see that there’ll be even more of us turning up to the airport decked out in ski jackets, bulky hoodies and a million and one layers dragging the world’s biggest suitcases and weeping relatives (just me?). What’s even better is chatting to everyone and realising that I’m not the only one who hasn’t quite finalised my CV, told my bank I’m leaving the country, or chosen how many pairs of shoes to take with me.
Whilst I have noticed that I’m sleeping less and grinding my teeth more (classic anxious Lizzie) I’m also thinking about what to wear to the airport and planning my first few days in the city (classic excited Lizzie). The more I worry the more I realise that there are dozens of things I haven’t done that I could have, or even should have, but the more I also recognise that none of these things are likely to really make a difference in the long run.
Anyone who knows me (and anyone who doesn’t but has been reading this blog) will know that I like to plan. I’m not a total Monica Gellar, but part of me definitely subscribes to the notion of ‘organised fun’. As a result, most of my anxiety stems from the fact that in 4 days time I’m going to be in a brand new situation that I cannot possibly imagine let alone plan for; in essence, there is no plan! It’s not that I’m not prone to moments of spontaneity (I have a list as long as my entire body of items I purchased on a whim but never used, and it includes a violin and CDJ decks) but I do like to know what’s happening next, so jetting off to live in another country with no job is going to be a scary but liberating experience.
I’m jumping head first into a scenario where I won’t know what the coins in my purse are worth, how to turn my mobile phone Canadian or where to get the bus to the mountains, but the thought of living without any trace of a plan is strangely refreshing. And if it all goes wrong, at least I’m in good company…
Today my flight confirmation pack arrived from BUNAC!
A confirmation letter detailing my flight information (AC855 Air Canada), my BUNAC Moneywise Guide to North America (I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve read it), two BUNAC luggage tags and a BUNAC Global Phonecard with 15 minutes pre-loaded. BUNAC-tastic!
I received this pack because I booked onto the BUNAC group flight. BUNAC group flights leave London Heathrow once a month (more during peak times like June, September or November) and include the following:
- A BUNAC rep at the departure airport
- Transfer to your pre-booked arrival accommodation (the price includes one night’s stay in a hostel)
- T-shirt and phone card
- Contact details of fellow BUNAC-ers on your flight before you leave the UK
There always seems to be a lot of debate about whether the BUNAC flights are good value or not, and as I’m flying back from Toronto I found booking this return flight to be cheaper than booking two one-way tickets. I like to think I’m a confident flyer and know my way around an airport (or at least the duty free section), but I still liked the idea of sitting with other travellers on the plane – it’ll be a bit like University halls of residence, where you’re put on a corridor with people you might not have anything in common with, but you all talk to each other because you have no choice, and (usually) end up great friends at the end of the day. I admit my own University experience didn’t go quite like that, but I have faith in BUNAC’s seating plan!
Knowing myself as I do, I imagine I’ll be far too jet-lagged and overwhelmed to even remember the name of my hostel at the other side, let alone get on the right bus to downtown, so I was also encouraged by the inclusion of one night in a hostel and pre-booked transfers to get there. The hostel accommodation will of course be in a shared dormitory with my new friends, as I think I’ll be entitled to call them by then – there’s not a lot about me that they won’t know after 11 hours in economy class.
If you decide not to book onto the BUNAC group flights you have the freedom to travel on whichever day you want (unlike the group flights) and with any airline you like. BUNAC use Air Canada for the vast majority of their flights, but other airlines to fly from London to Vancouver and you may find a bargain, particularly if you don’t fly direct. Try GS World Travel (http://www.gsworld-travel.co.uk/) or Canadian Affair (http://www.canadianaffair.com/) for some good deals, but be wary of hidden fees for changing the date of your return flight (BUNAC charge a flat rate of £35).
At least one thing’s for certain now – there’s no turning back for me!
 BUNAC Work Canada website – www.bunac.org/uk/workcanada/flights.aspx