Driving and Traffic

Photo from Dreamstime


I interviewed Sue and Gary from the U.K. and Sally and Shaun from South Africa at the same time. There was an interesting conversation about the differences between driving in both of those place and in Calgary.

SUE    In England you have to have a road safety vehicle test and it’s very stringent. You would have to go every year after your car is 3 years old. You wouldn’t see cars on the road that shouldn’t be on the road, the rusty buckets.

GARY   I think driving here is poor. It’s very structured in England. You have your slow lane, your middle lane and the overtaking lane and the only time you go in the overtaking lane is to overtake. I remember my first day of work, I had a Chevy Nova and I had to drive down around Chinook. I was driving in the middle lane and this car passed me at a high speed on the outside lane. That would not have happened in England, it would be a huge fine. And the semi trucks in England could only drive in the slow lane.

SHAUN   And then you get the other extreme, South African cars! Compared to there, the cars here are a dream.

SALLY    And the drivers are marvelous, like model drivers!

SHAUN    I worked in a refinery where we used 16 seater vans and they would sell them off after 2 years, and this one van was on its chassis but literally leaning 30 degrees. It had been in an accident and they hadn’t bothered fixing it, and they sold it. And the guy they sold it to used it for at least 3 years after that!

SALLY   In South Africa we didn’t have to prove we had car insurance, we didn’t even have to have insurance. So if somebody hit you who didn’t have insurance, it was awful.

SUE   The other thing about vehicles here is we couldn’t get over the truck culture. A friend was talking about a friend who just got a new truck, and I couldn’t figure out why he would need a truck. At home you wouldn’t have a truck unless you were a labourer who needed a truck for your work.

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“There were no trucks where we came from” Reza says. “The fuel is more expensive compared to Canada and driving a truck would be very costly. Not just Iran, but also in Europe. The biggest vehicle would be like a Honda CRV. So a truck is like a tank for me.”

Reza explains about driving in Iran. “In Iran, if you obey the rules on the roads you are a freak. No one does. At an intersection back home even if the light is green you still have to check all ways because no one cares about the lights. When I was doing driver training in Calgary I would slow down as I approached the intersections and the instructor asked me what I was doing. I would say ‘I just need to make sure no one is coming through the red light.’ He said ‘You don’t have to worry about that here.’ It was very difficult. Using the signal at home? Nobody does it. And the horn! Here I have only used my horn once, maybe two times and I am pretty sure once was just to make sure my car had a horn. At home, the horn is part of the driving culture. If you are trying to pass a car you have to press the horn. You have to, because you have to warn that car, Hey I am going to pass you! But here, it’s not the same.”

Azi adds “Here it is nice and quiet and much easier to drive.”

Ruback agrees. “The best part of driving in Canada is the signs. It’s easier here because people pay attention to the signs. You need to be more careful when you are back home. In the South Asian countries they do not follow the signs. My friend tells me that now in the bigger cities like Karachi now they don’t even pay attention to the stoplights.”


Family Life

baby children cute dress
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“I am not saying it was better or worse than the Iranian culture, but Canadian culture regarding families is different from what I am used to.” says Azi. “I was told that Canadian families do not support their children as they become adults, they need to get their own jobs. In Iran, parents can support their children into their forties, and the adult children take care of the parents more too. Last year my father was sick and I went home to take care of him. That is just normal. I prefer that part of the Iranian culture.”

Senad remembers visiting a man who was living in a Seniors’ residence. “I asked him ‘Where are your children?’ He said that they live in their own houses in Calgary. He said that actually he preferred to live on his own. Where we come from, this is not the way it is and it is hard for me to understand.”

It is the same for Ruback. “South Asian people are very bonded with their parents” he says.

Bo says “In the Netherlands the homes are too small or there are too many stairs for many seniors to live with their parents, plus most people are working full time. Also, the seniors value their independence.  There are traditional residences for seniors that are more accessible than the average Dutch house, but there is also a movement toward having community type residences that are all on one level with no stairs at the threshold and which incorporate older and younger residents as well as medical services, shopping and pharmacies, and with help at the call of a button.”

Senad says “Another thing that I notice in North America and I can’t understand is all the divorce here. In my home town, 50,000 people, there were maybe 2, 3 couples divorced, that’s it. I tell people we don’t buy love, we build it. And divorce happens the most during the worst economies. I have heard that since the recent downturn we are having to get extra lawyers from Ontario to help out with all the divorces. We always say that whatever happens in a marriage, it all can be recovered. We have such a high divorce rate here. That’s something that our friends here from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, we are all surprised about this.”

seniors in the park
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Customs, Culture and Language Mishaps

Reza exploring Lake Kananaskis

“A big difference for me is that at home we would shake hands every morning” notes Senad. “That is unusual where I work now, but there was one fellow, a Nigerian who experienced the same thing. The other fellows at work were not used to it and wondered why he and I would shake hands every morning. And it’s something I do with the people who work for me, I shake everyone’s hand each morning. Here, you only shake hands when you introduce yourself, not every morning. Most of them don’t even say hello to each other every morning! At the same time, where I come from you do not stand too close to people. Usually it was customary to remain at about arm’s length.”

Ruback says “In my country the ladies and the gents are often kept separate, especially in the smaller towns. People are more conservative and men wouldn’t shake hands with a lady. At home I would be more shy about talking to a lady than I am in Canada.”

A custom that Reza points out as different between Iran and Canada is “Back home it was okay to touch children, to kiss the children of strangers. Here, you cannot touch other peoples’ children. Also, at home it was customary for men to kiss other men on the cheek. Here, that is not considered normal.” Gary notes “In England when you used to do phys. ed. we referred to running shoes as ‘pumps’ so I had some strange looks when I said to friends at work in Canada “I’ll get me pumps”. Also, we referred to sweaters as ‘wooly jumpers’. Canadians just didn’t have a clue what we were referring to when we talked about getting a jumper.”

Shaun from South Africa created a buzz when he and Sally moved to a lake community in Calgary. Sally remembers “There was a funny thing. Our neighbours had a hot tub and when Shaun came over in his orange and black striped bumble bee Speedo they really teased him. We also had no clue that nobody would go to the lake in Speedos.” Though he laughs about the teasing, Shaun defends himself. “In South Africa we would wear our Speedos under our trunks and if you actually went into the water you took off the trunks and just wore the Speedo. It was awhile before I noticed that no one else was wearing Speedos here.”

Len had some encounters that are funny in retrospect, but were awkward at the time. “When we moved here I would say the wrong expressions. At home, getting a good screw was earning a lot of money. I met this man when we only lived here a few days and he said to me that his daughter worked for some lawyers and she had her own apartment and her own car. (Of course, this itself was different from England, no one left home until they got married.) So I said to him ‘Oh, those lawyers must be giving your daughter a good screw.’ And he was absolutely furious. I could see his face. And I thought what a strange man. And I found out afterwards what I had actually said to him. Also, there was this very nice woman who really helped me with something. So I said to her ‘You’re really homely.’ Which in England means you are a really nice girl, someone who you would take home to your mum. A compliment. Course, she got upset and she wouldn’t say anything. I realized afterwards I had called her ugly. I had no idea why she was so upset. I never saw her again and I felt badly because she had been so nice to me. She probably thought what a horrible man.”

All of the women who moved to Canada from the U.K. and Sally from South Africa were embarrassed when they referred to pencil erasers as rubbers. Sally says “The thing with immigrating is that you know you’ve said something wrong, but you don’t know what it is. You can tell from the face that you’ve done something wrong but you don’t know how to correct it. It’s a very vulnerable feeling.”

Of course, that is even more noticeable for the people who have grown up speaking another language. Bo says “It often happens that people laugh about something I have said and I have no clue why. I get them to explain it because I want to know what is so funny. Sometimes I grasp for words, and when I say something in a hurry it comes across harsher than what I meant. Sometimes you step on some toes. Written communication can be difficult too, so I add smiley faces to soften the message.”  Azi from Iran is a doctor and she finds the same thing. “I have talked to patients who have been offended because I told them that they should do something, and the way that I have said it, it seems to them like I am ordering them to do it, not that I am suggesting that they do it.” Her husband Reza says “We have to be very cautious with language because if something goes wrong we can offend someone without meaning to.” But there are times when the misunderstanding is not offensive. “A couple of the Canadian expressions that we have heard that we didn’t understand are ‘It’s the last straw’ or ‘Right off the bat’.”

“There’s mate and buddy” says Shaun. “To me, Gary’s my mate and Canadians look at you funny when you say that. The Australians, South Africans, the English all say mate, yet here, mate is your partner.”

Sue says “We would say we were going to do the gardening which meant cutting the grass, pulling weeds, but they would be looking around for a vegetable patch. Early days, friends invited us to go to the theatre and we said ‘Come back to ours for supper afterward’ meaning coffee and snacks. My friend said ‘Do you really want to cook supper at that time of night?’”

“I was raised not to swear, especially on my mother’s name” says Senad. “There was a man that I worked with and he called me a m.f. and I told him to never talk to me like that again. When the guys at work joke around with the swearing I say to them “Please guys do not go that far, I am not that kind of person.  Have you ever heard any well-educated guys using these words?”

Bo says that it was more acceptable in the Netherlands to swear, as long as it was in English! “My kids always laugh when we watch Dutch t.v. because they don’t bleep the English swear words. People in Europe will just casually throw around English swear words while speaking in Dutch because they don’t really mean anything to you the way they would to an English speaking person. You wouldn’t use the same words in Dutch. Seriously, you wouldn’t say that. I even used to casually say ‘shit’ when I lived there, if I dropped something for instance. I really had to change that when I came here, especially around kids.”

Lining Up and Customer Service

It is customary in Canada to form a line when waiting to pay in a store, or waiting for a bus. In fact so ordinary that most Canadians don’t realize that it is not the norm everywhere in the world.

Superstore line

“If you are buying groceries in Karachi” Fatiha says “you gather around the cash counter to pay. There are no lines, and there is no concept of customer service or returning goods, even if they are damaged. They are good shopkeepers, you can chat with them, sit with them. But there, the shopkeepers have the upper hand. Here, the customers have the upper hand. Things are changing there now, though. There used to be a big difference in service between the local banks and the foreign banks, but not as much anymore.”

Ruback agrees “There is no line system back home. You are considered stupid if you are in a line, to be honest. I used to stand in a line, but people will pass you over. Society there is dominated by the people who are more influential. There is no equality concept. Someone who is influential will have a better home, better car, better security, better back up system if the electricity goes out, because that’s an issue too. At home, the wealthier people get taken care of first. You can tell them by the way they are dressed, or by their watches or the cell phone. People carry their wallet and cell phone in their hand to show what they have, they show their rings. The way they behave lets you know that they are influential. Here it’s more equal. I think it is a good approach to make the society survive to have people sit in the same place. Back home the well-off wouldn’t sit with someone who is poor. Even the poor would not sit with the rich – they would feel guilty about it. It’s kind of the mentality. I feel sorry about it but it is not something that could be corrected in one day or even one generation, because in a country like Canada this is an improvement that has been continually happening.”

“Customer service in Iran, there is no concept of returning items” says Reza.  “If you buy something, it is yours even after one minute. There is not as much competition and with 18 million people you can sell anything. If you don’t buy it, another customer will come along in one minute. There is no need for customer service.”

Bo says “If you are in a store in the Netherlands you would line up to pay, but at a bus stop people just gather at the spot. When the bus stops most people have an idea of who has been waiting the longest, but also the people closest would get on the bus first. It would be orderly with no pushing, but not the strict queuing that you would see in the U.K. or Japan. In the grocery line if you had finished paying for your groceries but were still chatting with the cashier people would be more impatient in the Netherlands for you to move along than they are here in Canada.”

Susan and Jeff noticed in the early years that customer service in Canada was much better than in the U.K. In recent visits there they notice that U.K. service is improving. Susan’s mother loves that you get free refills of coffee in Canada. A cup of coffee is much more expensive in Britain, and you only got the one cup.