Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ten Notes on Canada, #s 1-10

Just a series of completely unconnected thoughts on our present situation and observances on same. To be added to periodically. Let's begin:

1. The people here are really, really, really friendly. Ridiculously friendly. Friendly like back when you actually knew your neighbours. Friendly like church. That sort of friendly.

2. Pedestrians rule the streets. This is wonderful (if you're on foot that day) and annoying (if you're trying to brake a big Windstar van because some moron isn't even looking both ways before crossing). :)

3. Gas is expensive ($4/gal roughly translated), but we have a LOT less need to drive places anymore. We're on an island now, and on top of that our entire world is pretty much limited to the lower third of said island. This means that for 90% of the kind of thing we used to hop in the car for (go to the store, go to a restaurant, go to a movie or play), we just walk. Yes, walk. Even when we do need to get in the van (looking at housing outside the harbour area, visit Costco up in Langford, do a big grocery shop etc), everything (and I'm not kidding here) is at most 15 to 20 minutes away. In traffic. Thus, the price of gas may have risen when we crossed the border, but our usage dropped a heck of a lot, so the cost is really not affecting us right now. At least at the moment.

PS. You may think that "$1.01" in the picture looks pretty attractive, but that's per litre, not per gallon. Multiply that price by four, and that's roughly the price per gallon.

4. Amazon.ca sucks compared to Amazon.com. It's pathetic how few things they have. Type in amazon.ca, do a couple of searches, see for yourself.

5. Interesting telecom situation up here. Basically there are two companies that control the cable/digital telephone/high-speed market -- Shaw and Telus (there are some other companies but they are in other parts of Canada). Yes, that's right, we have a choice of service!! Generally speaking, prices are comparable to the US prices, with three exceptions:
a. Fewer channels than you would get in the US (though we do get some Canadian-only and French channels most US residents don't get)
b. Cable price is roughly the same, but you have to buy the terminal/box/DVR. No renting.
c. High-speed is faster here.

6. On the island here, not as much US corporate presence as you might think. To be sure, I can find a McDonald's or Starbucks or Dairy Queen or Sears, but almost no other instantly-recognisable brand names are here. There's a 24-hour Wal-Mart and a Costco, but there are outside town (about 20 min by car). This is both good (local businesses YAY! big-box stores BOO!) and bad (I miss Target and Taco Bell, and I never thought I'd hear myself say that). Local stores that try to take the place of the mass retailers in the US are about 20 years behind on store displays and "look." Most of the grocery stores here will remind you strongly of the Pantry Prides and Winn Dixies of your childhood. :)

7. The only actual monopoly here (aside from power, which comes from the gov't) is in the cell phone market. Rogers (and their slightly-less-evil subsidiary Fido) owns virtually everything (Telus and Bell make small attempts, but they are purely token efforts). Thus, you get a lot less service for a lot more money in Canada when it comes to cell phones. This will probably change when the iPhone comes into the market, but a big part of the reason it hasn't is because Rogers doesn't want to give people American-style value for money (Unlimited data? Free included voicemail and IM? Unheard of!). They've got a nice monopolistic racket going right now, why mess with it?

UPDATE: Give the Harper government credit, they're moving (slowly) to open up cell-phone competition because of complaints.

8. Utility bills are so low that I won't even mention prices; I will only say that even though Canadians overall use easily as much heat as Floridians use AC, the difference in the bills would make everyone I know in Florida cry. Vancouver Island gets 25% of its power from hydro electric, and is looking at other ways to be more self-sustaining. We love this.

9. Apartments, at least in this part of the world, are getting smaller. People on an island must, by necessity, live efficiently, but we've been a little disquieted by all the new places that are being build that feature 540 sq. feet of living space (that's what they call "a studio" and I call "a nice walk-in closet"). Even 1BR places seem to top out at 700 sq. feet, and 2BR places at around 1000 sq. feet in these new apartments and condos. There are larger places available of course, but the rents! Ay-yi-yi!

Don't mind me, I'm just ranting. I'm forgetting to mention that many of these places feature views of the Harbour, the Ocean, the Mountains (or sometimes all three) and that rents in Florida and elsewhere are probably very comparable. We wish we could immediately qualify for a condo loan, however: paying around $2000/mo in rent and utilities is stupid, but an awful lot of couples/families do it just to have a little "elbow room."

10. Heather and I have decided to use our "unemployed" time wisely, and volunteer in the community. Heather is working with the Victoria Film Festival (and I will be too when we can figure out a good role for me), and I've been elected VP of the local Macintosh User Group. You knew that would happen! :)

7 comments:

Jim Donato said...

Charles:

Get used to less space.. I did. We now live in a 2BR 864 sq. ft. home WAAAAAAAAY smaller than the apartment I lived in in Orlando. Not to mention our 2000 sq ft 3 BR home we used to live in. Heck, our -bedroom - was as big as 2/3 of our current HOUSE.

Gas is not as expensive as in the UK, so 3 cheers. Robert Fripp posted this photo on his most recent diary page http://www.dgmlive.com/diary/photos/IMG9050.JPG

You will see that it is 1.05 GBP/l or roughly $8/gal. Again, get used to insane gas prices. We'll all pay them.

You miss TACO BELL...??!! Whaaa...??!! I ate there...ONCE! It was my 7th birthday and tacos were my favorite so we stopped there. I will say we normally ate tacos out at Jack In The Box but we ate 90% of our tacos at home. My dad ate his taco and said, "This tastes like dog meat!" Meaning the filling was so finely ground it could have been anything.

Yeah, Rogers is a horrific cell phone carrier, not that that would bother me in the slightest.

And Charles, using your "enemployed" time wisely would entail actually GETTING A JOB. Ask one who knows!

chas_m said...

I'm not allowed to get a job yet. Immigrating to another country, don cha know.

Shawn King said...

"The only actual monopoly here (aside from power, which comes from the gov't) is in the cell phone market."

So you haven't bought car insurance yet? :)

While there are lots of places to buy insurance, the BC guvmint in the form of ICBC ("icky bicky" as locals call it") has set the rates they can charge so you'll get the same price everywhere.

Same with government controlled liquor stores.

chas_m said...

"So you haven't bought car insurance here yet?"

LOL, Shawn. That's on our "to-do" list, but yeah I forgot about that.

Cheers
Chas

chas_m said...

PS. "Government controlled liquor stores" is exactly what Americans fear most from the Canadian way of life. :)

ShawnKing said...

Really? I thought it would have been our "socialized" medicine and gun control. :)

mccomber said...

Don't I just hate that Amazon.ca doesn't offer even half of what Amazon.com does. This is common though. It took Apple a while to open a Canadian iTunes store and we only recently got tv shows on it. Part of the problem is separate agreements with all the intellectual property owners must be made regardless of the US agreements. The other part I suspect is a lack of wanting to bother for 30 million more potential customers.

Regards,
Doug

PS When I lived in Victoria (late 80s to mid 90s) there was a Taco Bell on Douglas st. near Yates.

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