Little Miss Nobody

Realizing you are a nobody at my venerable age is quite a shock.

As we are in Canada thanks to the Man’s job, there are many administrative things I am not allowed to do without him.

Can I sign the Dwarves and myself up to the healthcare program without the Man testifying we are his real family, and not some random tourists who just got lost and ended up queuing at Service Ontario? No.

Can I open a bank account? No.

Can I have my own credit card? Yes, but only if it’s linked to HIS account (which is OK as I have verified and the credit card works perfectly to pay for spa treatments).

Entering the country alone with the Dwarves in August, I also got questions from the customs officer, who wittily pointed out I live in Canada “with somebody who is not traveling with you today”. At this point I restrained myself from saying something constructive like “Of course he is here, he always travels in my purse” or “OMG, kids, we forgot daddy in the airplane restroom AGAIN” (warning: an 8-hour flight alone with the Dwarves might occasionally prevent my brains from functioning normally).

Instead I politely answered all the questions he asked. After a few minutes, he abruptly stopped and wished us a good day.

I suspect Dwarf 2 climbing on the counter and trying to grab his pen had something to do with it.

Credit to Vince Longi
Photo credit Vince Longi, @creativecommons.org

Frozen

Canadians are extremely nice people.

Worried we would flee the country for good, and probably also concerned we would contact some human rights committee of some sort from the airport, they kept apologizing to us about the harsh weather conditions last winter.

During the first weeks we took the crazy temperatures well, as it is what you expect when you move to Canada at the end of December.

Moreover, such weather conditions allow you to make new experiences, which is the whole point when you live abroad.

I, for instance, got a chance to explain to the Man I had not managed to get the trash out as it was totally stuck in ice. Can you think of a better excuse ever?

I also have to admit I never imagined Dwarf 1 would ever say “My eyes are cold” as I was pretty sure I had covered every possible part of his body before walking him to school. He has a strong tendency to complain about almost everything, but cut him some slack, it was -24°C on that day.

Temperature
When temperatures make you laugh…and then cry.

Although Switzerland is not really the Bahamas when it comes to climate, I have to admit this was a long winter according to my standards, and the expected -15°C mid-March almost got me to throw myself through the window. Then I figured out the snow would absorb the shock anyway, so what was the point?

As November is approaching, people are starting to talk to us about winter again. Weather experts seem to think the coming one will be even worse (worse meaning colder and icier in the mind of normal people like me).

In March we are going to Cuba, just to make sure I am not tempted by defenestration again.

 N.B.: Plan B would be to go to Switzerland, where you usually can enjoy winter sports without having to count your fingers every time you spend 10 minutes outside.

And we also have our weather prophets:

Speed dating

The Man bikes to work every day – yes, every day also includes the -20°C windy days in the winter. He likes to bike fast (sometimes helped by the urge of not freezing his fingers, toes, or any other extremity of his body he might consider useful).

What do you mean. there is salt under your wheels?
Real guy, real bike, really insane.

However, on that April day, the weather was quite nice when he got fined for passing a red light. His version to the court (we’ll get there later) is that he did stop, but started pedaling again once he could see the light was about to turn green.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

As soon as I heard about the hefty $325 (!) ticket, I started browsing the internet to see if we could fight this.

Besides checking about the fine, I also quickly looked for the World Bank website statistics to find out if Canada was so desperate for money it counts on bikers to fund the country.

We could fight the ticket (a real democracy), and I ended up going to court as the family council. The Man and the Dwarves had unilaterally decided I would be a better negotiator.

My theory is that they fully realized there was less risk of me ending up in jail for giving my opinion about the charming policeman whose encounter was about to cost us over $300.

Apart from the lack of ridiculous wigs (I have to say I was quite disappointed), the hearing went well. The Judge lowered the fine to $85 after I had explained the Man was guilty, but he had stopped, there was little traffic at 6.45 in the morning and he had not endangered anybody.

Moreover, he was on call and was speeding to the hospital in order to save somebody’s life.

Do I feel ashamed? Not even. I was invited to eat out that night.

Bis repetita placent

Most people present at our wedding ceremony do not remember my dress nor what we ate that night. However, they all remember that the Man tried to drive through a closed pass (it was in January), repeating our car was a 4 wheel drive and we would make it (for those who are wondering: yes, he might be a bit stubborn from time to time…or is it a man thing?).

The car eventually got stuck, resting on its frame and a lot of snow.

We arrived 1 hour late at our own wedding dinner, and all our friends are still laughing at us.

We went canoeing last week in Algonquin Provincial Park. Water was really shallow sometimes and at some point everybody said we could not go through. Our friends opted for an alternative route, which is very good because they were able to take pictures of us once we got stuck.

I am wondering if the canoe was a 4 wheel drive.

Mom, dad, there is no water!
Mom, dad, there is no water, is this normal?

Bear with us

Several years ago, the Man and I were hiking and camping in the Rocky Mountains late September, and I was a bit concerned about grizzlies. At the end of our vacation, he told me I should consider starting therapy as he did not feel my fears were “normal”.

In my defense, I consider that being afraid of a 300 kg bear able to kill me in about 30 seconds proves I am totally sane and never followed this great piece of advice.

Moreover, there are not many bears were we usually live (not many meaning one or two going to Switzerland on an excursion when they feel like taking a vacation from Italy). Usually the media is so busy talking about them you always know exactly where they are.

Still, I am scared of bears. And now, I cannot say there are not many in the country where I live.

Odds to meet one are pretty scarce in Toronto, except at the zoo, and I am totally fine with it.

Last July, while spending the weekend at a resort, the Man almost ran over a young black bear. He saved his life (the bear’s, not his own) by jumping on the brakes.

Let’s hope the bear will remember it if we ever see him again when hiking in the woods.

Bears

The only 2 bears I agree to share my life with.

Rain checks

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.

Robert Frost

In Switzerland, we know how to make watches, cheese, chocolate and various rich people even wealthier by hiding their money in numerous banks.

However, if you are Swiss or live in the country, you’ll end up with one or several Swiss bank accounts, even if you are neither well-off nor hiding anything from your government or ex-wife.

And the crazy thing is, the system works very well and we therefore never imagined it would not be the case in our new country.

As we are honest people, we first tried to figure out how to pay our rent.

The objective was to set up a monthly automatic wire of funds online. The Man and I decided to do it together. I have to say he can get a computer to crash just by looking at it, but he had decided to keep his super power to himself on that day, and we did not encounter any IT bugs. So we can’t even blame it on technology.

We spent a loooong time trying to figure out the system, and finally gave up, thinking we may lack a few college degrees to succeed.

When I called our bank (one of the 5 biggest banks in the country…), the suggestion I was given left me speechless: I was advised to withdraw the money from our account every month and physically bring it to our landlord’s bank to deposit it.

Actually, I just lied: I did not stay speechless for a very long time, and I sincerely apologize for saying the Canadian banking system is medieval.

We finally managed to pay our rent, but when the homeowner told us he had a really hard time wiring the money where he wanted it to be, I could not help smiling.

We still don’t have an automatic wire of funds set up.

We also had to learn how to write checks (absolutely not in use in our country). Also we know that if your local bank conducts a security analysis and you are not able to tell them what the exact amount of the check you wrote the previous day is when the phone rings in the middle of a The Gruffalo reading to your kids, your check will be rejected.

A Swiss bank account, anyone?

Drive me nuts

I don’t really like driving. But now, I can at least say I like our car. For different reasons, the main one being much better pricing (yes, we are greedy people), we decided to purchase a car in Canada and ship it back to Europe together with the 39 suitcases we’ll probably have by then, as well as the Dwarves and potentially our nanny.

Finding the car was easy for me, thanks to the Man who browsed the internet for hours. Paying for it was a nightmare, thanks to the Canadian banking system (and probably our lack of knowledge regarding it). Getting it to Toronto was an adventure, but I am not thanking anyone for this.

Finally, it was there, and we decided to go for a ride. The Man asked me to drive, I reluctantly accepted and we headed to High Park. Yes, during the cherry blossom excitement.

I was courageously slaloming between numerous bikers, families, cars, inattentive pedestrians, while silently cursing The Man, when I noticed a police car had decided to escort us on a couple of kilometers.

As women can multitask, I kept wondering if I had done anything wrong, if all the car papers were OK, and why on Earth the Dwarves would not stop talking for a few seconds.

The police car siren finally went on, I stopped and they got out of the car, asking to see the plates as it did not show very well – we still had our temporary plates.

They were very polite, smiled and wished us a good day, the kids waved them goodbye and could not believe how lucky we were to have been arrested by a real police car.

Did I tell you I don’t like to drive?

                     followed by police 2

Fire and rescue

Moving abroad, there is one thing you can’t really avoid: flying. I am on planes on a regular basis, thanks to my job, and until last August I naively assumed booking a ticket, and paying for it would allow you to get checked in and boarded –excluding in the traditional overbooking hiccups cases.

Flying dog – image courtesy of Teo Jasmin

It seems that this country’s national airline does not operate this way. On our way home this summer, we were told in a very rude manner at check-in we had no tickets, except for the older Dwarf. I have to say I understand why the person we were talking to was totally unhelpful, not even mentioning polite: checking your Facebook app during work hours IS time consuming and requires some concentration.

You should not be bothered by customers.

As Mrs. Youarenotmyproblem could not care less, we managed to check in the Dwarf’s bag, which bought us some time to go to ticketing and get the problem sorted out.

On the way back to Toronto, I had to travel alone with the Dwarves and my nervousness.

When checking in in Geneva, I was told I had a seat, but the kids did not and they were on standby. I could not help asking how this was possible as, if on good days they are probably able to start a nuclear war or to finish exterminating many endangered species, they are definitely not ready to fly alone. I was told I had booked the tickets separately and therefore we were not linked in the system. Yes, of course. They are 3 and 5, so I decided it’s time for them to become more independent, and we would start with this nice 10-hour trip. We made it (again), but in Montreal I had to go to ticketing, again (remind me to buy a “Air Canada ticketing fan” t-shirt) in order to get the Dwarves’s boarding passes to Toronto.

While in the security line, Dwarf 1 decided he needed to use the restroom. Right then. As we were really short for our Toronto flight (ticketing excursions do take time), I asked him if he could wait a bit. He explained very clearly, and in an extremely strident manner, what would happen to his underwear and pants if he had to wait. Thank God most people around spoke French and could enjoy all the graphic details he was spelling out loud, just to make sure his dumb mother would get it.

We made it –again.

Next December we are all flying home- again, and I am already worried about the potential ticketing issues.

At this stage I have to point out The Man had to fly back earlier, on his own, and managed to get upgraded to business class at no cost.

I am seriously considering filing for divorce.

.

Barbarian invasions

We (the Man, our two Dwarves and I) arrived in Toronto with bags and baggage late December last year.

But let me first reply to the first question any mentally sane person will ask right away: why in December? It turns out the Man’s contract started in January, so the timing is not due to an irrepressible love for snow, blizzard and crevasses.

Icebreaker exercise                                                                                         Icebreaker exercise.

On the way from the airport, whilst contemplating the 3-inch thick ice layer on the road, I seriously considered jumping on the first plane heading back to our home sweet home, where winter does not seem to end towards the end of May.

Entertained by interesting temperatures (-15 C on GOOD days), the Man, sport deprived and therefore in a great mood (a mix between a starving triceratops and a rabid German shepherd) and the Dwarves who did not speak a word of English, January left me pretty exhausted.

Leaving Dwarf 1 (5-year old and able to ask 126 questions a minute after warm up) on his first day of school, knowing he would not get a word of what people were saying truly tested my self-control. To make everybody’s life easier, Dwarf 2, who lately shifted from terrible twos to terrorist threes decided he wanted to go back to his usual daycare where people have the decency to speak French. Of course.

Last but not least, and just to make sure social services would end up spotting us at some point, I had to go away on business for a week mid-January, wondering how and if the family would survive.

As times cannot be all bad, our nanny managed everybody perfectly, making sure I would not have a nervous breakdown too soon. Maybe God lives in Canada.