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Adjusting to Your New Life In Canada and the USA
Special hints for international students, foreign travellers, and new residents

Family enjoying a beach in Parksville on Vancouver Island in British Columbia Canada. Children are climbing a pile of driftwood on a warm sunny day.

Above: Parksville, British Columbia.

Foreign students and immigrants from places like India, many from middle-class or wealthy backgrounds, are often shocked by the lack of help available in North America.

Whereas live-in servants took care of their day-to-day needs at home, once living in Canada or the U.S., they are on their own.

Even the wealthiest North American students living on campus have no servants, and in recent years few Canadians or Americans of any age have had any domestic help at all.

Oh, a well-to-do family may have someone come and mow the lawn. A service may arrive periodically to clean and adjust the chemicals in the pool, a cleaning person may show up once a month or once a week, and a teenage neighbour may watch the kids while the parents are on a special evening out. Rarely, a catering firm may be hired to help with a large function, such as a wedding reception.

Otherwise, the family will buy and prepare its own food, perform minor auto maintenance, tend its garden, do most of its cleaning and laundry, polish its own shoes, and transport its younger children to various functions. Just an extremely small minority has live in housekeepers, cooks, drivers, gardeners, and the other help found more frequently in many other countries.

In fact, the sole difference between wealthy students on campus and the not so wealthy in this area may be that the richer students drop off their dirty laundry at a dry cleaner most (but not all) of the time instead of doing it themselves.

In stores, also, Americans and Canadians serve themselves. In fact, finding any employee in some discount stores, such as Target, other than at the check out counters may be difficult. You are left on your own to fill your basket or cart yourself.

Paddling your own canoe

The above situation exists for a number of reasons, one being the large percentage of people in the middle class who are not available to serve.

The equalitarian nature of both American and Canadian societies also plays a crucial role. As we saw in the Interacting with Americans and Canadians lesson, people from these two countries never like to be made to feel inferior to others.

Moreover, there is huge respect for the person who is self-sufficient. Persons from places like Manhattan, where few people own cars or know much at all about them, are considered somewhat strange.

Nearly all males and a large percentage of women in North America can change a tire, check the oil and water levels, and perform other simple tasks on their automobiles.

The Bill Gates of the U.S. drive their kids to a Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning to pick up gardening tools—not for gardeners they may or may not have but for themselves and their children to use.

And no president of the U.S. dares to show that he or she is not made of "the common stock." Hence, you experience all those photo opportunities of them on horses or in pickup trucks.

(Canadians have a much higher tolerance for the exotic in their first ministers, as seen in the late Pierre Trudeau, a good humoured man, who nevertheless was never shy about demonstrating that he, at least in his mind, was smarter and more knowledgeable and more urbane than others. And, all too often, he was.)

Learning to be self sufficient

So grin and bear it, you're about to learn the drudgeries of North American life. From this you'll gain independence and better fit into your new culture.

We'll start with how to do your laundry and then move on to car purchase and maintenance issues.

For more tips on adjusting to life in the USA and Canada:

Go to >> Doing your laundry

Go to >> Buying a car

Go to >> Maintaining your car

Go to >> Changing your tires

For more discussion about interacting with Americans and Canadians:

Go to >> Interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Making friends

Go to >> Handling complaints

Go to >> Dealing with prejudice

Go to >> Avoiding sexism

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