It’s hard to believe, but we have now been in our new house for a month. We’re still buying things for it, and working on it – this weekend, I finally installed the cat flap, so now the cats can come and go as they please: we’re expecting to be woken by one of them trying to drag a moose in through the door, but at least we can reclaim some of our laundry room, which has been the cats’ own territory since they arrived.
I know that I am a homeowner again, because I have chores to do – laundry, vacuuming, dusting and so on. It no longer feels like a holiday, it feels normal. Well, mostly normal; there are some things about living in the Canadian style which still feel unfamiliar to us, and there are some which we may never get used to.
For example, we have no fences around our property, and no sidewalk outside. Yet this is a normal, suburban street - we have neighbours at either side, there are all the normal utilities and so on, we don’t live in the wilderness. It’s just that some things are different. Having no sidewalk (I can’t call it pavement, because that refers to the road surface, and the road surface is a whole other topic I’ll get round to in another letter) means that we walk to and from school in the roadway, which in turn promotes more careful driving habits than we’re used to, and – I think – a greater appreciation for road safety than our children are used to.
Where we lived in England, we were used to sharing the narrow streets with fast-moving vehicles, and I was used to having to watch the boys every step as we walked to school, but here there seems to be a better balance. The layout of the streets means that the pedestrian has more expectation of priority, and seems generally to get priority – it’s a wonder to me that more Canadians aren’t killed while on holiday in Europe; just try stepping in front of a turning car on an intersection in London!
So, externally, the house looks different, and internally we have much more space than we are accustomed to. On our first visit to the house, the boys set off exploring while we chatted in the family room, and after a while, I thought I should go and look for them. The result felt like going for a walk inside my own house – several flights of stairs, seemingly endless corridors and any number of rooms which they could have got lost in. It’s not just that the rooms are generally bigger than we were used to; there are so many of them. We still have two entire rooms – which will eventually become our living and dining rooms – which we simply do not use yet. We don’t have furniture for them yet, and we don’t need to use them.
The chat in the family room was with the previous owner of our house. We have been extremely lucky with this purchase; not only did we buy from people who had themselves gone through the process of emigrating from England, and orienting themselves in this place, but we bought from people who have been unfailingly friendly and helpful, and that has made the whole process much easier than it could have been.
As most of you will know, the process of buying and selling property in England (and I exclude Scotland from this deliberately) has become increasingly adversarial. Our own sale, which should have been straightforward, turned into an agony of waiting, bargaining and threats sadly familiar to many people these days. We consider ourselves lucky to have escaped from the process with more or less the amount of money we had asked for, and only a week later than planned. The possibility that the sale could have fallen through less than a week before we flew out still gives me sleepless nights, and our situation was not unusual, or even particularly bad.
In contrast, from the first contact we had with them, Andrew and Janet, and their family, made us feel welcome, and that we were all on the same side. Even as I grew more and more nervous about the late arrival of the funds, they kept telling us not to worry, that it would all be resolved. And it was.
But I’m saving the best until last. I almost didn’t tell this tale, because I don’t think it’s a typical Canadian situation, but it’s too good a story to miss. Before we arrived, Andrew and Janet invited us to a party. Said party to be held in the house we were about to buy, the weekend before we were due to move in. We accepted somewhat bemusedly, and turned up on the Saturday night not entirely sure what to expect. What we got, of course, was the most perfect introduction to a new house that it is possible to imagine. We had the chance to see the house in use, as it were, not just as a kind of museum piece, which is how most houses for sale are presented, and we got the precious opportunity to meet all our new neighbours. I’m not sure if we were sizing them up, or if they were sizing us up, but it was a fantastic experience, and the perfect way to get to know people. I think I should start a campaign to have a ‘handover party’ included in every property sale.
Then I think of the English system – mixing a contentious sale, where either party could still pull out, with alcohol and loud music might not be the best idea I’ve ever had. But it worked for us; after we’d seen the house full of people enjoying themselves, how could it not?
So, thank you to Andrew and Janet (and best wishes in your new home) and although our transaction was not exactly typical, it somehow seems right in keeping with everything else we’ve experienced so far – surprising, fun and welcoming.