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How a visit home to Canada made me realize I couldn’t move back for good

Having just flown back to Berlin after three weeks’ vacation in her hometown, Toronto, The Local’s Shelley Pascual reflects on the reasons why she can’t see herself moving back to Canada anytime soon.

How a visit home to Canada made me realize I couldn't move back for good
Toronto's CN Tower. Photo: DPA

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As soon as I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson Airport in late March, I immediately noticed two things that reassured me I was indeed home: all the automobiles were bigger than what I was used to seeing and it was still cold and wintry outside.

After my parents picked me up from the airport, more things reminded me that I was no longer in Germany: the expansive, multiple lane highways and the fact that it would still take around 45 minutes (roughly 50 kilometres) to get to their house by car – not far by Canadian standards.

Upon immediately exiting the airport, all I spotted were big cars. Photo: Shelley Pascual

Those of you from North America probably understand what I mean when I say the concept of space and distance is just different across the pond.

In Berlin, my adopted city, it takes about an hour to get to Schönefeld Airport from my flat via public transport. But taking the public transport to get to my parents’ place in Toronto from Pearson Airport requires over double this time (sans foreseeable congestion delays) with several train and bus changes.

I know what you might be thinking. “So it’s farther and takes longer to get places. Big whoop.” But let me explain.

As a Bachelor’s student over a decade ago, all throughout the four years of my programme I commuted to university in downtown Toronto from where my parents lived at the time (a suburb north of the city). This took 1.5 hours each way, meaning that five days a week, I spent three hours a day on public transit.

Needless to say, four years of this insane amount of travelling took its toll on me. What’s more, on weekends I’d take buses and trains into the city too, as there was nothing fun to do in the ‘burbs. I realized early on that in order to uphold any kind of lifestyle in Toronto, you absolutely need a car.

In hindsight, one of the major reasons why I felt compelled to leave my native country for good back in 2010 was frustration with this car-reliant culture – especially as someone who could not afford to own a car.

Nowadays each time I visit home, which averages out to about once a year, when I have to endure hours of motion sickness switching from bus to train just to get downtown or visit friends on the other side of the Greater Toronto Area, I’m reminded of why I left.

By way of comparison, Germany offers so much more value in terms of quality of life.

A few years ago, when I lived in a middle-sized city in Lower Saxony called Braunschweig, I discovered an invigorating freedom I had never known before. To get into the city centre from my flat, it took less than 15 minutes by bike. My commute to work was only roughly 30 minutes – also by bike.

READ ALSO: Braunschweig – The German city that deserves to be put on the map

Similarly, a car isn’t necessary if you live in Berlin. These days I don’t even have to take public transport to get into the capital’s central Mitte neighbourhood, which isn’t more than a 20-minute bicycle ride away from where I live. Cycling to work takes me even less time – a mere 15 minutes door to door.

As I recently witnessed for myself, family and friends of mine who happen to live in inner city Toronto don’t need cars either. But a key difference remains: while we might live in central areas of our respective metropolises, my rent is comparatively less.

Looking down on a busy street in downtown Toronto from my sister's condo. Photo: Shelley Pascual

According to RentSeeker, a typical bachelor apartment in the downtown area of Canada’s largest city goes for about €1,055 ($1,625 CAD). This is about double the amount I dish out each month to pay for my Berlin bachelor apartment just north of Mitte.

And don’t even get me started on the disparity between Canada and Germany when it comes to paid time off and work-life balance. Almost as bad as the US, which doesn’t guarantee its workers paid vacation, Canada for the most part mandates a mere ten days of paid vacation annually.

During my trip home this came to light once again while I was chatting with a friend of mine who works in the fashion industry. Having worked at her company for over four years, she still only gets ten paid days off work per annum.

I’m sure German workers would shake their heads in disapproval at hearing this; more than half of them (53 percent) take 30 days’ leave per year. In the Bundesrepublik, the minimum vacation entitlement is 20 working days a year for a five-day work week.

If my friend gets sick, she says she feels pressured to drag herself into work since all of her colleagues do so when they’re ill. In Canada there’s no law which stipulates that an employer must pay an employee for time off taken due to illness. Meanwhile in Germany an employee only actually needs to show their employer a doctor’s note on the fourth day of sickness, as mentioned in our guide outlining what to know when you get sick here.

Sure, there are certain things which do entice me to consider making the move back across the pond. For instance, the country’s multiculturalism, open-mindedness and the friendliness of Canadians are qualities which make it stand out from other nations.

But when I really stop to think about all the advantages and disadvantages of living in Toronto versus Berlin, the latter wins hands down.

Until there exists a Canadian city or town that offers reasonable rent, labour rights on par with those in Deutschland and a lifestyle which would allow me to bike around town, I’m staying right where I am.

SEE ALSO: Reverse culture shock – The troubles of leaving Germany for home


REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. Germany is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with being strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, come with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.