Life in Vancouver

Subtle Differences (Part 2)

I shared a list of subtle differences between the UK and the west coast of Canada, but there were really too many for one post, so I made a second post to continue the list!


Power sockets have a lower voltage here which means that electric kettles (or at least, the cheap ones…) take forever to boil, so stove top kettles are the more popular item. They still take a while to boil but to be honest it kind of makes the process of making a hot drink more of a relaxing and enjoyable experience.


The most common cheese here is Havarti and I’m still not actually sure what it is. There’s not the range that there is back in the UK, and the ones that are the same are actually totally different. It’s also pretty pricey!

Liquor Stores

I’m not sure if this is Canada wide, or even BC-wide actually, but everywhere we’ve been so far, you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets – you have to go to the liquor store. (The name still sounds somewhat seedy to me!) There’s often liquor stores next door to supermarkets, but it’s not always the case, which can make it awkward if wine is an ingredient in a recipe. It does however mean that generally there is a great variety of beverages!

Public Transit

I have never been a big fan of public transport in the UK – I don’t know whether it’s because I grew up in a tiny village where it didn’t really exist, but I have never found it economical, reliable or enjoyable. Here it’s so different! There are three parts to this section…

It’s economical both financially and temporally – it runs frequently, on time, and is inexpensive also.

The bus drivers are super friendly too – I often see people getting on who are shy of the money or their Compass card (like the Oyster card in London) doesn’t work, and the driver just ushers them on anyway. Tom was running to catch a bus one day and when he got on he said to the driver “thanks for waiting” at the same time as the driver said “sorry for making you run”. I just cannot imagine that scenario in the UK…

People thank the bus driver as they get off the bus. It seemed really weird when we first got here but now it does feel really rude when people don’t do it.

People Are Proud of Their City

There is a real sense of love for the city here. I’ve been on the bus here where someone has picked up a bottle that a tourist dropped to put it in the recycling bin as he got off. There’s car share programs here and I’d say only 1 in 10 times do you get in a car with rubbish in it. People don’t tend to litter, there’s never gum on the street, people pick up after their dogs and there’s very little graffiti. Generally people just seem proud to live here and take responsibility to play their part in keeping the city great. Even the bins agree (see the featured image of this post…)! A great example of this is that there was an eagle’s nest down at the beach that kept falling out of a tree so a group of birders decided to install a metal platform for them. Another good example of how Vanouverites look after the city (and planet) is Dawn O’Porter’s recent instagram post she shared after spending a couple of weeks in the city (click here to read it).

Pedestrian Crossings / Traffic Lights

Pedestrians pretty much have right of way on the roads here. If there’s no zebra crossing or traffic lights but the kerb is dipped, pedestrians can just cross the road. Where there are traffic lights, most of the time they are pedestrian button controlled, and once you push them, the lights change very quickly! The traffic light pedestrian crossings also have different sounds for N/S and E/W roads – different types of chirp to let you know to cross.

Clearing Tables

In cafes and coffee shops it’s your responsibility to clear your table. There’s always carts for you to put your used dishes when you’re done and garbage/food waste/recycling bins so that you can leave things as you found them.


It’s somewhere between England and America here. Tipping culture is definitely more prominent than in the UK – it’s expected to tip between 10-18% in restaurants, bars, and cafes. What’s great is that all card machines tend to give you the option to add a tip to your bill rather than needing to carry cash for it.

Ordering Drinks in Bars

In bars and pubs it’s table service! This is one I’ve not got used to yet. You go into a bar and sit at a table and someone will come and take your order. Then they’ll look after your table for however long you’re there, even bringing you the bill and card machine. Even when we went into an Irish bar in Victoria, which was modelled on a good old fashioned Irish/English pub, bartenders were still circulating the bar (which was standing room only) to take orders and take payments.

Variety of Restaurants

Vancouver is particularly known for being multi-cultural. This had led to there being a huge variety of foods and restaurants all over the city. We’ve eaten a heck of a lot of sushi and Vietnamese food since we’ve been here, not enough poke bowls or Mexican, but a fair amount of Greek fast food at the mall, and we learned what to do at Korean BBQ! We’re always looking for new cuisines to try, and there’s no shortage here.

Summer Smoke

This summer has not been the same, but in September 2017 when we visited for a holiday and when we arrived last July there was an intense smoke covering the whole of the city from forest fires. It’s not happened this year as we had quite a wet spring and early summer, and even the last few weeks have also had a couple of days of rain here and there. Last year it got so bad that lots of people were wearing breathing masks and health warnings said to only go out if necessary. I don’t know if you’ve seen my photos from when we’re at Jericho beach, but for a lot of the summer you couldn’t see the north shore through the smoke.

Cigarettes and Weed

I suppose this is maybe happening in the UK now as well, but here you rarely see people smoking cigarettes, only vaping. The bigger difference however is that weed has been legalised. To be honest, we’ve not actually seen an impact of this legalisation because in Vancouver medical marijuana has been legal for a while and it’s been very loosely policed – you could self prescribe in a medicinal cannabis shop and walk out with it, and police never stopped anyone smoking in public anyway. Every now and then when you’re out or even when we’re sat on the sofa you just get a waft of weed.


This is strange one and I think I’ve touched on it before. Part of my job at church is Accounts Payable, and it’s been a steep learning curve as everything here like that is still paid by cheque. Nobody does online payments here!

The flip side of that though is that when you receive a cheque (personally, not at work) you can pay it in using your mobile app and it’s automatically deposited to your account!


Car Insurance

You have to get your insurance through the government run company ICBC. This has its ups and downs – the upside is that they monitor your no claims etc through your licence, the downside is that there’s no competition for pricing, and because Vancouver is such a green city, they try to discourage people from owning a car. You can get the very basic insurance through ICBC and then any top ups with an alternative company to offset some cost, and ICBC do apply discounts for years of no claims – to give you an idea, I enquired how much it would cost for me to insure a car and was told $3975 (around 2425GBP) for a year, and for my 8 years no claims I could get 35% off.


I’m sure I will think of more subtle differences as time goes by, so I’ll hit you up with a part 3 at some point in the future!

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