Week 1: The UAFEIK Effect and the North/South Paradox

Moving to Toronto wasn’t such a big deal. To everyone but me, apparently.

“I’m leaving next week!” I told all my friends. “I’m so excited and scared but excited! But mostly terrified!”

I took this four days ago. Welcome to Toronto!

“Don’t be!” They ALL said. And then along came the barrage of what I call the UAFEIK Effect: Unsolicited Advice From Everyone I Know. This is when people offer up heartfelt yet often pedantic advice they’ve heard from others or taken from their own experiences and apply it to your own.  Which is nice, the first…two times. But once you’ve heard “omg rent in Toronto is like, so crazy expensive, be careful!” seven…or twelve times, you tend to associate UAFEIK less with goodwill and more with people’s desire to be the center of attention. Not that this is a horrible thing, it’s just that….*sigh*…

It began innocuously enough, with my mom and my best friend (who had been living on her own for over a year) offering advice of the dont-be-scared variety, and don’t-neglect-your-laundry, and don’t-eat-crap-for-dinner. This was great advice for the 22-year-old-still-living-at-home but then, all of a sudden, it seemed that everyone was an expert in living solo. It was really sweet that everyone wanted to be so helpful, but there comes a point where you notice the not-so-subtle difference between sincerely helpful and “I have a lot of advice because I like giving advice even though my life experiences are so different from yours” (I read that in a Montreal-Jewish-Mom accent and it sounded both better and 100 times worse).

A lot of the advice I got was on not being scared. Personally, I think fear is a perfectly valid feeling (and not the mind killer nor the little death that brings about total oblivion). Especially when the person experiencing it has never spent more than three months away from home. Besides, this wasn’t the crippling, debilitating fear that dances around to extremely loud music wearing nothing but a party hat. This was the healthy and completely normal fear of someone who suddenly has no idea what they’re doing with their life. And to be told that there’s nothing to be afraid of is neither soothing nor helpful because it’s not true! Moving is a scary business, some people thrive on it and some crumple and die. Not literally, that would be upsetting.

Having said that, I’m having a pretty great time right now so perhaps I was overreacting just a teensy bit? Honestly, life here isn’t so bad. There’s easy access to better coffee (the french press phenomenon is quite widespread here and I’ve managed to triple my caffeine intake); the public transit system is, for the moment, much more reliable than that in Montreal, and it’s easy to get around.

The nice thing about Toronto is that it’s very walkable. Sure, I live about 4 or 5 km from the downtown area but that hasn’t stopped me from walking an hour or more just to explore this new city. The one piece of advice, however, that I had filed under “useless” and should definitely have filed under “EXTREMELY USEFUL” was that Toronto, similarly to Montreal, is a giant hill. The further north you go, the higher the incline. In one of my more  dimwitted moments, I thought “OH! I’ll bring my bike and save money on transportation!”

Well, not only did I end up living at the top of a very long hill (6 km uphill from my campus, to be precise) but it turned out going back up wasn’t my biggest problem: it was getting down. To those of you who are unfamiliar with Toronto, Yonge St is the big street that runs north/south through the entire city, from the waterfront to further up into York and beyond (!). It’s easily one of the longest streets in Canada (take that, Sherbrooke!). The other fun fact about Yonge is that, once you pass Bloor St, cars aren’t allowed to turn until they get further down, which makes for a lot of heavy traffic at all hours. Now imagine you’re a cyclist going 20 or 30 km/h down this very long street with cars who have even less respect for cyclists than motorists in Montreal, on a route that has absolutely no parking anywhere therefore allowing you the barest of modicums of space. And finally imagine that you carefully packed all your stuff the night before you left and, to your chagrin, left your bulbous yet safety-insured helmet back home, six hours away, far, far out of your reach.

Now you understand the North/South Paradox that is Toronto.

So maybe I won’t be taking my bike out of the safety of it’s locker, for the time being. But that hasn’t stopped me from taking a good look at what this city has to offer. From the readily accessible and delicious coffee, to the korean-italian fusion cuisine, better and cheaper sushi, terrible fashion sense and even worse footwear, and the easily-navigable streets, Toronto has a lot more to offer than the average Montrealer is aware of.

The shoes are really, really bad.