5 Things I learned as a foreigner living in Toronto, Canada

Table of Contents

Life in Toronto feels like living in a perpetual machine – a hamster in a hamster wheel minus the love and caring from human owners.

1. Welcome to Modern Times


Just like Charlie Chaplin in the aforementioned movie, I too witnessed the never-ending quest for one’s improvement of his social status – or in other words: I welcomed the machine as it welcomed me by occupying my whole life, hence the term ‘freedom’ became a mere thought sitting on top of a long forgotten pedestal, collecting dust and taunting innocent passersby. If you happen to be familiar with the Balkans, it all comes down to basic human interaction – whether we’re talking about a working place, restaurant or other public spaces. The thing is, as Toronto is a far larger city than any equivalent Balkan cities, the working space lives up to its definition, becoming a working space and nothing more (not even sporting water cooler chit-chats).

Also, as a software programmer, walking into an enormous, dark room filled with people/coworkers whom I don’t really know in the true sense of the words, I feel like my personal space is constantly shrinking (to a point when it will cease to be) and every day misjudgments slowly transform into a company’s tradition. All mentioned happens while QA (Quality Assurance) takes my nerves, beats them down with an old, wet sock and reinstalls them into my distressed brain (since they’re responsible for software testing – all bug reports resonate back to the place when they were first incepted – me and other coders).

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Summarized, life in Toronto feels like living in a perpetual machine – a hamster in a hamster wheel minus the love and caring from human owners.

Toronto Visible Minorities

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2. Forget Warm Encounters

Spock in Toronto by David Ristovski

Again, it is as logical as it’s boring, to juxtapose every action/thought/reaction in Toronto with the same back in my former homeland, thus comparing one nation’s general mentality with a different one; the facts are saying that ‘middle-earth’ has more warmth, climate and warm people, going colder and colder when nearing toward the poles (as deduced by Sherlock Holmes). On a good day, maybe you’ll get lucky and one to two pedestrians will dishonestly greet you while deep inside you crave for Quality Assurance to stop reporting non-existing bugs. And when these encounters happen, they usually don’t last long – everything goes back to ‘normal’ with people passing your presence as if you were a non-corporeal entity (which now that I think of it, would be a slightly less annoying thing than usual).

Toronto Foreign Born Population

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3. Romantic rendezvous is a no-no

Couples in Toronto by David Ristovski

Before I immigrated to one of Canada’s biggest cities, I always admired Toronto for its alleged metropolis nuance and in a good way too. I always fantasized about big cities where love blossoms, guys and girls flirt and everything comes with a romantic flavor, as depicted in blatant movie representations of real world happenings.

But, as every human individual realizes his mortality, I too lost the ‘city magic’ upon my first walk in the park. It seemed that everyone was busy looking elsewhere, walking faster than normal for no apparent reason (other than the always present ‘I’m busy’ maxim) and conducting what I’ve named as the self-deprivation experiment. Me being a male, I found out girls are ignoring the presence of any pedestrian (so it’s not just me) by concentrating their field of view on the concrete below, or by checking their smartphones (I’m guessing Facebook gastronomy) for every second as soon as their feet step on cold Torontonian soil. And I’m not alone on this one, for countless Canadians acknowledge my doubts about the question in mind, with them deciding to search for love elsewhere – Montreal for example (or online).


4. The climate

Whenever I feel the cold breeze tickling my cheeks, my memory instantly fires up certain neurons in the brain, which in turn tell my body to embrace itself – for the winter never left in the first place (although, it perpetually comes). And this is understandable also – because everyone with basic geographic knowledge is well aware of the fact that Mediterranean climate is less intrusive to people’s nostrils than Toronto’s continental climate. All those Canadian stereotype internet memes browsed from the safety of one’s own home finally came true, as I found myself covered in multiple winter scarfs, hoodies and wool blankets while desperately trying not to breathe in fear of my throat freezing before my final will is done. There was this one time when I woke up in comfort with the sounds of Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood”, only to find out that in actuality, I couldn’t open the front door because of a snowstorm happened last night, immediately after cuing Gioachino Rossini’s second part of his “William Tell Overture”. And that was only the beginning, for it seemed the climate accommodated to the people, not vice versa – in turn leaving cold, heartless individuals to create fictitious battles between themselves in order to survive the grey sky nature left for them. Of course, I’m talking about office work.


5. Hobbies make up for the other stuff

Learn about immigrating to Ontario

Not all is that grim in this northerner’s world: there are few things which help me cope with whichever existential crisis hits the current day (without ever having had to read Schopenhauer or similar genius whackos). Photography for example, brightens every day’s mood, all while keeping the sanity meter on a controllable scale height. Whether a Torontonian Spock expresses his gratitude toward confused earthlings, an old couple reminiscent the days when worries weren’t happening while young ones are reminded about life’s finiteness or just a panoramic fish-eyed view of the city covered in invisible darkness. If not anything, random actions like this elicit dopamine and serotonin to some extent, therefore are worth doing just for the pleasure of it. Another movie reference will understandably hit now, with me finding myself experiencing Her (2014) again and again, only without the sexy voiced OS that was Scarlett Johansson. And if this article deserved a conclusion, it would probably be something along the lines of “being in a perpetual experience which feels like it’s not genuine life, rather a simulacrum of events representing how life is supposed to be lived – as advised by everyone except one’s self”. Welcome to Toronto.


This article was originally published in 2014. It has been updated with maps, the rest of the article is unchanged. Every thought is a subjective representation of life in Canada as told by the author, therefore some things may be purposely overdone in order to evoke strong emotions among readers. 

The pictures are property of David Ristovski.

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