Down to Basics

The basics

First, as Brits, you will find yourself being drawn into conversations that appear to be going nowhere, especially with American tourists. This may be in a supermarket, bank, restaurant, on the phone or in the street. In fact what is happening is that your new-found friends are listening to your accent – they love it. Which is a delightful exchange of humanism. Wherever we have been in Nova Scotia, we have always been made most welcome, and the people extremely generous with their hospitality.

You will find in the Province, and I’m not being unkind, that they are 35 years behind the times, but ten years ahead. I couldn’t work out as to why, when I flicked on the radio, all that blasted out was ’60s music. Brilliant for me at 53, it was of my time. Driving along, it could be back in the days when I was a teenager, except I now had tread on my tyres, but unfortunately none on my head!!

Prices at the pumps seemed like the old days, the design of the washing machines, which are large and bulbous, looking identical to the fronts of the popular Ford pick-ups – just what was this phenomenon? It turns out it’s Baby boomers! Kids born just after the troops came home from World War II are today’s big spenders. With their own brood now off their hands, they have time and money to indulge themselves. An ailing Chrysler Motor Company some twenty or so years ago stumbled on the fact that there was a demand for a vehicle bigger than the normal estate car, and so they took their transit type van, poked windows in the side and fitted seven seats. The baby boomers had a need that Chrysler fulfilled.

Now these people, free of raising their siblings, wanted the boy-toys previously denied. You will see the most spectacular Harleys or 4×4 Ram Pick-ups with all fancy accessories being used purely as poser mobiles.


Basic clothing is very affordable – I bought new M&S-quality pure cotton shirts for just nine pounds each. Overall, apart from leather, it is around 50% less than the UK. Consumables are around 33% less. Food also between 33% and 50% cheaper and the range of products in the supermarkets comparable with Tesco’s A-grade stores. Atlantic Supermarkets sell M&S biscuits, jams and soups more cheaply than back home, plus there’s an English guy just outside Halifax (the capital) who imports loads of British products if you are that homesick.

There are a proliferation of second-hand franchised clothing stores that trade under the name of “Frenchy’s”. It’s very big business and there seems to be no reserve in anyone shopping there. A totally different attitude here. The goods come up from the States in huge bundles and often as not there are some real bargains hidden deep inside these. As our local dentist said – where else can your wife go out and come back with two shopping bags full of clothes for $20 (£9)?


Eating out is priced to make you consider whether it’s actually worth doing this at home. There’s an extremely wide choice of foods and places to kill your hunger, at varying prices. McDonald’s burgers mid-week are priced at 25p, then there’s the best hotel in town at £8 for a full five-course meal. Vegetarians, like us, find that it’s at the same stage as Britain was in the ’60s. Food awareness hasn’t caught on yet and thus non-carnivores are ill catered for. For the true Brits, fish and chips are sold everywhere, but I’ve not seen what we call a “chip shop” so far.


Your travel insurance covers you for emergency medical care, but if you have to pay for it, you’ll find dentists here very low cost, yet far, far superior to the service you get on the National Health. If you have to pay for an ambulance, that will set you back £330 for a call out, but then you get two paramedics and if it’s life threatening, that has to be a good deal. The hospital we attended is on a par with a cottage one back in the UK – no great shakes though. A night’s stay and attendance of a doctor cost £110.


Regarding entertainment, outside of the capital city, Halifax, there aren’t a lot of cultural amusements. It’s mainly bluegrass country pub music but we did accidentally discover something we had never experienced before. We’d left the kids with a pile of unhealthy junk food and videos and nipped out for a rare quick drink. Having been told there was a rock band in a hall behind the poshest place in town, we paid our dues and entered the building, to find a “Glee Club” in full swing. If any reader has seen the TV programme Goodnight Sweetheart, where the main character slips back in time to the 1940’s, this was it. It was amateur talent giving full belt purely for the enjoyment of it, accompanied by an old, out of tune, upright piano. The incredulous look of horror on my wife’s face was worth every cent of the twelve bucks entry fee! To be fair, the place was packed and exuded a comforting air of innocent bygone times.


Now this is where Nova Scotia comes into its own. If you like natural pursuits, then this will be heaven to you. Canoeing, kayaking, swimming, trekking, ATVing, climbing, potholing, camping, hunting, fishing, shooting, horse riding, water-skiing, sailing, cycling, flying, ice-skating and in winter – skiing, snow shoeing, snow boarding, snowmobiling… you name it, and it’s here, plus it costs you very little to do these (apart from flying of course). In fact we recently discovered a house by the sea, hidden in the bush, that had widened a disused railway track and converted it into a private runway for the owner’s small plane – clever!


Persons under the age of 19 are not allowed to buy or consume alcoholic drinks, nor purchase or smoke cigarettes. They can however, as compensation, drive at 16 if accompanied by an adult. There are special Liquor Stores, a cross between Fort Knox and a nuclear fall-out shelter, where you can purchase a tipple. These perform the function of the old UK off-licences before supermarkets were allowed to sell booze as a normal product.

© 2002 Klondike Pete

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