As I was writing my first post, I kept noticing it get longer and longer. This was partly on purpose, because this blog is really going where few have gone before in terms of details in the logistics of immigrating to another country. There are folks out there who are missing out on a lot of crucial information and that is a gap I feel the need to fill.
That said, I recognize that a lot of my reading base starting out is going to be my friends, family, and casual readers, who may not be too interested in immigration acronyms, or how long it takes a radiologist to upload a JPEG of a chest x-ray to an Australian server.
So, I've decided to fast-track another series here on the blog that should (hopefully) lighten things up: my quick guides for Americans!
(Based on real conversations I've had)
Friend: What's the gas like up there?
Me: Up to $2 a liter now, it's crazy.
Friend: Now what's that in American?
Me: American what?
Friend: You know, like here.
Me: Well do you mean like as in US dollars, or as in gallons?
Friend: Well, both I guess?
Me: Well I'd say it's about $5.88.
Friend: About $5.88, or it is $5.88?
Me: For all intents and purposes, it's basically $5.88.
Friend: Sounds expensive. Now what's that in American?
So instead of devolving into 1940s-style cartoonish madness, I take the high road and just say:
It's $5.88 a gallon US.
If you look closely, this price is listed as "c/Litre," or cents per liter. The first thing you need to know is that gas in Canada is measured in liters, which are smaller units than gallons, so the price looks less expensive. So much less expensive, in fact, that the prices are officially measured in just cents and not dollars, because there are times (or at least, there used to be times *sigh*) when the price per liter is less than a dollar. Compare this to the US, where a gallon is several liters, so the price has not been under a dollar in nearly 30 years. So don't be fooled; just because it looks less expensive does not mean it is.
Our price here is 142.8 cents, or, put in terms for somebody who lives in reality and realizes nobody can pay for things in just cents anymore, $1.42/liter. (Technically, we should be rounding up here, but I recognize that gas prices in America are always priced to 9/10 cents--meaning your gas isn't $4.69, it's $4.699, or basically $4.70--so technically, you should be rounding yours up too!)
Now for the math. We'll do the official calculation first, and then I'll let you in on a shortcut. The first thing you will want to do is convert the price per liter to a price per gallon. One gallon is 3.785 liters, so we are going to multiply our price for one liter to find out our price for 3.785 of those liters:
1.42 x 3.785 = 5.37
Sounds expensive, right? Well, depending on who you ask, it might be, but as an American it's not as bad as you might think. The second thing you need to know is that the Canadian dollar is almost always worth less than the American dollar, so the price looks more expensive. Now, just because the the dollar value is different doesn't mean that Canadian currency is somehow "bad" or that Canadians are "poor," or even that you're "paying more/less" and getting ripped off. In fact, several economists have debunked all of these theories--but I digress, that's a post for another day. What you want to know is what this good old fashioned gallon of Mobil gas is going to cost you in greenbacks, right?
The value of currency fluctuates every day, but US and Canadian dollars are usually pretty consistent. At the time of writing, 1 Canadian dollar (CAD) is 78 cents US. We need to have 5.37 of those Canadian dollars handy, so let's multiply:
5.37 x .78 = 4.19
You can use the above method to calculate the cost of your total fuel, as well. For example, a 16 gallon tank would cost about $67 USD to fill; or rather, it's a 61 liter tank that would cost about $87 CAD to fill.
The shortcut: rounding
Now of course, even though the math itself isn't that complicated, if you're like me and get asked this at least a couple times a week, getting out your calculator and doing all these conversions is a bit cumbersome, especially considering how little your intended audience is probably going to care. Even if you're not doing your own math and just Googling the conversions, this may be more effort than it's worth.
Luckily for you, gas prices are something easy enough that you can guesstimate them by using some simple rounding.
So using our example above (142.8 cents/liter as the gas price), we can pretty easily assume that across the country--or even across town--there's going to be some places more or less expensive than that on any given day, so we can comfortably round that to 150 cents/liter, or $1.50/liter.
Remember a gallon from before is 3.785 liters, which is close enough that we can get away with calling it 4 liters. Now we have some nice clean numbers to work with in our head:
1.50 x 4 = 6
Here's where some math magic gets involved. Remember, $1 CAD is $0.78 USD. So in order to find out the price in US dollars, we could multiply $6 by either .75 or .80 and get not an exact, but a pretty close number (or put another way, taking 3/4 or 8/10 of 6 would give us a guesstimate). We already rounded the price itself up (remember we said $1.42 was close enough to $1.50), so in order to avoid our estimate from going too high, we will round down this time and say $1 Canadian is 75 cents US.
6 x .75 = 4.50
Not to mention, this is not a perfect science. For example,
- If the currency fluctuates one day for whatever reason, and the value of the Canadian dollar decreases, our estimate actually becomes more accurate.
- Gas prices in British Columbia could be (and probably are) completely different than gas prices in New Brunswick, so your estimate may not be accurate for the area of Canada you're in, but could be closer to the overall average (or vice versa).
- As you get comfortable doing this in your head over time, you may come up with an estimate that sounds slightly off because you know the dollar is "down" today, or they're "switching to a summer blend," so you might add 10 cents here or shave off 10 cents there based on what sounds right.
- Also keep in mind, Canada has a federal carbon tax, and combined with provincial sales tax, this can cause prices to jack up at times (blog series idea: Canadian cost of living!).
Fixating on the way things are somewhere else is not a healthy or useful way of adjusting to a new place. I always envied my high school Spanish teacher, who was, of course, fluent in two languages. I once asked her how someone knows when they've become bilingual, and she said, "When you stop translating and just start having thoughts and dreams in your new language naturally." One thing I am working on is trying to stop "translating" measurements and prices, and start thinking of them in Canadian terms (except when I'm helping out Americans, of course). When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Hopefully eventually, I'll start dreaming of deli meat in grams.
These guides are really for curious Americans who want to gain context; a general understanding of how everyday things are priced, measured, or otherwise "done" somewhere else. Also keep in mind, Americans: if you pay with a debit or credit card in Canada, you may also be hit with international fees or a different exchange rate from your bank. Depending on your bank, this may be a few dollars, or maybe just a few cents. In most cases the fees are not extreme, but the point is that your bank or credit card statement, or even cash that you buy at a currency exchange, does not always reflect the precise math of converting prices. This can be useful information for you to see what your trip is really costing you! It's important for you to be an informed consumer and traveler; when your kids start crying after you didn't buy them matching Niagara Falls refrigerator magnets at the gift shop because you thought $13 CAD was more expensive than $13 USD, well, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Americans: do you have any suggestions for quick guides to Canadian "things" you'd like to learn about, or do you have any to share with me? I'd love to hear from you! Comment below or contact me.