Away We Go - It's The Final Countdown
November 16, 2016 8:14 AM   Subscribe

We're looking to relocate our family and have narrowed down our options (with the help of Metafilter) to Buenos Aires (Argentina), Toronto (Canada) and Melbourne (Australia). We've done our due diligence with on-line research, but we'd like to hear some personal anecdotes/experiences from people who've lived, worked or traveled to any of the above.

Our family is queer, multi-generational (kids and grandparents) and Jewish - so we're particularly interested in the viewpoints of young families, seniors and the Jewish community. But we'd still love to hear from anyone not in those groups as well!

(We already have a handle on visa and residency requirements, and would prefer to keep those considerations out of the discussion.)

Thanks in advance!
posted by givennamesurname to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure exactly what to say about Toronto - it's a lovely city that has some crazy traffic. We knew some gay-parent families in our old neighbourhood and it wasn't a big deal. There's a big Jewish community in Toronto to the extent that there's a Toronto Eruv site which I guess covers Thornhill and Markham which have big Jewish communities. Toronto has a lot for young families - both our kids were born there and we never lacked for anything to do. Some neighbourhoods have more kids than others so you'll definitely have to do some research to find the right neighbourhood that fits what you're looking for. It's hard to say anything singular about Toronto - it's a big city that covers very urban areas to very suburban areas with lots of ethnic enclaves and neigbourhoods of very disparate affluence. I'd suggest trying to narrow down a specific area that might appeal to you as I can guarantee that there are neighbourhoods in Toronto that you would find uninteresting.
posted by GuyZero at 9:07 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

But to help narrow it down - the areas around High Park are great for families and kids. West-end Toronto was my old area and it was fantastic in many ways. It's not the most Jewish area.

Thornhill is a nice suburb with a strong Jewish population and is nice if you prefer a suburban lifestyle to a more urban one.
posted by GuyZero at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

oh and last but not least - the Canadian dollar is currently pretty low against the US dollar. This is good news for bringing in savings. That could change so if you have a USD income or savings there's a chance that if the dollar goes back to par that your effective income could drop 30-ish percent.
posted by GuyZero at 9:29 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I spent a fair bit of time in Argentina the past couple of years since I had a large team working for me there. Argentina's economy is fairly unstable -- double-digit (20-40%) inflation. The guys who worked for me told me they have an economic crisis every 10 years or so. I also read somewhere online that the largest holder of US dollars (the bills, not in a bank) are Argentinians. There is a grey market for exchanging dollars to ARG pesos. As I understand it, most of what Argentina consumes is imported -- their exports are primarily agricultural so they get influxes of hard currency twice a year.

This may or may not be important to your decision, but relative to Canada and Australia, Argentina's economy is quite different.
posted by elmay at 9:37 AM on November 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I used to live in Toronto and can vouch for it being queer/jewish friendly. I now live outside Toronto, in small town Ontario with a depressed economy, proud rednecks and truck nuts and even here queer jewish families are accepted and welcomed as part of the community. We had a grade two student transition very publicly a decade ago and she has not felt any negative feedback. Not everywhere in Canada is a Utopia, for sure, but there are a lot of really nice parts. FWIW, when I was living in Toronto 25 years ago I had no negative response to public display of queer affection, so the tolerance has been around a long time. The jewish/queer dispora is pretty widespread thought the GTA but the queer "home" is Church and Wellesly and the jewish home is Bathurst and Thornhill (as mentioned).
posted by saucysault at 9:55 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you elaborate on the criteria you'd like addressed? (e.g. jobs, cost of living, education, arts and culture, services etc.) And maybe talk a bit more about your situation (industry, resources, whether you want to rent or buy, prefer a suburban or urban area, etc.)?

Toronto proper is expensive, when it comes to buying. Rental stock is low, especially for families. (There are tons of condos, but most of them feature bachelors' to 2-bedroom units.) The suburbs aren't that much cheaper, and involve a major tradeoff in terms of commuting time and stress, since traffic is pretty bad, for drivers, due to neglect of the infrastructure, and the transportation system hasn't caught up with growth (or, been maintained all that well). Those are the two biggest complaints Torontonians in general have when it comes to daily life. (Also, the job market's pretty competitive.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:46 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of our criteria/personal info is in the linked previous question (we didn't want to just copy-paste/repeat ask).

We've lived in the East Cost USA for most of our lives, which is well within the cost of living range of Toronto (and Melbourne, and Buenos Aires); we've done our research, we promise! We're looking for overall impressions now - what people like, dislike, are indifferent to, etc - vs statistics on a page.
posted by givennamesurname at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2016

I grew up in Melbourne, and have been in the Southern US for the past 7 years. When I go back to visit, these are usually the thoughts I have:

Melbourne Pros: Good public transport, lots of parks, good schools, big arts community, good food, good weather (dry summers! no snow!)

Melbourne Cons: Expensive, bad traffic, outer suburbs not as well serviced by public transport, bad weather (colder winters than most of the rest of Australia). Also, don't discount how geographically isolated Australia is. If you have family still in the US, it is expensive and time consuming to get back there.

Anywhere in the inner/middle Melbourne suburbs will be queer/jewish friendly. The larger jewish communities are in the St Kilda/Caulfield area (inner South/South east) while some of the inner north suburbs (Northcote, Fitzroy) are known to be particularly LGBT friendly.
posted by Shal at 12:20 PM on November 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Toronto's transit system, the TTC, is not very good for accessibility. If your kids are young enough that they need strollers then you will find it hard to use the older streetcars and busses. There are also still subway stations which don't have elevators. This also means that if the grandparents have mobility issues then they may find travel on the TTC difficult as well for the same reasons. Our family ends up driving much more than we would otherwise need to because it is such a hassle to take strollers on the TTC. For the kids this is a temporary issue but for the grandparents it wouldn't be. So even if you're living in downtown Toronto you will need a car. If you are living outside of downtown you will need a car because public transit is abysmal in the rest of Toronto and non-existent in the surrounding cities.

The way school hours are set up it is as if the system assumes that at least one parent isn't working full time. My daughter's school starts at 8:40 and finishes around 3:00. If both my wife and I were working standard hours then we would be forced to either sign her up for before and after-care at school or hire a nanny, both of which are expensive. It isn't just the work hours but the commute as well. People can commute an hour or more for work and so you need to factor that in to the cost of the before and after-care. If the grandparents aren't working then I guess they can fill in that role but I have no idea how a family with 2 working parents and no other support copes. Maybe this is the same everywhere, I don't know, but it is definitely the case in Toronto.

Unless they are in some special program (Gifted, French immersion, IBT, etc) or going to a private school your kids' school will be the local one in the neighbourhood. The better schools are in areas with higher house prices so bear that in mind when narrowing down which neighbourhood to move to. I only mention this because I understand that in some parts of the States everyone gets bussed to different schools in order to reduce this effect.

Toronto is very multicultural but it is also quite segregated. Downtown is much whiter than the suburbs. It is extremely common for people to only have friends of their own ethnicities and it is quite possible for people to live 90+% of their lives here using their native languages. I went to a Canada Day event and a kid who was maybe around 12 was making a speech. She had a seriously thick foreign accent. At the end of her speech she said that she was proud to have been born in Canada and my wife and I just looked at each other when we heard that and made WTF expressions at each other.

Bathurst St. has been home to Jewish communities forever, and this extends from downtown all the way north to Richmond Hill. It may go farther than that but I have never had reason to go that far. I have a hard time imagining that anyone here would make you or your family feel unwelcome because you are Jewish (or queer for that matter).

The weather in Toronto is pretty good. It does get cold in the winter but only really cold for a week here and there and cold can be taken care of with warm clothes. It isn't a particularly damp cold. My main weather-related complaints are that it always seems to rain over the weekend in the summer and we don't get enough snow. You will need an A/C in the summer because it does get humid.

I don't think Toronto has much of a distinct identity. When I was in Winnipeg for school I was struck by how it seemed that it actually was its own place as opposed to Toronto which feels a bit generic. I think this is perfectly fine for a place to raise a family in peace but it is missing something.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

It isn't a particularly damp cold.

Are we talking about the Toronto in Southern Ontario? If so I'd say that Toronto, along with most of the areas around Lake Ontario, are pretty damp all winter long. This might be subjective as I grew up with the dry winters of Northern Ontario but to call Toronto winters not "particularly damp cold" isn't entirely correct.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:28 PM on November 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Toronto is definitely damper than Winnipeg so I could see it being damper than Northern Ontario as well. That being said, the two coastal cities I've visited in the winter (New York and Kanazawa) were even damper than Toronto and as a result felt much colder than the temperature would have led me to believe.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2016

It does get cold in the winter but only really cold for a week here and there and cold can be taken care of with warm clothes

This comment makes me wonder how long you lived in Toronto. Some winters are very mild with hardly any snow at all, or snow quickly followed by rain. Some winters are months of minus 20 weather with snow blanketing the entire city the whole time. There is no one "Toronto winter".

Similarly, some summers are mild and lovely and some are hot enough to bake a cake in your car, in the shade, for the entire month of august.

Both are difficult times for taking the TTC.

There's a reason Torontonians like spring and fall so much.
posted by GuyZero at 7:20 PM on November 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I live in Elsternwick, have a young family and endorse Shal's Melbourne comments. There is a belt of Melbourne that is accepting, diverse, safe, has good infrastructure (including eruv!), is arty, very, very slightly bolshy and very foody. It is expensive and very hay feverish but that's all my complaints (since my parents dragged me here in 1974).
posted by hawthorne at 6:18 AM on November 17, 2016

There's no shortage of media articles about how Toronto rents and house prices are skyrocketing and that it's impossible to find a rental or house. Example. And here's what transit fares will be soon. But kids under 12 ride free!

My impressions of Toronto (I'm born and raised): there are two seasons: construction and winter (seriously, there is a LOT of construction). Summers are hot and humid. February can be very cold and slushy and miserable. People also talk/complain about their commute, public transit and the weather. There's a reason why the Don Valley Parkway (aka Hwy 404) is called the Don Valley Parking Lot. Despite the crowds, semi-ok public transit (depends on where you are), muggy summer and smog that hangs over the city, there are tons of things to do. The Toronto Islands are beautiful. Lots of people cycling now and there is more cycling infrastructure. There's the JCC at Bloor and Spadina (downtown).
posted by foxjacket at 1:35 PM on November 17, 2016

I lived in Buenos Aires for many years and returned to the US recently.

Buenos Aires is a wonderful city but it is a difficult city, at least for someone who is used to the US.

Pros: PorteƱos are sarcastic and very funny. There are lots of social opportunities for older people in particular (tango, folklore, classes of all kinds). Winters are mild. It's a city of people who read and want to consume and create culture. There is lots of political activism. Everyone has a hobby and wants to meet you for coffee to talk about it. Public university is totally free (even to foreigners, though there is a movement afoot to change that). Public hospitals are free (though basic).

Cons: Bureaucracy. Lines for everything. Doing something at the bank takes at minimum an hour and there is NOTHING you can do by phone (they don't even answer the phone). Frequent blackouts during the summer. Frequent transport strikes. Protests can cause massive traffic. Rules can change suddenly and with no warning. Lots of casual corruption. Inflation hovers between 30-45% a year (if you have income in USD the effects of this would be mitigated, of course, but often the USD's value in relation to the peso is artificially slowed). Lots more unpredictability in general. The quality of locally manufactured consumer goods is very poor and there are fewer consumer goods in general (though this may change slowly over the next couple of years, but it remains to be seen what the long-term economic effects will be). There is a significant amount of petty crime. Cost of living is high.

I'm not queer so I can't speak specifically to that, but despite the existence of marriage equality, it remains a homophobic and very machista culture. (Of course there are progressive circles...I mean the majority of the culture.) Abortion is illegal and occasionally poor women are imprisoned for appearing to have aborted (see #libertadparabelen).

The thing to remember is that like most Latin American cities, it's a very stratified society. There is massive poverty and a tiny upper class who lives in a bubble. The whole transportation system is designed to keep those worlds separate, so a lot of visitors leave with only a partial impression.

I felt very comfortable in my circle of underpaid intellectuals, but if you work in business, people are more right-wing. And by and large there is no sense of "political correctness" in the language. Sometimes this feels forthright and OK. Sometimes it's horrific.

I hope my answer doesn't sound negative (I actually miss it a lot and want to move back someday) but having been back in the US now for a little, I'm blown away by how much easier day-to-day life is here. If I were moving my parents down there with me, I'd for sure want to go in with both eyes wide open.

Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions!
posted by muela at 4:10 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't disagree with what other Melburnians have said, but would add that Melbourne has been voted the world's most livable city for good reason. The climate is generally pretty mild - especially if you come from somewhere that has winters involving snow - and it's just a lovely city. It's open and spacious compared to most American cities, with lots of trees and green spaces and you can walk down the street without feeling you're at the bottom of a canyon made out of skyscrapers. It's a foodie city, with a hugely diverse range of cuisines and cultures represented. It's an arty city, with lots of international festivals involving everything from food to film to fashion, depending on your interests. I came here 23 years ago and fell in love with the city as well as my ex; obviously I have stayed even after the relationship ended because Melbourne is home.

I am not Jewish so don't have a particular perspective on that, but I am queer. The overall acceptance/tolerance of queerness is pretty high. There are homophobic arseholes in every place, but things are pretty good here. There's an annual gay and lesbian festival called Midsumma, which includes a Pride March in St Kilda. There's a separate Queer Film Festival. The Fringe Festival and Comedy Festival usually include a component of queer acts as well. While the traditionally long-standing queer suburbs of Prahran, South Yarra, Northcote and North Fitzroy still are, there are more besides - Yarraville, Seddon, Brunswick, Collingwood, St Kilda, Fitzroy, North Melbourne - all pretty close to the city, but you've got a lot of choices at least!

I'm not really sure what else to say but am happy to answer any other questions.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:32 PM on November 18, 2016

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