Monday, October 12, 2015

XYZed and other Canadian Surprises

A scene for which I am so grateful; one of the many expeditions to collect lake glass on Lake Ontario.  

The best part about being an expat is starting over.  The hardest part about being an expat is starting over.  I expected this; this is the second time I lived outside of the country for an extended amount of time. 

Being an expat is a world of new beginnings and fresh starts in all the ways that those things have positive connotations. But being an expat can also be a world of struggling to find your way in a new culture. 

“Abcdefg…” we sang along at James Robert’s toddler music class.  We didn’t miss a beat until the end when the rest of the class belted out XY and Zed while James Robert and I pronounced it Zee.   Subtle yes, but in this difference we also pronounced ourselves as non-Canadian to the rest of the group.

I supposed I’ve almost eagerly shown my American nature since moving here.  Mat recently observed that I have used the phrase y’all more times in the last 6 months than in the 6 years we lived in Charlotte.   I offer y’all as a counterpoint to the Canadian eh.  It feels strangely patriotic to declare my nationality this way. It is way easier than explaining why I don’t know things like poutine or cottage country.  Y’all is a simple way to say, I’m not from around here, please cut me some slack. 

When we moved to Canada, I thought there would be little to no culture shock.  Toronto is literally closer to family in Chicago than living in Charlotte was.  But the border, albeit soft, is a border.  And since moving to Canada, I have been both shocked at how similar yet different it is from the states. So close yet so far away is the most apt description.  

In some ways, moving to Canada has been more challenging than moving to New Zealand.  When you move across the globe, you expect it to be very different; you mentally prepare for differences. 

When I moved to Canada, I expected it to be so similar to home, that the differences are almost more jarring.  American culture permeates so much of the world, especially Canada, but it isn’t exactly the same.  It’s the subtleties of everyday life that add up over time and create an aching homesickness.

I miss a southern drawl and magnolia trees.  I miss biscuits and colorful clothing.  I miss warm weather.  I miss having James Robert be introduced to adults as Ms.  Emily etc.  And I overwhelmingly miss our friends back in Charlotte.

But I’ve also acquired a new set of things to appreciate by living in Canada.  As Canadian's celebrate their Thanksgiving today, I find myself reflecting on the things for which I am grateful in this new country.

Canadians have a special brand of friendliness.  They pepper their conversations with sorry as what seems to be both a reflex and a genuine goodwill.  They are as enthusiastic about coffee and tea as they are hockey.  I have yet to go ANYWHERE without being offered one of the aforementioned and have come to embrace this cozy tradition.  As for their politics, regardless of ideology, I can get behind a country that only allows 45 day for campaigning for a national election. It seems downright proper compared to the circus going on at home.   And Lake Ontario now holds a special place in my heart. As for friends, there will be people that we miss dearly when we leave this place.

What I am most thankful for is also, to me, the most surprising.  I am thankful for the opportunity to discover a new culture.  For amidst the struggle to find my way, I also find myself.  I find a sharper sense of self when invited to compare and represent my nationality on a foreign stage.  The biggest moral of travel and expiating that I have learned so far is that people the world around are a lot more similar than they are different.  Love, hope, fear and joy present themselves in a tapestry of cultures.  And to experience that is something’s for which I’m so very grateful. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, y’all!

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