Without getting into too much detail let’s just say Once Upon a Time I was with a man for quite sometime who was not born in Canada. He moved to Canada as a refugee when he was in his twenties and when we met he was in his forties and 15 years my senior.
One of the things I noticed while with him was how most new people he met focused on the fact that he was not Canadian. Technically, at that point, he had been Canadian for something like 20 years, but the fact remained that he was not Canadian-born, had a very heavy accent and was noticeably….ummm….different!
Don’t get me wrong, people weren’t rude to him or anything, but it was just odd that the first 10 minutes of conversation with ANYONE new was always based on the following phrases/questions:
How long he’d been living in Canada.
Did he like his “home country more than Canada”.
Some generalized comment about his home country
Some generalized comment about said country’s politics/current affairs
What he thought about some recent event in his home country.
Their favorite food from that country.
The few words in his language they knew.
A generalized comment about some politician/famous person/criminal from his country.
How often he goes back.
And honestly, I just didn’t see what the big deal was. I mean these people were trying to take an interest in “getting to know” him, I mean. They were trying to be polite. Right?
So if they were just trying to make small talk and be polite WHY did this bother him so much?
And then I realized, all of the interest was always based on who he was and where he was from.
Not who he IS.
No one asked which neighborhood he lived in, where he worked or what he did for a living, where he studied, or what he studied, how he met so and so, where his favorite sushi place is in the city ….. all questions THEY WOULD ask someone born in Canada. It’s like people couldn’t get over the fact that he was a foreigner.
The Italian word for foreigner is “straniero” which comes from the Latin word extrāneus, from exterā, meaning outside or outsider.
I’ve been living in Italy for almost 8 years and I’ve only been to the doctor’s 3 or 4 times! I find it really exhausting that every time I go he insists that we only speak in English, because his son studied in England and he also knows some English!!
I usually spend our visits trying to explain very slowly what the heck is wrong with me, in the hopes that I’m using the few words that he understands so that he’ll give me the right medication and not just send me home with a hug and a pat on the head the way he usually does.
Don’t get me wrong he is a really nice man, and it was fine that we spoke about Toronto and Canada and Ice Wine for the first 3 of our 4 visits, but when you feel like you’re going to die and you are responsible for taking care of a young child alone and you’re not breathing, sleeping or eating YOU WANT SOME MEDICINE!!
Last week I was so sick and my husband asked me daily why I avoided going to the doctor’s office. He thinks our doctor is very “simpatico”, meaning friendly, which he is, but he also can’t get over the fact that I’m a foreigner!!
Out of Sight Out of Mind
I don’t know what’s going on in Canadian politics at the moment, and really I could care less. I’m much more concerned with whether or not Modena’s Mayor is going to fix up the public parks near where I live, or that they crack down on petty crimes that have been more frequent, or what kind of new policies will affect my son’s schooling.
I live here. I feel myself part of this community. So WHY is it that my doorman, who I’ve seen for the past 5 YEARS, still asks me everyday “What’s the weather like in Canada today?”
“Um….” I answered …..this morning…. “The weather in Canada is just like Modena today!” this was followed my our customary 4 minute chat about the Canadian Mounties, how humidity exists in Italy and not in Canada and his general shock that I am happy in Italy.
I usually start to slip away before he asks me if I can bring him back a Mountie hat from Canada the next time I go!
P.S. can someone from Canada PLEASE send me a Mountie hat for this man, he REALLY wants one!
The flip side is that although I will never be considered a local, I enjoy the attention of being different. I can’t quite pinpoint if I enjoy it as a coping strategy, but at least people are always willing to hear my story! No one ever forgets my name, which is also awkward since I have a hard time remembering theirs and people are generally interested in what a “Canadian” thinks of things!
Canadians are a bit notorious for lacking a national identity. At least, it is a recent trend to eitherjustify what being “Canadian” means in comparison to say being “American”,“English” or just simply “North American”. So for anyone in Canada who needs a bit of self-discovery, I suggest moving abroad!
The Things I’ve Learned About Canadians By Being An Expat
What I can say is that I’ve discovered myself to be Canadian in many respects now that I no longer live in Canada. And at the same time, I also see that I am changing and constantly becoming less Canadian!
I’ve learned that:
Canadians Say “Sorry” but Aren’t Apologizing
I didn’t notice this tendency in myself, however, my husband would often complain that if I said “I’m sorry” one more time he would go insane. I apologized for EVERYTHING. The weather. The song playing on the radio. The slow service in any bar/café/restaurant. You name it. I felt somewhat responsible for any situation that was completely out of my hands and therefore I was sorry!
This is still a problem for me, but now, after 8 years of living in Italy I’ve noticed that I apologize MUCH less then my Canadian friends and family! When my family were here on vacation this summer I noticed for the first time how often “sorry” was used. But not always in an apologetic way, sometimes you could easily substitute “Oh well” or “whatever” or “Excuse Me” or any other phrase that has no meaning or impact for a Canadian’s “sorry”.
Me: “Oops, we missed our turn I have to do a U-turn”
My sister: “sorry”
Me: “The restaurant doesn’t serve lunch until 12”
My brother in law: “sorry about that, we’ll just wait.”
Me bumping into my father … I BUMPED into HIM….
My dad (who is originally Italian!): “Oh sorry Ang”
But what I’ve learned is that this is less about being “polite” and more about being conditioned to just say “sorry” any chance they can!
Canadians are Good at Recycling
Italians have the potential to be good at recycling, but locally they call it a “tiraculo”, which is roughly translated into a “pain in the butt”! With a lot of education, public service announcements and fines, I can see how this society has the capacity to change into a recycling/composting nation, but it is a long ways away.
There are success stories, but they are still on a micro level compared to the overall Canadian aptitude to recycle.
For God’s SAKE PEOPLE – plastic wrap is not recyclable. If it doesn’t have the appropriate recycling symbol on it, don’t toss it in the bin. And WHAT does it take to have a compost bin? And do you honestly think that it is hygienic to NOT WASH OUT your recycling?
And why does my husband INSIST on throwing recyclable goods into the garbage? Just so I can spend Sunday morning with my hands in the trash obsessively compulsively sorting?
But I digress. This is one area where I can see that they are winning, and I need to make a very concerted effort to be better about how I view my environment and how I take care of it. I’m getting lazy and I apologize to the universe….just to reiterate point 1! They see me as being too “prim and proper” and a bit of a “tiraculo” when it comes to recycling!
Canadians are Not as “Tolerant” as They Think Compared To The Rest of The World
When I first moved to Italy my view of Canada was that it was this multicultural bring your religion, sexual orientation, political opinions and everyone will love you kind of country. And that Italy and Italians were generally more closed-minded and “racist”, and nowhere near as politically correct as Canadians, but now I know that is just not the case.
It is easy to be tolerant when you live in a massive, rich, under-populated country filled with an abundance of natural resources, cheap housing and with a society that hasn’t even hit the 500 year mark (not counting Aboriginal society).
Italy is tolerant. Italy is real multiculturalism and Italians have integrated foreigners of all shapes and sizes and countries from the beginnings of what can be defined modern day society as we know it. I would love to get my hands on this document about the history of immigration, racism and multiculturalism and give it a good read.
To get to Canada you either have to cross an ocean, arrive by plane or walk over from the United States. Migrant movement is always very controlled and generally speaking we’re talking about people who are educated, have financial resources, have relatives already in the country etc. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the fact that Italy is closer to Albania and Tunisia then Toronto is to Ottawa!
A walk through Rome will convince anyone that this country is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, ever-evolving and ever-integrating.
In Canada I was Italian and in Italy I’m Canadian, personally I think I’m a bit of both.
I’m not sure how long I will need to live in Italy before I am no longer considered a foreigner, but in the meantime I’ll smile politely and gladly answer what the weather is like on the other side of the planet, 6,797 km away.
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