The Forever Foreigner – I Will Never Be a Local.

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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!

 

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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.

His accent.

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.

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All of the photos in this post are from MUTINABOICA, an annual 3 day historical recreation that takes place in Modena, Italy.

 

 

The Outsider

 

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.

 

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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?”

 

LOL

 

“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!

 

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Strangely Alluring

 

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!

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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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  • GoFashiondeals

    Wonderful post! wonderful pictures! I say sorry for a lot of stuff too. “we aren’t open yet.” me, “sorry about that Ill be back later.” hahahah I’m not from Canada but I do it. Just like with the accent thing here in the South people think it is funny when I say eggs, because it comes out as Aeggs. hahaha.

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  • bonniemelielo

    Well written and excellent points! After 12 years of annual visits to Italy, learning enough of the language to be conversant, visiting our families village, taking multiple classes, and visiting the same places every year I am honored to be regarded as a close friend by many Italian people. I know that Italian Americans are NOT considered Italian. To be an Italian you must have been born in Italy. My husband recently got his Italian citizenship as by law of blood he is considered Italian by the Italian government, but our friends and other will always regard him as an American. Living in a place, of course, is very different but I will offer this thought. I have lived in Alaska for 37 years. This is our home, where are children and grandchildren have been born and still live HOWEVER I am a Jersey girl, and I will always be a Jersey girl!! Alaska is a very transient state so conversations always revolve around “where are you from, how long have you been here, etc.”. In Italy people seldom move, and rarely to any distance away from their family. It is a strange thing, I think, for them to comprehend stranieri making a life in their country.

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  • Erin

    I love this post! Very interesting!

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  • I was just talking about this with an old man on the bus. The fact that I’ll always be that American girl or that American mom( which was muttered when i refused to give florence a second lollipop). But in some ways its true – I’ll always be born and grown in the Usa – maybe when im like 90 and strolling the streets in Rome I’ll be that American nonna!

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  • Anna Fornari

    I’m Canadian-Italian and have been living in Italy for 35 years. I think I can safely say that no matter how long you live here you will always be considered “la straniera”, “l’americana” or to those who actually know their geography “la canadese.”

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  • I do the too many sorrys as well. This is a great post, Angie! Also, I hope you are feeling better 🙂

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  • Merci

    Interesting observations.
    Merci

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  • Elsie Davies

    Brilliant read Angie. Living in Australia, I must say most of the questions I get to answer on a daily basis are similar to yours. Well my whole family gets them including my son who was born in Australia haha. Most times I don’t mind it but there are times when it becomes annoying. Someone once said to me oh you are not what I imagined when I spoke to you on the phone hehehe. Lovely photos. xo

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  • Silvia’s Trips

    Great post Angie! I felt the same in France and then in Spain and actually I do feel the same now that I’m back home and keep thinking that Paris is home… weird.
    Also, I’m considered sort of “straniera” even in Levanto as my dad come from Vernazza (some 8km away) and my mum from Argentina and I can actually notice differences between people of Vernazza and those of Levanto! 😉

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