Nearly a third of my posts on this blog have been written while I am travelling by train.
The forced confinement of the train “forces” me to write as it eliminates many of the distractions that I so often attend to rather than write. In fact, one of my friends said when we were talking about my schedule for this week, “Oh goodie, you will be writing again!”
Encouragement and accountability at the same time!
For the majority of my train travel, I have been fortunate to be sitting alone which allows me plenty of space both physically and mentally.
But this morning, I was surprised to see that on this nearly empty train car someone was already sitting in the seat next to my assigned seat.
I soon discovered that the passenger next to me was a Canadian citizen who had lived and worked for many years in the U.S. He humorously described himself as having a platinum green card.
We had a lively discussion about our mutual experience of living and working in both countries and how privileged we have been to have this experience. I had been pondering a writing topic and my travelling partner unknowingly helped me to choose. He departed the train much sooner than my destination, and so, as I sit alone now, I have been thinking about my knowledge of living in the U.S. and Canada.
As a bit of background, I grew up in central New York State, completed high school, earned my undergraduate degree, and worked for several years in public education before moving to Ontario, Canada in 1977 upon my marriage to my Canadian husband.
All of my family still live in the U.S, and we recently purchased a property in southwest Florida which we travel to in the cooler months. Our Canadian home is on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region and I can look across the river at northern New York State. So even though I now have spent many more years here in Canada than in my birth country, I travel to the U.S often, typically crossing one of the several international bridges between the two countries. I feel as if I straddle two cultures, similar to the bridges that straddle the geography.
My conversation on the train today made me reflect on my move to Canada in 1977 and the similarities and differences that I noted as I acclimated to a new country.
There were certainly lots of things that were similar; so many that at first, I wondered if there really were any differences.
But I soon observed:
As an American, I had assumed that the prime minister in 1977, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, yes the father of our current Prime Minister in 2016, Justin Trudeau, was admired by Canadians. I was surprised to hear derogatory remarks about him. And in fact Canadians seemed to have less respect and admiration for the office of Prime Minister than we Americans had for the role of our president. Canadian respect and admiration seemed to be reserved for the Queen, whose picture I would see in public buildings everywhere. That took me by surprise.
I knew that Canadians punctuated their speech with eh, rather than huh, but they did that a lot, a whole lot.
I was delighted to find exclusively French channels on T.V. or radio. I didn’t understand a word, but the French music in particular, seemed well, terribly romantic.
If you ordered tea in a Canadian restaurant, it was assumed that you wanted it hot, and served with a choice of milk and sugar, never lemon. And it was black and wonderfully strong.
Canadians spelled some English words differently. Words like neighbor, color and savior were spelled with the British spelling: neighbour, colour, saviour. I can remember my first elementary school teaching job in Ontario: the challenge of learning new spellings, the confusing affect of my American accent on the teaching of phonics to Canadian kids, and passing out “scribbler” notebooks rather than loose leaf paper to my students. For my American teaching friends, these are lovely paper notebooks of various styles and sizes depending on the age of the student and the task required. Very cost effective and user friendly.
The news in Canada, on air and in print, was quite different from the media that I had grown up with. I couldn’t figure out the difference at first, but I slowly realised that Canadian news reporting had more of an international scope. Not only was I hearing and reading news about Canada, but I was hearing about current events in other countries including the U.S. In retrospect, U.S. news seemed to be dominated by, well, U.S.news.
And Canadians eat a lot more salmon salad sandwiches than tuna salad sandwiches.
I soon realized that these differences although small, were differences . As I began to learn more and more about my new home, I was increasingly aware that I didn’t know much about Canada, because I had learned so little about Canada in my American education. I couldn’t remember learning anything about it in school and like many other countries of the world, Canada never “hit the radar” of American news.
I also began to learn that many Canadians perceived that Americans not only didn’t know much about Canada and Canadians but at the same time didn’t appear to be very interested in learning about their northern neighbour. And yet conversely Canadians felt that they knew a great deal about their neighbour to the south.
An interesting dilemma and one that I can reflect on from ” both sides of the bridge”.
But, more on that in a future post.