Niagara Falls, Canada

Being a Canadian: Abroad

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When I was growing up, I never understood how Canadian values, politics and the lifestyle compared to other countries. When you’re born in Toronto, you’re kind of just thrown into the mix of culture and diversity. Sure, racism, sexism and homophobia exist but they aren’t prevalent, or at least that’s how I see it. When you’re born into that type of environment, all of that seems pretty standard. I mean, if you’re born and raised somewhere with no exposure to other countries or cultures, it’s really hard to imagine how other countries operate. It’s not to say that they can’t operate, it’s just hard to imagine.

The largest realization of my Canadian identity didn’t come from living in Toronto or travelling through Canada, it came from travelling to Europe and the United States. Nothing made me feel more Canadian than those moments where I introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m So-and-So. What’s your name?”
“I’m D’Tanga, it’s a pleasure to meet you!”
“Ah, you’re not from here. Your accent sounds American. Which part of America are you from?”
“Ahhh actually I’m Canadian.”
“Oh really!? That’s great! I love Canada!”

I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve experienced that interaction. The conversation will usually continue with me asking them what part of Canada they’ve visited, to which they respond that they haven’t actually been to Canada. So why would they say they love a country that they haven’t been to?

Well, it turns out that Canada’s reputation is really strong worldwide. Anecdotally, the people I’ve spoken to believe that Canadians are really nice and that it’s a country they would love to visit and possibly live in. Of course, the one thing holding them back is our winter weather. (Come on, -20c isn’t that bad…right?)

But what does that mean for me? Well, it’s certainly made my interactions much easier, and it also adds some confusion into the mix. Living in a French-speaking city like Brussels, plenty of people automatically believe that I know French. I don’t unfortunately…

The people I meet also ask me why I chose to leave the green pastures of Toronto in exchange for the Brusselization of Brussels. The answer is: Just looking for a new adventure.

But like I said before, it makes interactions much easier. When I first visited Paris, someone who thought I was American explained to me that they liked me much more after I told them I was Canadian. When I traveled in and out of Sweden, the passport officers kept on asking me how Sweden compared to Canada and said that they would love to live there. To be fair though, that can be more easily explained by Swedish kindness than Canadian curiosity.

All of this has given me a bit of a strange feeling admittedly, but I might as well ride this rollercoaster for as long as it rolls. Fortunately, not one of my interactions has ended up with someone disliking me because I’m Canadian. I can’t say that for my American counterparts unfortunately, but here’s hoping that we can all experience equal and kind treatment for who we are, instead of where we’re from.

On the other hand… Je Suis Canadien! And boy am I proud of it.