Canadian nuances, poetry, Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 5: When the smoke clears

Vancouver. It’s the afternoon and you take a stroll downtown. You notice a certain smell. In fact it’s hard to avoid the sweet scent of marijuana. It drifts through the sunny streets like an unconscious cloud, eager to throttle addicts and adolescents. In many ways, the west coast (of Canada) is seen as a little more mellow, crammed with hippies, riddled with bohemians, gypsies and stoners…of course. You decide how rebellious you are at the end of the day.

When I first heard I was moving to Vancouver and closer to consuming some high quality Mary Jane, my ‘inner rebel’ leapt up and gave the addict an invisible hi-five. It was similar to the feeling when you may win a prize of some kind, and you hear the announcement crackling over the intercom. Now I’m going on a tangent. Lemme fast forward to my first encounter with this cloud.

I arrived in the blustery wind and rain. This was spring. The first night I booked myself into the cheapest hostel in Vancouver. Yes, you heard me. I get into this burnt out building. I walk up the staircase. The first thing that I notice is graffiti, along with a collection of gouges, scrapes and manic doodles. I get to the counter and pay for two nights. The rotund guy behind the counter doesn’t even ask for my ID, all he needs is a $10 deposit for the key to my room. I hand him the money and he gives me a brown sheet for my bed and an old, gross blanket to keep me warm. I never receive a pillow. Soon after arriving one thing has become apparent, nothing in this place is clean.

My first night in Vancouver I was jet-lagged, in a grimy hostel and alone. (I flew in with my parents, but they had gone to live in another part of the city). I felt like a turtle who’d been flipped on his back. I was scared and bewildered with only about $100 to my name. Another thing…who do you trust? The don’t-talk-to-strangers mantra your parents banged into your head from birth, vanishes quickly.

Anyway, in my nervous state evening approaches and the anxiety quivering inside me propels my legs forward. I search for a place to buy food. I remember this next part so clearly I can almost reach out and touch it. I walk around a local park downtown and green clouds hit me. It’s a tempting scent and my first idea is to follow the smell because ultimately every stoner gets the munchies. This plan fails because I end up at a coffee shop of sorts where everyone inside can bring their own product (i.e. marijuana, of course) and light up. Ultimately they order some cake and other sugary treats staring at the patrons behind glass doors.

After exploring the place and talking to the stoned barista, I remember I’m hungry and leave. I end up asking people too many questions and I soon arrive at a grocery store. Days after this happened a bizarre thought crept over me – it was easier to buy pot than it was to find food. I kid you not. You have to walk past a pub to see people drinking, but smelling is for free. Most days you don’t have a choice.

For those reading this, I can sense that unspoken question on your lips…have you tried it? Yup, I have. I might be more accurate if I said the weed smoked me. I prefer operating with a clear mind and I’ve stayed away from it for many months. I also find it interesting that there is a certain amount of denial that goes with every stoner. I’ll give you an example…

There are many marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver. Let me rephrase that, medical marijuana dispensaries. The deal is you first have to go the the doctor, complain about some ache or pain or symptom and receive a letter. You take that letter to certain dispensaries who will issue you with a plastic card with a picture of you and your mug on it. This becomes your golden ticket to bounce from dispensary to dispensary at your leisure.

Now where does the denial part kick in? Well, medical marijuana…ahem, er, really? That’s like the doctor prescribing cigarettes because you have a cough. Okay, perhaps not the best analogy, I admit. There are tons or dispensaries, but I don’t see many sick people. Yes there may be some medical benefits that come from this plant, although the dispensary business I see largely as a “smokescreen” for recreational users to get a free pass. I don’t get it, maybe that means I’m not a stoner then? If there’s one thing I’d indulge in, that would be copious amounts of craft beer. Chances are it won’t offend the person I’m sitting next to, and I’m more likely to find new friends.

But wait there’s more…
After being in the country for a little more than a year, a new president came to power. I’m told this was a good thing because Stephen Harper – the previous guy – was an annoying sod. So the new party in power are called The Liberals (or Liberal Party, don’t quote me because I avoid politics like the plague). In addition to them being less like Harper, they also claim to legalize pot over the whole of Canada. This time they’re pushing for the recreational use of the drug. Part of me also thought “is the law really the thing stopping [the stoners] in the first place?” Some say it takes one to know one. Hmmm.

Okay folks, it’s time to muscle up and find a conclusion of sorts. This post is looking more like an anti-marijuana rant every minute. Maybe it is? Perhaps the best way to end this is with a poem I wrote about that first filthy hostel I stayed in. Here’s it goes:

 

clouds

i turn
the doorknob
walk up old stairs
bruised and worn down
knuckles of a fighter

“the cheapest hostel in Vancouver”
the advert said
i agreed out of ignorance
i pay for two nights
the man behind the counter
slaps down a key
hands me a pillowcase
and a brown sheet

he turns to leave but stops
“you need a blanket?”
i nod and receive
something a dog slept
in for days

i walk into the tv room
a cloud of marijuana
cloaks me like bad weather
five guys stare at the screen

he darts a look at me
then back to the screen
he sips his beer and shrugs

i wave briefly
only one of them notices
a young Chinese guy
lights up a bong

a thick cloud builds up
in the glass chamber
he inhales
empties out
the unconscious tunnel

he coughs and moans
his thick red hair
too limp to dance

he stands up
fondles his bankie
like an old photograph

he wanders
out the room
looking for food

 

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances

Canadian nuances – Part 3: Everyone comes with an EULA

We all learn things through small bits of information. When you’re thrown into a foreign land, this becomes apparent after the enormity of the situation sobers you up. Perhaps it takes the probing of a curious mind to come to that conclusion? Sometimes it’s these little fragments we see a culture from, the small window of insight we’re given. Before I get even more cryptic on your ass, it’s time for a story…

It begins with a story of firsts. My first full time job was being a salesman at a hardware store. My first task was to trundle over to Tim Hortons and buy the staff coffee. My first lesson? Answer: not knowing what the Hell people are talking about.

After one dropped phone call and a brief argument about who was paying, I receive a Tim Hortons coffee-list. I beamed at receiving this task. I’ve bought coffee for plenty people in the past, how hard can it be? So I scan the various hieroglyphs on the coffee-list. My brain collates the L’s and M’s, the number of coffees that take sugar…and then Zach happened.

All he wrote were the words “Orig. L double double”.
“Hey Zach, you didn’t say how many sugars you wanted?”
He says he did. I scan the list.
Nope, I didn’t see it. He continues to explain to me saying “double double” just means two milk and two sugars.

I managed to get everyone coffee that morning and I had a new tool in my arsenal. I had “learned” the language. Remember that part about learning through small pieces? Well this is it. No one said to me “you have to learn how the Canadians order their coffee.” About two years prior to coming to Canada I had cut sugar out of my diet, purely in an attempt to get healthier. This fact deteriorated rapidly after acquiring a new magic power that involves sugar. I remember once or twice going into a Tim Hortons and that letting those two words float out of me like a sigh of relief. I could feel a smile wash into me much like a glug of Dark Roast, but better. I had figured out a teeny part of this cultural algorithm.

On another note, have you ever semi-completed one side of a Rubik’s Cube…and then put it down to smile at you? There’s no time to dig into the rest of it right now. And it’s not worth it. Right now it’s just fine the way it is.

By now I’ve got that other part of your brain ticking…what is this heading all about? This is much harder to articulate to someone than a mere coffee order. Before my fingers run off into the story, let me clear up an acronym that may look familiar to some and strange to others…

Have you ever found yourself shouting at your computer late at night? There’s been at least one occasion where you installed a useful piece of software, and moments before the install process starts you’re asked that one crucial piece of information…do you have a little time to spare to read 34 pages of the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA)? If you’ve ever scrolled through 30 odd pages in 2 seconds and clicked yes and I Agree so heavily your mouse felt a little assaulted in the ordeal, then my friend, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, it’s all the things there could ever go wrong with this electronic beast in front of you. The point I’m trying to make is many Canadians I’ve encountered understand the general laws of society, sometimes they will even tell you. What they don’t realize is when this first happens it annoys the living %&@#! out of you…

Before I rant about the law abiding ways of a Canuck I guess I should put this into a bit of perspective, and give you a little something about the laws in the jungle (i.e. South Africa). This is also a good time to mention that all of my banter packed in my series titled Canadian nuances is based entirely on my experiences. These are just my views and it does not make my feelings and interpretations synonymous with all South Africans. This is just the way I see it. This is looking like the start of my own EULA now…best I continue and avoid it.

In South Africa, Durban, most people don’t obey the law. Obviously I’m not pointing at rape, murder, heists and other heavy weight crimes. I mean the little things. There’s little respect for people in traffic, and there’s a ton more visible road rage among other things. Being a storyteller it’s hard to talk about Africa without leaning too much on the savagery and chaotic energy that often erupts. My point in a nutshell is there is no respect for the other guy on the street. None. The other day I had to pinch myself and realize I had never seen a vehicle jump a red traffic light the entire time I’ve been in Canada. (1 year and 3 months I calculate at the time of writing).

Yes, so it does start to sound crazy. Guess what? It is. I can remember giving a mental sigh after learning that Canada is a law abiding country, and so are its citizens (for the most part). I knew that sticking to the rules based solely on principle would be a tough pill for the Bohemian in me to swallow. At first it was…

On a frosty winter’s day and I’m working outside the hardware store. I’ve been given the task of hanging a banner off the awning at front of the store. I’m armed with zip ties and a ladder. The icy air invigorates me as I climb the aluminium frame. I’m about halfway through the process. My back is turned to the street and I’ve almost fed the pointy end of the zip tie through the little hoop at the top…and then it happened.

A middle age Canadian was walking down the street at a brisk pace. He is about to pass me. He aims his head in my general direction and says “you know you should have someone holding that ladder for you.” I flick my head to where the sound came from, but it seems Bert The Blameless was already out of earshot. I had just been hit with 30 pages of the Canadian EULA.

Soon after this incident I had another disturbing thought creep into my head. “If almost all Canadians stick to the law, does this turn some men into little whiny bitches?” Thankfully this was not the case. Someone was waving consequence in my face before I had taken the time to figure out the storyline. Technically Bert was right that in the workplace having one man on a ladder is not safe practice, blah blah blah. It’s a weird thing that Canadians have somehow internalized this “common law” and aren’t afraid to tell you so. On the other hand…if I was given the gift of being put back in that same situation I would fail the resist the urge of climbing off the ladder and punching Bert in the face.

Allow me promote this law abiding business in a better light and bury my face-punching fantasies. If you’re using a SkyTrain in Vancouver, which is a pretty efficient train that travels above ground, things can get very busy at rush hour. They could get worse if you fail to follow three pieces of logic (when you’re waiting to board).

1. Wait for the doors to open
2. Wait for the arriving passengers to get off first.
3. Enter the train when the tunnel of faces dissipates.

It’s a simple process. You arrive and then wait for your turn. Lump on a few deadlines, a garrulous smart phone, a gallon of Starbucks igniting the synapses and then patience can evaporate. Fear not my little infidel, this is exactly when the EULA becomes effective! I’ve often heard people say to those impatient people forging ahead onto the bus “you should wait for the others to get off first.” This is when it really makes sense.

I’ll be bold and say I like the idea that says, if a person is acting against the rules just to calmly say to the imbecile in question “look this isn’t the way to do it”. It seems like I’ve spent over 20 years fighting against laws that didn’t hold a sense of integrity. Now to just accept the way things are feels like a release. Maybe the real reason was I felt like I needed to fight against the laws inside of myself? Hmmm…it does raise a few interesting questions in my own head. I can take a step back. I’ve found a real rock to rest on, phew.

Now I think it’s about time I stare at the Rubik’s Cube lying partially completed. Sometimes you just need to stare at the best “answer” you’ve put together at that time. Sometimes that is all we have left. One day I will feel my haphazard collage smile back at me. I’m okay with that.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 1: The abrupt silence

You move to another country. This means many of your possessions and friends have been stripped away. You’re thrown into a whole new culture. Everyone may still speak English like you do although the longer you sit and soak up the language of a new country, the more obvious and bizarre their differences seem to be.

I’ve been in “canuck land” for a little more than a year now, and I’m starting to realize that the little things matter. I remember in the first few months I arrived I would listen to a conversation and many brand names or names of places would just zoom over my head. In a previous job of mine, one of my managers said something like “There’s nothing better than going with your family to White Spot and getting your money’s worth.” He carried on talking for a while but then I interrupted him and asked him “What is White Spot?” He had this look on his face like someone had never heard of KFC before…utter disbelief. I then found out that White Spot is a buffet style restaurant (also a franchise) that has apparently been around for years. That reminds me…do you know what else has been around for years? Assumption.

Certain things seem to annoy the crap out of me, some differences make me laugh, and then others just piss me off. I thought I’d start to write about them in the hope that I can shed light on certain things other South Africans struggle with (or maybe you’re a Canadian immigrant who can identify?)

If you talk with enough Canadians, sooner or later there’s going to be an “abrupt silence”. This is how it happens… You speak English, but with a different accent. You may be talking to a waitress at a restaurant, or some guy from Fido asking you about your cellphone account. There will be a part in the conversation where they don’t understand the what you’ve said (partly because of your accent). Instead of them asking what you mean, they will simply stop talking.

When it first happens it feels really rude. I’ve been brought up that if I don’t understand what is being said I “reach out” and say “Sorry could you explain what you mean by that?” or “I’m not quite sure I understand what you said.” Keeping quiet on the spot is just rude. This is what I thought initially but then I came to realize that even people who were fairly well mannered in other parts of the conversation also did the same thing. The exact same thing.

Here’s a simple illustration. My father and I where sitting down at a pub, having a meal fuelled by a few beers. We were trying out different ones. (The place is called Bier Craft, it would be a way too mundane to just guzzle the same stout all night). We were half way through the meal and had just ordered another two new beers.

The waitress returned with two more, and we had a brief little chit chat with her. I can’t recall the exact words I said, but I remember complimenting either the food or the beers we’d just drank. I passed a comment like “This is one of the best stouts I’ve had for miles.” She clearly didn’t understand my pronunciation of “stouts” or “miles” and couldn’t make sense of the sentence and just kept quiet on the spot. Just like that. After she left the two of us started discussing this. We were still puzzled by the fact someone keeps quiet immediately without asking us to explain what we really meant.

A few months later in, I was in a sales job and something unexpected happened. I was speaking to a customer over the phone and they were asking me for some information on one of our products. I understood the majority of what they were saying, and then they said something I didn’t understand at all. Guess what I did? Yup, it was my turn to give someone the abrupt silence treatment. I simply stopped talking. What followed was a pause in the conversation and then the same customer saying “Hello, hello…are you still there?” Fortunately I managed to save the conversation, but afterwards I felt a little embarrassed. I had unconsciously absorbed a part of the Canadian culture that infuriated me so much in the beginning.

Putting the feelings you experience aside, you start to ask yourself a more obvious question…why the hell do they do it? After I had dished out the same treatment to someone I did a little bit of introspection and realized why it happened. If you ask an immigrant why it happens, they won’t know but their closest guess will be “Well, they probably scared to say something because they are scared they offend you.” It is true that many Canadians are very politically correct, although I think the real reason goes deeper. The abrupt silence happens because the person you are talking to at the time, believes they are being considerate. Confused? Allow me to elaborate…

If you are ever in a public park, a local community centre, an ice rink and so on you have probably looked at signs that explain all the rules of the certain area. What you will often notice is that is there almost always a reference to “Please be considerate” or “No speeding. Please be aware of other skaters.” Now think of that time when you are about to enter a restaurant. There’s a stranger trying to enter at the same time as you. What happens is you both hover at the entrance doing (what I call) the dance of gentlemen.

“After you.”
“No no no please after you.”
“You were here first, you go on ahead.”

To understand the abrupt silence enigma, you have to apply this situation to a more verbal one. How I see it is…you’ve just said something a Canadian doesn’t quite understand. They pause and say nothing because (in their mind) they are being considerate and waiting for you to explain what you mean. I’m not quite sure they understand the flip side and think that keeping quite is coming off as rude. In their mind the pause they give is, in fact, giving you space to say what you’d like to say.

The other reason I’m writing this is to give advice to others for experience this silence in a negative way. Or perhaps I just want to grab my former self by the shoulders, shake them, and say “Try not to be offended, they are just waiting for you to explain what you were saying.” If you’ve been in Canada long enough, your ear learns to listen to those pauses in the conversation and to just repeat what you’re saying until you see the light bulb of recognition fire up in the other person’s eyes. Sometimes, it’s the only way.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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