Canadian nuances, Rantings, Uncategorized

Canadian nuances – Part 6: Wading through sludge

I spent my New Year’s Eve in an empty house. The warm kiss of sherry coating my lungs, and the gentle sigh of a dog narrating my thoughts. It was lonely, but perfect. Quiet moments give us time to reflect. On everything, really.

I babbled to a few people on Facebook, my thumbs thundering against the glass face of my phone. I checked the time 23:34…shit, time to leave. I threw on my headphones, slung my bottle of sherry back into my bag, began my ascent through the ice and sludge. The succulent anger of Slipknot thundering threw me.

I approach the SkyTrain. Reach for my wallet. Seconds after my hand collides with its porous body, my eyes dart to the sticker adjacent to the turnstiles Free Ride on New Year’s Eve. 8 P.M. until 5 A.M. A smile creeps over me. “Thank you Canada,” I mutter to myself.

I get off at my station. A few of my heavy metal anthems are now slithering across my playlist. I start headbanging and beating drums like invisible ghosts in the air. Somehow this doesn’t seem like enough. I kick up a bit of snow and do an Irish jig in the middle of the street. (It’s like a version of Riverdance you should never watch. Trust me.) A thought came to me this morning as I began etching out the events of last night. I think I’ve fallen in love with this country. Or perhaps it’s fallen in love with me? I don’t care which way you slice it.

During the summer of 2016 I had a romance with a beautiful Japanese girl. I see an interesting parallel between loving a person and loving an environment. There’s the initial awe of something new coupled with anxiety of being able juggle the complexity of it all. Maybe one has an angry parent buzzing in their head saying “You’re in a new country / relationship now. Don’t fuck it up!”

Initially being in Canada felt like wading through sludge. There’s so many details, -isms, directions, slang and faces thrown your way, all that’s left to do is slowly wade through it. The sludge. Now that I’m two and a bit years into being “settled”, there’s less sludge. I can still see parts of it, others haven’t found me yet.

Where am I going with all this? Well, you remember the earlier analogy about the lover? A tipping point comes in any relationship. It is when you let your guard down. You express yourself, and run with it. It feels like flying. It tastes like freedom. That was exactly how I felt a few hours ago, churning up snow and dancing like dyslexic spaghetti.

Yeah…I may have looked like a fool, but I’m cool with that. Man must frolic, and so should you!

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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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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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