Last weekend was Canada Day and the country’s 150th birthday. On the same day last year, we had just received the keys to our new house and I was still getting my head around a new job so the festivities – or their absence – went unnoticed.
This year, however, we had plans for grand celebrations! We were to host a barbecue for friends, colleagues and probably a few neighbours; many Canadian classics were on the menu and my dad had even sent me a box full of Canadian trinkets (flags, bunting, etc.) for the occasion.
Unfortunately, we had to cancel… Edward’s mom has been admitted to the A&E early Thursday morning and spent most of two days in and out of the hospital. The stress and worry left us both shattered and in no state of mind to entertain. Thankfully my mother-in-law is now well and finally received the right medication for her condition. I was slightly disappointed to cancel but it was for the best… There will always be a next weekend!
Not celebrating Canada Day as I had intended doesn’t mean ‘home’ wasn’t on my mind. Thanks to social media, I was able to follow most of the celebrations taking place in Ottawa and London. After posting a ‘Happy Canada Day’ message in a Canadian Expats group on Facebook and explaining the whole ‘cancelled barbecue’ thing, I received dozens of kind comments, encouraging words, poutine recipes and several invitations. Invitations from absolute strangers to go out for a drink, to meet-up for a meal or to join in at another Canada Day barbecue. Someone even offered me a train ticket to London to take part in the festivities at Trafalgar Square!
So much kindness from strangers and fellow expats prompted me to reflect on what it means to be Canadian.
Before moving to the UK, I would have never described myself as Canadian or even French-Canadian; je suis québécoise. For many, Canada is a huge, cold country full of people drinking double-doubles, watching ice hockey, eating poutine and maple everything, apologising lots and ending all their sentences with ‘eh’ – and that’s all they know. The truth is, Canada is extremely diversified. From year-round rainy Vancouver to the frigid winters of Quebec, passing through the majestic Canadian Rockies and the dry plains of Saskatchewan, there is a variety of landscapes, people, cultures, traditions and languages. Having lived in Quebec all my life, I was particularly aware of the difference. Quebec is often isolated from the other provinces, not only because of the language barrier but because the culture is also largely distinct. I never described myself as Canadian because I didn’t ‘feel’ Canadian.
I have been in England for a little more than 16 months now and I proudly announce to anyone willing to hear me that I come from Canada. Although I still make the distinction and often say that I am French-Canadian (partly because it explains my strong accent), I can now relate to other Canadians. Mike Myers once said that there’s nobody as Canadian as a Canadian who no longer lives in Canada and I’m starting to believe he was right!
This past year, I got to connect with some amazing fellow expats and realised we have a lot in common: we are annoyed by the same British quirks (why aren’t window screens a thing here?!), we miss the same Canadian food (dill pickles, anyone?) and, more importantly, we share similar values. It will sound like a big cliché but Canadians are kind, polite and welcoming; we honour respect, freedom, education, inclusion and equality and we are not afraid to speak up for what we believe in – though we will probably promptly apologise in case anyone was offended!
I’m obviously generalising here – there are impolite, uneducated, disrespectful racist pricks everywhere, even Canada – but from my experience, Canadians live up to their international reputation and it’s something to be proud of. I know I am.
All of this doesn’t mean that I prefer Canada to Britain; I am a proud Canadian by birth but my heart is in England. I chose to build a life here, not only because it’s Edward’s homeland (the option of him moving to Quebec was open and we discussed it extensively) but because I fell in love with the UK and its people. And even though I’d happily exchange Theresa May for Justin Trudeau any time, I don’t plan on moving back. Instead, I’ll carry on living according to my Canadian values while integrating many of the British customs and ways of life. Being an expat is all about adapting while remaining true and authentic…