By Keith Neuman
Like one in five people living in Canada I am from somewhere else, although I don’t look like I do (most people that know me never guess). I am a white male of European descent, so hardly fit today’s “immigrant” stereotype. This of course eased my transition and acceptance when I arrived in Canada in the early 1980s, a move prompted by having recently married a Canadian (the first one I had ever met, as far as I knew).
Unlike most immigrants, I was not fleeing political persecution, escaping poverty, seeking a better economic opportunity, or reunifying with family. Rather, I was leaving what at the time was the world’s most affluent country, where I had just completed an advanced graduate degree from a top university, where all my family and friends lived, where I had well-cultivated loyalties to sports teams and cultural heroes. What was I thinking!
Well, love had something to do with it, with my wife keen to return home. But there was something more to it than that. It wasn’t that I knew much of anything about Canada. Like virtually all Americans, I grew up knowing next to nothing about that country to the north – it was almost a complete void and the only Canadian thing I could name, were someone to ask me, was Expo 67 (“come one, come all, to Montreal!”).
The “something more” was a sense that, compared to the USA, Canada seemed more low key and “civilized.” Not as much glitz but more grounded in some indefinable way. And I thought the accent was pretty cool (“a-boat” and “eh?” struck me as quaintly exotic, and I practiced getting them right). And it probably made a difference that had been living in affluent Southern California, where the material-focused lifestyle was getting tiresome (a high school friend who had lived there long before I arrived once counselled me that the best way to make friends was to compliment people on what they owned).
And Canada was so welcoming once I decided to come. The Consular official in LA was genuinely friendly, and when crossing the border the agent actually said “Welcome to Canada!” (and didn’t bother to search for any contraband hidden away in our two vehicles loaded to the rim with our worldly possessions; he told us to submit a list of goods to the office in Toronto). What trust!
It was a smooth transition (having a job and a brother-in-law in town certainly helped), but I found Canada an easy place to become part of, and feel part of. Did I miss my country of birth? Not so much. Very shortly after I arrived a work colleague (also an expatriate American) told me that once in Canada I would never again see my country of birth in quite the same light; he was absolutely right.
It took very little time for Canada to feel like my home, like where I belong. I expect this is the experience of many who came to this country from somewhere else, and I believe this is one of those things that makes this country special, if not unique. Canada often falls short of what it can be or should be, but more than just about anywhere else is a place that makes room. And I am indeed grateful to be part of it.
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