I first landed in Canada on a cold February day. After a long trip in Latin America which led us to Brazil, I was finally flying to a brand-new place for me to explore—North America.
I had never dreamed bout it. North America was this big unfriendly landmass West of Europe, not a place to give much consideration when it came to travelling. But hey, the whole Latin American trip had been pretty crazy in a good kind of way. I couldn’t bring myself to go back straight to Europe, so I bought a plane ticket to Toronto with a stopover in Houston.
Goodbye, blue sky…
The flight to Houston was much shorter than I had expected. Two worlds, only a few hours away… We landed in Texas and had to wait there several hours before boarding another flight to Toronto.
Flying over Houston, the USA were as I expected them to be–roads looked like endless straight lines, cars were the sizes of the average European truck and cops seemed to have been fed raw meat for breakfast. The average Texas stereotype perfectly fitted the picture.
Back in the plane, Toronto. A short fly, awaiting to discover the cold.
Since I wasn’t planning to go to Canada (or anywhere cold for that matter), I hadn’t brought my winter jacket. Oh well, Toronto couldn’t possibly be that cold, could it?
Outside. Once out through the doors, I could feel the wind, bitter cold. Couldn’t move my toes and to hide my hands deep down in my pockets. That’s cold. Goes through your skin, anaesthetize it.
But it felt wonderfully… Canadian. The air smelled a mix of snow, wood and wilderness. I just wanted to get inside any house, sit by the fire, eat something hot and watch the snow, endlessly falling from a cotton-white sky. I wanted to hibernate in peace. I wanted to tuck myself under the duvet and sip hot chocolate. I wanted to pause, after a long trip.
People are strange, when you’re a stranger
But Canada hadn’t been waiting for me. It had its own culture, its own language, slang, jokes that I couldn’t understand. As a tourist, I was fine. I could deal with it—I was a traveller, after all, and I had been through Brazil without actually being able to fully understand a restaurant menu (which is, come to think of it, probably why I had loved “comida por kilo”). But part of me felt frustrated.
When I first went to China, I had expected to be a total stranger to the food, the people, the way of life and much more. I could speak the language, but I wasn’t even sure I could have said anything relevant. I had much to learn, much more than a few ideograms and I knew it. China had always been diametrically opposed to our western conception of the world—I would actually have been disappointed to be able to apprehend the country. China is worth getting to know over time. It wouldn’t be given to anybody.
But Canada! I spoke the language, knew North America through movies and globalization culture, I was an experience traveller goddammit! Why was I feeling so miserable? Shouldn’t be that tough to blend in, should it?
Every traveller makes a mistake once in a while. Mine was to think that because people looked like me, they could understand me. I was actually doubly wrong. Unlike in China, I wasn’t going to be “special,” and being looked after just because I was a Westerner. World is a tough place, North America, a tougher one. Survival of the fittest. Second of all, people weren’t going to understand me. I had to understand them.
It left me bitter for a while, but I adapted. And I discovered their good sides. Whereas in China I was doomed to be a lifetime foreigner, I was going blend into this strange mosaic of people in Canada. I would keep some of my culture, but I’ll borrow and make another one my own. In China, I could fake it, but any trip in a small village would have made me a stranger. In Canada, I could be anything I wanted, as long as I knew the country and its culture well enough. More challenges ahead.