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The Toughest Part of Coming Back? Not the Weather…

"Be realistic: demand the impossible" (Graffiti in Santiago)
“Be realistic: demand the impossible” (Graffiti in Santiago)

Anyone who knows we were away usually comments on the brutal weather change. “Oh my… from Rio to Ottawa, that must be tough! Leaving summer for winter temperatures, eh!”

The day we landed in Ottawa, we were greeted by snow, rain and ice pellets. Then we had a major snowstorm, blizzard, more snow, extreme cold weather (labelled as such by Environment Canada—so yeah, fucking cold). And this is just a snapshot of the past ten days.

Yet, experiencing winter isn’t the toughest part of coming back. I like tropical heat best, of course, but we took the from-summer-to-winter trip so often that I know what to expect and I know my body eventually adjusts to local weather.

No, seeing the thermometer stuck at -25°C isn’t what made me want to jump back on a plane.

The breaking point had been reached earlier anyway, at Toronto Pearson’s security checkpoint, the morning we arrived.

The final leg of the trip back home, the Toronto-Ottawa flight, was delayed and then delayed some more—we ended up flying six hour after scheduled time. After clearing immigration, we sat around in the empty airport and we used the $10 breakfast vouchers Air Canada “generously” gave us. Since you can’t buy much for that amount in an airport, we got coffee, a cake pop for Mark at Starbucks and a bottle of Sprite—bottle that we promptly forgot in a bag as we went through security before finally boarding the Ottawa flight.

It showed up on the X-ray machine. “Oh, sorry,” Feng said, half asleep after the long trip and the long wait. “You can throw it away…”

“Wait,” I added. “Mark, wanna finish it?”

I wasn’t going to buy another drink before boarding and who knew, we could be bumped off that flight again.

The woman behind the X-ray machine stared at me. “You are giving your son Sprite?” she said disapprovingly. “Come on!”

Welcome back to Canada, the country were complete strangers feel compelled to tell you how to raise your kid and comment on your parenting skills.

This fucking woman was scolding me.

Mark drank the bottle, I handed it to security and I walked away. Oh, and fuck you, airport security/parenting expert woman. It’s Sprite, no cocaine.

Feng would claim I’m overreacting, that it was just one woman making a comment—and after all, who cares?

Well, I do, because these attitudes are part of a bigger pattern, one that bothers me more and more.

Yes, over the past few years, a certain North American mindset has started to annoy me. Most parenting theories, for a start—I don’t believe kids are precious snowflakes that should be sheltered from a dangerous world with dangerous people. I am sick and tired of extreme consumerism—as if happiness could be bought! I don’t believe our lives should be constantly improved, upgraded and supersized just because major retailers decided it would be damn convenient for their bottom line if we could just hand over our credit cards at the cash register—making a choice is easy when someone has already made it for you. Structured merriment isn’t fun—non-offensive PG humour isn’t either. I’m sick of this puritan hypocrisy where sex, alcohol, tobacco, swearing and nudity are banned or strongly frown upon. I’m annoyed with the fear-mongering media circus. I can’t stand hearing a constant litany of advice, warnings and best practices—just let me live my life, already! Individualism bothers me. Perfection as well—“having it all” is a myth because we are not rational beings but rationalizing beings and we all do the best we can, knowing it’s never good enough.

Phew.

Yes, I have issues, I know. Or do I? Maybe I’m just realizing that even though I trained myself to behave like a Canadian and fit in this society, there are many North American values I don’t truly believe in.

In other words, sometime, I’m faking it. And like the proverb says, “what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.”

It’s a bit of my fault. I changed. I know it. When I first came, at twenty, I was naive and impressionable. I was looking for my tribe, I wanted to belong, I wanted to absorb a new culture and become someone else. I loved Canada because it accepted me. At 32—almost 33…—I’m more confident, more experienced. There are many aspects of Canadian culture I truly appreciate and adopted but I’m also more discerning. I know who I am. I’m still a Latin, a French hedonist, an eternal rebel. I’m instinctive and not always rational or efficient. I will never be a WASP. These are not my values.

I also think the world changed these past fifteen years, many countries in North America and Europe became more conservative.

Am I unhappy in Canada? No, not really. If I look at the “metrics”, I’m doing fine. Life isn’t too bad. It’s just that I feel I’m swimming against the tide here. I hate being hypocritical and meet social expectations without actually believing in these values.

Would I be happier somewhere else? Would I fit better? Hard to say. In any event, Feng and Mark aren’t going anywhere, they are both happy in Canada.

This is such as first-world problem. The day we landed in Toronto, minutes before Mark finished that damn bottle of Sprite, we saw the Syrian refugees being dispatched to different Canadian cities. I can’t even imagine what they are going through… this is tough, having to run away from your country and starting your life again halfway across the globe.

Maybe I should just focus on reinventing my life in Canada. I have to live somewhere anyway, right?

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