Everybody mentions the sudden change of temperature we experienced when we left the warm Southern Hemisphere and flew back up North. But we knew it was going to be cold in Canada. It sucks, I hate it, but it doesn’t take long to grab gloves, a hat and a winter coat and join the millions of frozen Canadians doing what Canadians do best—complaining about the weather.
No, it doesn’t take long for the body, this amazing machine, to adjust to the significant temperature difference. My mouth, for instance, adapted quickly. It took me about five seconds to mutter, “fuck, it’s freezing and the cold air hurts my face!”
“Did you leave laundry in the dryer?”
“Yeah, didn’t have the time to take it out.”
“… it froze.”
— Juliette Giannesini (@Xiaozhuli) March 11, 2017
— Juliette Giannesini (@Xiaozhuli) March 12, 2017
“You know what I’ll miss the most?” I told Feng as the taxi was driving through São Paulo’s endless urban maze. “Strangers doing things together. People walking in the street, partying, eating, shopping, taking public transportation, going to the beach together. The crowd. Feeling like I’m part of something bigger, occupying the space designed for us.”
Feng nodded. He got it.
I can’t stand our individualistic North American society where we spend so much time and effort taking care of our own needs, “fulfilling our own destiny” as they say, and where we go to great lengths to avoid “other people”, these damn other human beings, these inconvenient strangers on the way. While I respect the need for personal space, I don’t understand how we end up with a society where most households own several cars—weren’t cars designed to carry several people in the first place?—,houses have several bathrooms (for when you need to pee at the same time as your husband), where we eat at the wheel because sharing a table in a fast food joint is torture, where we cross the street to avoid bumping into the one lonely soul walking on the same sidewalk. This is nuts. Not only we don’t hang out together, as human beings, but we seem to avoid each other on purpose.
There are other things I’m missing. Homemade food instead of bland, standard corporate food—while there are many franchises in South America, you can still easily find independent bakeries and restaurants. It’s getting hard in Canada to find something different—we have abundance but little variety as mega food corporations control the market. I miss discovering new products, I miss going to a store to see what they baked that day, I miss street food—real street food, not overpriced burgers and hotdogs sold from a cart to hungry hipsters who feel they are doing something totally crazy and unconventional.
I miss being sheltered from North American media. While we were in South America, I conveniently pretended Trump was still firing people on The Apprentice and that the elections didn’t happen. Besides, North American and European media make me anxious. They find new stuff to be scared of every day as if planet earth was this doomed, rotten place to live on.
I miss a certain freedom. Everything is highly regulated in Canada—no smoking, no drinking, kids in car seats, no loitering, no selling stuff without permits, no street food, no loud noise, no fragrances, no unleashed animals, no allergens, no fat, no additives, no MSG, no violence, no swearing… no fun. Yes, we are safe and healthy and we will live a long, productive life—if we don’t die of boredom first. Even Mark has more fun climbing statue of local heroes in public squares than supervised by two adults in an age-approved playground.
Oh, that too—I miss giving Mark a freedom he can’t have in Canada unless I want looks of disapproval from strangers and a visit from social services. For instance, I let him buy his own soft drink (I gave him money and waited for him at the door of the store), play in the street and while Feng and I always supervised him, we weren’t shadowing him.
Selfishly, I miss a lower cost of living. While most South American countries aren’t “cheap” the way Guatemala was fifteen years ago—we could have a steak dinner for $2 back then—life is still a bit cheaper than Canada for what I find a better overall value, as long as you buy local and stay away from imported goods. I miss being able to afford a few luxuries simply because life is cheaper—taxi rides, haircuts (you wouldn’t believe how expensive a haircut is in Canada, and I never even like the result!), nice hotels, takeout food.
I miss the fact that the price on the sticker is the price I pay. Taxes are included and tipping isn’t expected like in the US or Canada.
I miss being able to pack and leave if I don’t like a place or if the weather turns nasty.
I miss the rollercoaster of travelling the world, good and bad experiences, the adventure.
Now I just have to bet on the unpredictability of life and work harder to make things happen.