Sincerely, Miss Canada

Friday, April 27, 2007

I have lost two friends I had never met

You have heard me sing Magazine Man's praises before. If you haven't read his site, you should. But today, please just keep him in your thoughts. MM lost both his parents in a devastating automobile accident in Indiana a couple of days ago.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

First anniversary commemorative edition

This week marks my second year of living in the good ol' US of A, and my first anniversary of being a legal permanent resident (with conditions). The occasion begs the question: how have I changed?

In starting this blog more than a year ago, the vision was to explore ways in which the US and Canada differ. I managed to discuss a few of the most obvious things before running out of steam, running out of things to say, and running out of friends.

[P.S. THE most obvious difference? Americans don't have a sense of humour about their country. Canada? This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce are only two examples Canada's self-deprecating humour. I think this is the thing I miss most about the place I will always call home. The closest we come here is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report - both of which are excellent political humour shows, but both of which lack the levels of ridicule exhibited by Canada's political satires. Afraid of having everyone I know dislike me for being "anti-American", I chose to cease and desist. I guess there are things that, no matter how true, you just can't say as an "outsider".]

When blogging subjects became more scarce, the question nagged at me: why am I running out of things to write about? After a year of living in the US, I was noticing fewer differences between my two countries. Had I just found and discussed them all, or were there differences in me that were preventing me from seeing them?

So: after one year of being a landed immigrant, a permanent resident (with conditions), where am I now?

I eat out more

In the whole first summer I spent in Arizona, I was blown away by the frequency with which people eat out. Not just fast food, either - people (in Arizona at least) just don't cook very much. I'm not really sure how it happened to me. I guess the huge numbers of social occasions that call for meeting at a restaurant, the lack of time for grocery shopping and cooking, and just the general climate of consumption I discussed in this post. And the effects of eating out more? I've shifted some weight from my bank account to my hips. I aim to bring the good ol' home cooked meal back to this household this year.

I buy more crap

First of all, let me preface this by saying that my husband and I just bought a house, so a certain amount of purchasing of crap is expected. But overall, even taking the home owner factor into account, I buy more crap. Consumable, repurchaseable crap. I feed the green machine of the American Economy just as much as the next guy. This year I vow to opt for reuseable, sustainable products, and to be more selective in my purchases.

I am less aware of political and international affairs, and more aware of pop culture ("I got dumber")

I have always been the subject of great ridicule among my peers for my lack of knowledge of anything pop culture. I blame my parents: growing up, they never allowed TV on school days, and as a result I grew up a reader. Shame on them! Because of this bookwormish tendency, I used to know a lot about literature, I read The Globe and Mail daily, and basically felt like a pretty conscious and conscientious person. Since moving to America I have set out to catch up on years of pop culture neglect. I have watched almost every episode of Dawson's Creek, have watched entire seasons of America's Next Top Model and American Idol (no, I didn't vote). I read every day. I don't remember the last time I read a book. This year I vow to subscribe to a reputable (preferably Canadian) newspaper and to read more books. I also vow to have someone in Canada keep me up to date on new CanLit - any volunteers?

I say "us" and "we" when talking about the US

Yes. I do. And I'll continue to do so. But don't worry, I still say "we" and "us" when talking of Canada, too.

I'm more scared

I'm dismayed to realize that the culture of fear has gotten to me. Although it is not a fair comparison (Sackville, NB is far from being an urban space), I didn't tend to lock my door to my house or my car when I was in Sackville. Even when I lived places where I did lock my door, like Ottawa, I never felt like I was in danger. In Arizona, the police caught a serial rapist on the corner of my street. I got so compulsive about locking things that I once locked myself out of my car at a gas station and had to compromise my own safety by walking home through a bad neighborhood in the dark, and breaking into my own house (which was harder than I thought, thankfully). During my walk home I was asked three times if I needed a ride. In most parts of Canada I would not have thought twice - I'd have taken the ride. In the ghetto of Sunnyslope, not so much. Although my small friendly neighbourhood of Ancient Oaks is not a scary place in the least, my safety-sally husband still freaks out if I leave even the shed door unlocked.

I don't talk to strangers

This point kind of hearkens back to the culture of fear thing, but let's approach it from a fresh angle - even in non-fear-evoking situations, I don't talk to people I don't know. I've always complained that as a general rule, Americans just aren't as friendly with each other. Now I'm seeing the same thing happen to me. It's not that we go out of our way to be un-friendly, but we certainly don't extend ourselves to those around us. Recently my mother suggested that I call up a friend of hers sometime if I ever needed a place to stay in New York City, and I couldn't imagine doing that. In Canada I wouldn't have thought twice - didn't think twice about inviting myself over to friends' in Halifax. Here? Seems weird. I remember how silly I thought my husband was in this post when he was to have dinner with my parents' friends, but now I kind of see where he's coming from.

I drive more aggressively

Blame Phoenix for this one! My dad and husband have long bemoaned my aggravatingly slow and steady driving, but the mean fast streets of Phoenix have set me on the road to recovery. I am no longer the courteous driver I once was. Is it that I suddenly think I'm much more rushed than I used to be? Is the traffic worse? Am I more eager to be where I'm going? I don't think so... I think the pace of traffic just moves faster in this country - especially in the West.

I am fluent in American Alas, it's true. I am now fluent in both written and oral American. I can write "favor", "neighbor", and "check" (the kind you write to pay for things) without flinching. I still have occasional slip-ups where I say "grade 4" instead of "4th grade". And I'm catching the accent. *gasp!* I can hear it in my own voice every now and again - but with increasing frequency - the "out" that starts with an "a" sound instead of the prim Canadian out. Yesterday I said "zee", and I couldn't figure out for a second if that was the American or Canadian way of saying it. Every so often I can still surprise my husband with a truly Canadian word or phrase (last week it was "two-four", as in a case of twenty-four beers), but for the most part people can't tell I'm not from 'round these parts. It's always a relief for me when someone I have just met asks me where I'm from - I know I haven't lost my accent entirely. And I will never succumb and eat Mac & Cheese - it will always be Kraft Dinner, or KD for me! Although... I am considering suing Kraft for emotional distress Okay, so I'm probably not actually going to launch a lawsuit, but I am disgusted by the fact that about a month ago (on Christmas eve, no less) I happened to find a mouse foot in my Macaroni and Cheese. But not before chewing on it at least once, of course. No, I pulled the darned thing out of my mouth. I got a nice call from Kraft to do some damage control, but amazingly then have not followed up with me as they had promised. If I were truly American, this would be a giant flaming lawsuit. Instead, in true Canadian fashion, I will likely launch a passive aggressive campaign to get some compensation, explanation, and apology from the company.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dear Santa,

I think you missed my house when you were passing out Christmas Spirit this season. It's five days 'til, and I don't feel like it's the holidays at all.

Let's start with the fact that Christmas has always had a long, long lead-in throughout my growing up. You know, the first frost, then the first snow... Christmas lights start to go up all over the place and people are bundling up, bustling around, busying themselves with various Christmas preparations. Well, I've yet to see frost this year, let alone snow. I know, I moved to Arizona -- what did I expect? I guess I expected everyone to decorate their cactuses (yes, I honestly envisioned that this is what desert dwellers do). I haven't seen a single cactus decorated yet. What a let down!

I hope when I return to Canada for Christmas I will find you've left my dose of Christmas Cheer at my parents' place. Maybe you just never got my forwarding address. Perhaps a dusting of snow and a trip down Taffy Lane will help to awaken the loud "I LOVE CHRISTMAS!" feeling I usually have weeks before this point.

If not, be sure to stick some Christmas Spirit (or Christmas spirits -- I'm not choosy) in my stocking!

Miss Canada

Sunday, December 18, 2005


As I near my first year anniversary in Arizona, I'm realizing that I'm really pretty adapted to being here. I no longer notice differences everyday. This is no longer a foreign land. It's just my new home.

I hate to think that this blog should be abandoned just because its primary vision is no longer pertinent, so I'm re-visioning. Welcome to my new blog. Same place as the old blog for now.

I intend to write letters to whom I please. I think this new format will allow me more liberty in choosing topics to write about. Hopefully it will generate more discussion in the comments.

So what do you think? Is this an acceptable morph?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Truly Canadian Moment

My husband just spent a month in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

My mother has friends in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

To any Canadian, the course of action is evident: mother calls friends, friends ask husband of mother's daughter to come for dinner. D'uh!

To an American, the invitation to dinner from the wife's mother's friends is a little unusual.

My husband called me just before heading over there to ask "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING THIS FOR?" To which I responded, well, you married a Canadian. This is what Canadians do. They host dinners for friends of cousins' brothers-in-law who happen to be in town. Or cousins of friends' sisters-in-law. Or... draw out any six-degrees-of-separation kind of relationship you want.

But in bringing up this situation to other Americans I realised how completely foreign this concept is here. My parents-in-law were aghast: He's doing WHAT? WHY ARE YOU MAKING HIM HAVE DINNER WITH COMPLETE STRANGERS? WHAT WILL HE TALK ABOUT? POOOOR HIM!

As if I made him do this.

But this was the prevailing sentiment: shock, amazement, awe.

I told the story to my New Friend By Virtue Of Being From The Same Country As I (see my previous post) and she laughed, yes, yes, this is how it goes with Canadians. Though she was from Toronto "If I went to Ottawa tomorrow I'd have a choice of four or more places to stay". "You could stay with my family!" I exclaimed. "Exactly... that's what Canada is like," she said.

I didn't mention that the invitation would be revoked if she turned out to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. That suspends all obligations to hospitality in Senators country.

A whole 'nother language

I'm real good at this.

Yes, you are 'real'.
Yes, you are 'good'.
No, you cannot be 'real good'.

At least, not at grammar.

This grammar is pervasive. This is accepted language here. It is in the newspapers, the radio, the television. If kids can't learn proper English from TV, where on earth are they going to get it?

There is no common use of adverbs here. What's an adverb, Paul? An adverb is a word that qualifies a verb or an adjective. These words often end in '-ly'. Here, they are nonexistant.

But this isn't the "whole 'nother language" indicated by the title. No, folks, the title refers to a language I'm slowly(adv.) learning. I've been so busy highlighting differences in spoken language (see my prior post, "Yes, I have an accent") that I have not even realised the very (adv.) subtle changes in the language of my thought. I'm learning to "think" in American.

I'll confess, it took another expatriate Canadian to point this out to me. She's been here substantially(adv.) longer than I, and had valuable insights for me. In fact, the discussion went something like this:

New Friend By Virtue Of Being From The Same Country As I (NFBVOBFTSCAI): I was able to take my Masters' degree part time which allowed me to have children and stay at home. I mean, it's easy to do that in Canada where there is fantastic maternity leave.

Me: I know! In Canada now you can take up to two years without losing seniority and benefits at work!

NFBVOBFTSCAI: And I think kids are healthier there because of it.

Me: It helps that healthcare is free for everyone.

NFBVOBFTSCAI: Not to mention that there is access to affordable child care.

Me: I want to go back!

NFBVOBFTSCAI: Nah, it's just that you're still thinking in Canadian. You have to learn to think in American. It's not that bad, just different.

Damn, is she right or what? I haven't posted here in ages. I'm realising this is because nothing is striking me as strikingly (adv.) different anymore. Another friend asked me recently(adv.) what I like best about living in America. I looked at her in such a way that she laughed and said, "there's nothing you like about it?" I responded that there's just not much that I can think of that's different in a good way. I can highlight a few things I miss about Canada and a few things I wouldn't miss about the US, but there's so much overlap nothing seems very (adv.) different anymore. As I become increasingly(adv.) resigned to this new home, I no longer think of it as a different place. Just my new one.

My entire thought process has already become more American. I used to talk to my husband all the time about how soon we could move to Canada. Now people ask me if we'll move back and there is genuine hesitation. Why would we? There are lots of reasons to move back: safer and friendlier places to live, better school systems as a whole, socialized medicine, two-year maternity leave + one-year paternity leave... That paints a pretty nice picture. But let's face it, as long as we choose our home wisely(adv.) when the time comes, we can live in safe, friendly places, send our kids to fantastic schools, have access to superior healthcare, and increase our earning potential by such a margin that I could potentially(adv.) take an extended maternity leave. It's a tough deal to pass up.

I'm sorry, did I just say earning potential? Did I really just say that? I'm more American than I thought!

And in truth, there are places in America where we can raise our kids to learn to use adverbs properly, wisely and consistently.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Home Sweet Home

It feels weird to be a visitor in my home country.


all material copyright © 2005 alison irving