I’ve been back in Gloucester, Ontario, for a week
I got into Ottawa last Thursday. The flight from Madrid to Toronto was nearly full, with the usual mix of Spanish and English speakers and just the right number of crying babies. I sat next to a middle-aged bald man in sunglasses, with big biceps and black tattoos covering his arms, wearing cargo shorts and a white muscle t-shirt. He crossed himself as we took off and that made me warm up to him taking up the whole armrest a little. It turns out he’s from Ibiza, and had no idea how long the flight was or how long it would then take him to get to San Francisco from Toronto, or what the time difference between all those places was…
It was one of the older generation airplanes – so there were no back-of-the seat screens. I read several hundred pages of Shantaram and tried unsuccessfully to do the crossword and Sudoku in the Globe. On an eight-hour flight they serve two meals. I had ordered the “Vegetarian, lacto-ovo” option. This got me starch and vegetables and … little else. My first meal was white rice and cooked vegetables, a bottle of water and a cup of fruit. My second meal was a white bread and vegetable sandwich, a bottle of water and a cup of fruit. I was SO hungry. Dear Air Canada: although I am vegetarian I am no more highly evolved than other human beings and still require protein in order to survive.
Once in Toronto I nervously watched the time waiting for my luggage and getting through the super efficient system of customs and rechecking luggage and back through security and to my gate. Once there, the flight appeared to be on time and lots of smiley people lined up in an orderly fashion only when asked to do so by the gate agents. (I realize now the smiles might have been due to the air conditioning indoors compared with the 38-degree heat plus humidity outdoors.) We’d been told we were on schedule, but from my seat I could see the ground crew unloading stuff off the airplane even as we were supposed to be departing. Not just any “stuff” either – box after box labelled “Keep warm – Live tropical fish.”
Yeah. They filled a whole truck with those boxes. Meanwhile, the captain was announcing that he’d gotten word from the ground crew, and “they’re just loading the last of the bags.” He was saying this AS I watched the boxes being removed. Blatant lies, Air Canada, blatant lies. Next they unloaded several trucks worth of mail packages. The captain came on to say that we were expecting departure “on the hour” (meaning six o’clock, when the flight was scheduled to leave at 5:10) because the ground crew was working more slowly than normal at loading luggage and taking more breaks due to the heat.
Again: blatant lies. And this was just insulting – the guys outside were bright red, dripping with perspiration and working hard. I wanted to bring them lemonade and a spray bottle.
Finally, at about half past five, the captain finally got up to date with the situation that I’d been watching through the window for a good half hour. (Oh, due to the heat there’s a shortage of ground crew and the plane hasn’t been unloaded from the last flight and we haven’t even started to load your bags yet folks, sorry about that…)
In this last week, I’ve been experiencing what I’m guessing is a bit of reverse culture shock. After being in Europe, in purely non-English speaking countries, for seven months, it’s weird.
First of all. People smiling at me. It’s not that people in Spain don’t smile at you. But they do it differently. Canadians are more generous with their smiles. You don’t really have to earn it. We just throw ‘em out there.
People also touch a lot less. People are more careful about not getting in your way. But also, if someone bumps into you or you help someone with something in Madrid, it’s not uncommon for them to grasp your forearm to emphasise that they really are sorry for bumping into you or to show that they are really thankful for your help. Whenever you meet anyone new you kiss them on both cheeks and same when you see your friends and your friends’ friends and when you say goodbye – any opportunity. I like it, it’s friendly and it establishes a bit of intimacy with people you’ve just met. Here in Canada, we’re handshakers, and after all that kissing… it seems a little cold.
On my morning run, the following things were said to me: Good, morning, hello.
On an average run in Spain, I have my hair colour pointed out (Ehh! Morena!), my waist size pointed out (Ehh! Delgada!), the speaker’s opinion of my attractiveness pointed out (Ehh! Guapa!). Never once has anyone said the following words to me: Buenos, días, hola.
I’ve also been struck visually by… Canadian-ness . It’s so green! So verdant. The sky is so open. The roads are so big. The houses (this is partly just my neighbourhood) are so big. The trees are big. The cars are big. There is so much space!
It is extremely weird to be able to speak with pretty much anyone without any communication difficulties, or communication failures, or confusion, or at the very least, me listening with full, rapt attention to try to understand and hear as much as possible in order to piece together the rest.
It’s so strangely efficient. I don’t have to psych myself up for phone calls or look up key words before going to the bank or the post office. I’m Canadian. I fit right back in. Even though I’ve been doing ‘Canadian’ my whole life, it still takes some getting used to.