In early September last year, I squeezed my life into a suitcase, dragged it to Glasgow International Airport and boarded a plane to Toronto. Now, I’ve been in Canada for over five months and I still feel like I did the first day I stepped off of the plane and into a new home, a new job – a new life.
On paper, Canada and the UK have a lot in common. We speak the same language, share the same Head of State (props to my homegirl, Lizzy, for keepin’ it real in Buckingham Palace) and with the legal drinking age being 19 in most of Canada, it would appear that, legally speaking, we share a similar attitude towards alcohol. This was one of the first things I checked before deciding to come here and I am not proud of what that says about my priorities but beer is an important part of my life. Okay? Okay.
Along with a mutual appreciation of alcohol, Canada and the UK also enjoy their fair share of eccentric politicians. If Rob Ford – the crack-smoking, (allegedly) colleague-groping Mayor of Toronto – hasn’t met Boris Johnson yet, then someone needs to make this happen IMMEDIATELY.
Despite these similarities, the reality is that Canada is very different from the UK. You pick up on these differences when you least expect to; when you’re wandering through the city or ordering dinner in a restaurant or riding your moose through Toronto and rubbing maple syrup all over yourself while bellowing, “CANADA, EH?!” at the top of your lungs (because that’s what we do here – swiftly followed by profuse apologies and a friendly game of ice hockey, of course).
Once you notice them, these trivial little differences have a habit of wriggling deep into the darkest corners of your backpack and burrowing in with the ticket stubs and travel cards you’ve collected along the way. They remind you that neither your growing closeness with your new friends, the sense of comfort you feel in your new home nor the dwindling number of times you get lost each week will change the fact that you are not from here.
That somewhere, thousands of miles away, you have a mother, a father and a brother; uncles and aunts and cousins; best friends and good friends and old friends and new friends, all of whom are living their lives without you, just like you’re living yours without them – as if this was what you had always done.
Yes, there’s Skype. And there’s Facebook. Not to mention WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and email. But sometimes these things – the ones that are designed to bring people together – are the very things that make you feel even further away from home.
People don’t stop asking where you’re from. It takes you a while to adjust to the idea that you have the foreign accent, not them – or maybe you never quite adjust to that idea at all.
You lifted yourself away from everything you knew and planted your raw roots in this strange area. You tethered yourself to it with things you could not help but carry with you. You were uncertain and incongruous – you were new. You were so close to the roads and the people and the places that formed this city’s landscape; so close to becoming part of that, but you weren’t quite sure where to start.
Gradually, the tenuous ties that keep your roots just beneath the surface begin to strengthen and push through soil. The familiar sight of your apartment door after a long day at work becomes a source of pleasant relief. You start to notice if the homeless man who sleeps in the doorway of your favourite coffee shop isn’t there when you walk by in the morning. You learn how to miss the rush of commuters on the subway and you never allow yourself to travel to work without a book.
Occasionally, just when you think you’ve got the hang of it all, you mistake a quarter for a nickel or you ask for chips and are handed a bag of crisps. Perhaps you even try to pay a co-worker a compliment on her trousers and end up feeling embarrassed because you have just said, “I love your pants!” out loud to someone and you can’t quite distract yourself from thinking about the implications such a statement would have at home.
That feeling of being far away – of being “from somewhere else” – it doesn’t dissipate over time.
But it’s that same feeling that drives you to do things you would never do at home; to go places you have never seen before and to forget what you think you have and focus on the opportunity and possibility of what you could find.
And the most exciting, enticing part of it all?
The bacon is really good here.