Posts Tagged 'canada'

Still a Stranger Here

I like being Canadian.

Aside from the embarrassment of Rob Ford and the ongoing empire of Stephen Harper, we have a lovely reputation: polite, friendly, the cleaner/nicer/more left-wing version of Americans.

I also love living in London; the theatre and museums, while not absolutely peerless, are exceptional (and have quite spoiled me for living anywhere that isn’t as culturally rich).

And while being an expatriate comes with pros (two passports!) and cons (like people correcting my diction and pronunciation. I know what I said. You know what I said. I know both what you people call it and how you pronounce it and have decided to stick with my own vernacular in this case. So stop being pedantic), there is something particular to the UK (and Europe) that I don’t think I will ever master.

“Hello.”

In Canada and the US, you have: the wave,

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the chin acknowledgement (think ‘s’up’),

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the handshake,

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the fist bump,

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and the hug,

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for varying degrees of physical and emotional proximity.

In the UK and Europe, though – y’all do the cheek kiss (for an indeterminate length and number of times), with either a handclasp or some kind of hand-on-arm job.

Even Hilary Clinton thinks this shit is weird.

I do not know what to do with that.

This STILL feels unnecessarily intimate and weird to me.

If you do that in North America? You’re either a theatre-person greeting other theatre-people, or you’re basically hitting on someone REALLY HARD.

I can’t you the number of times I’ve automatically gone for a hug since some person is suddenly in my personal space and they’ve gotten a mouthful of hair or head butted.

And I still can’t tell if you guys are actually doing a kiss or just going ‘mwa’ in the space next to my head.

I tend to do the latter, after I’ve done a weird pseudo-hug that’s the equivalent of a limp-fish handshake (which I loathe) because ARGH I can’t KISS you, that is for intimates.

I get it, I think – it looks classy, it’s less business-y than a handshake, it’s affectionate and I’d bet most Londoners are affection-deprived on average.

But…

It’s not intuitive for me. It doesn’t come naturally, and I still haven’t figured out exactly where the cheek-kiss thing falls in terms of social proximity. Do you do this with literally everyone you meet? Work colleagues? Bosses? Friends of friends?Grandparents?

Where is the line? Have I unwittingly offended people by pre-empting them with a firm all-American handshake or put them on the back foot by an unanticipated warm and fuzzy Canadian hug?

It’s odd. I speak the language. My parents are Brits, but picturing them doing the cheek-kiss thing is impossible – is this a new thing? They left the nearly 40 years ago – is this a European import? WHAT IS THE DEAL?

Seriously. Please. Someone teach me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it, though. I do it, because social niceties and whatnot, but it always feels like a put-on.

The Opposite of Faith

I hate to be bored, but there are some times when there is so much happening which provokes complex reactions that even the great garble of the English language is insufficient to separate out and label each thought and feeling, leaving me with a rather unsophisticated rage.

I am often reminded these days of the very wise philosophy of non-attachment – to wit, we can only control ourselves, therefore we can and should act in accordance with our own morals and principles, and let go entirely of the notion that the world will respond with the result for which we aim, or that individuals will have the same motivation, moral code, or priorities as ourselves.

It is, essentially, a constant acknowledgment that we are not the boss, that life is chaotic, and that negative reactions arise from our own thwarted desires and expectations.

It is a very democratic principle. It is often difficult, however, to accept and respect the decisions, actions, and comments of others when they are diametrically opposed to one’s own sense of justice, whether personal or political.

Backpfeifengesicht


Stephen Harper has won a conservative majority in Canada. This enrages me because I do not understand how my fellow Canadians can not only accept the many questionable decisions made by his minority government, but hand him a sufficient parliamentary majority to pass more and more restrictive legislation that is actively bad for the majority of Canadian citizens.

Why does this offend me so? Because I am attached to my expectations of Canada. I go through life assuming that the Canadian electorate is somehow immune to the capitalist pseudo-logic peddled by corporate-behemoth-funded conservative parties everywhere. I assume that 30 million people have the same definition of justice that I do. My expectation is not met, and I am hurt and frustrated.

I could, and do, take solace in the fact that part of the reason for the majority is a major leap in the number of votes going to the NDP (aka socialists), which essentially split the non-conservative vote. Although they did not win, I can remind myself that the issues central to their party platform will have more regular airing, and being less of a ‘centrist’ party, they have more reason to actively oppose most of the conservative legislation. This means, essentially, there will be a more pronounced debate. Of course, this solace-taking, too, is attachment. I am again expecting a large group of people to think and act as I would.

Also fueling my un-Zen political rage is the rampant politicking over eliminating abortion rights in the US, the ongoing mockery of logic, sense, and good taste that is the tea party, and the vast, nauseating cuts to social services in the UK (made, of course, by a group of independently wealthy white males who want to remake England in their image. Like it isn’t sufficiently patriarchal, classist, and racist already).

That is one downside of living many places: I am affected by the local politics all over the place.

On top of this, there are my confused feelings about the killing of Osama bin Laden. I am a pacifist. I don’t believe that violence or war does humanity any good (which isn’t to say that there aren’t a happy few who do very well out of it – there quite clearly are, nor that some goals are not sometimes met by violent action – this is also sometimes true, just not often enough to justify the frequency with which violence is resorted to).

That said, even thinking about it now, I am hugely relieved. I get a genuine lump-in-the-throat feeling when I think about how relieved other people feel. It is like a muscle I didn’t realize was knotted suddenly relaxed. Several million people feel a little safer, and I cannot help but feel touched by that. bin Laden was a powerful symbol, which is not to deny that he was also a person, albeit a massively fucking evil one, and to have that symbol of such unadulterated hostility towards not just the ‘Western world’, or the capitalist system (that, ahem, his father did so well by), but also all of the Muslims around the world who didn’t subscribe to the hyper-orthodox -hide-the-women and kill-the-infidels school of Islam.

What do I expect now, after this symbolic event? I don’t know. I hope that things will get better.

Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring, but it does mean not making assumptions. I can hope, without trusting something that I cannot know. It is the opposite of faith. I don’t believe that there is a master plan, I do not place childlike trust in a god/dess or the universe. I can only hope that all will be well.

“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”
Gautama Buddha
(c.566 BC – c.480 BC)
image and quote from utilitarianism.com


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