Tuesday 25 March 2014

Why I chose Canada

In my role as an x-ray tech I'm in the public eye (and ear). I get to meet new people every day, and at least a few of them ask about my accent on a daily basis. You may not realize it due to the flawless English used here (ha! *heavy sarcasm alert*), but English is my second language, acquired at the age of 23, and it didn't come easy.
It was tough going for a while, cost me a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and quite a bit of cursing (first in German, and then - hurrah! - in English).
The first time I dreamed in my new language was about six months in, and I still remember the glorious feeling of triumph I woke up with when I realized what had happened.
I rarely had a greater feeling of accomplishment.

Once my curious patients have established that my accent is German (something only a few people guess, apparently it is hard to place - I dig being mysterious), they sometimes want to know more: How and why did I come here? Why did I leave Germany? Do I like Canada?
To which the short answers are: vacation, a man, and yes, I love it.

But the long answers are the more interesting ones, and I thought I would lay them all out here today.

Growing up we went on vacation once a year, for two weeks. My parents were big fans of camping, so we would load up the old VW Van and drive to countries close to use - Northern Italy, Austria, Sweden, France.
It was fun and we loved it, but I wouldn't call myself well travelled in those days. We never stayed in hotels, we almost never ate in restaurants, I never set foot on a plane during those years. We also didn't interact with people, but stuck to ourselves - there were vacations where we managed not talking to anybody save for the campsite, museum or store employees.

What I'm trying to say here is that despite going to various countries, I didn't experience them. We basically stayed in our German bubble, seeing the sites and beautiful scenery, but being observers rather than participants.

One big reason was the language barrier: none of us spoke anything but German, despite my having to take English and French (and Latin) at school. But I was way too shy to attempt to speak it, and my parents and sister were worse. So inside the bubble we stayed.

At 17, I went to he South of France with my school class. It was the vacation of a lifetime.
We spent 10 days in Arles, and it was simply magical. We stayed at a charming old hotel. Ate in restaurants almost every day. They served us wine! We soaked up the French lifestyle in those 10 days, and I experienced for the first time in my life what it really means to travel.
That trip gave me a first taste of the possibilities out there, of a bigger world.
Many happy hours were spent on these steps back in 1997. (image source)

Like I said, I was 17. That time in people's lives when we should start figuring out what to do after high school. I had no clue. 
The thing is: I had no idea of the choices. What's out there. What sort of careers/jobs exist.
The way I grew up, in a small town, with no Internet (gasp!), no guidance from school, and no role models to look up to, I felt very limited. 

I felt like I was in prison, with the walls closing in on me. There was a prevailing sense of doom and impending failure. At a time where I should have been full of energy and excitement for the next big chapter of my life, all I felt was paralysed, scared and defeated. 
I wrote about how I decided to study forestry, and the reasons were all based on lack of knowledge, late teenage rebellion and a general cluelessness.

Through college I met people with much more exciting lives than mine. They travelled! Some had worked in different countries! I was mesmerized. My favourite thing to do in those days was hanging out with my new friends, sipping beer and soaking up their tales. We were dreaming big of the wonderful lives we would all have one day, all the adventures we would experience.

But apart from that, I was so unhappy at that time. I studied something that I despised. Didn't have a boyfriend.
There was a huge problem between my family and me.

I distanced myself more and more from my friends, felt lonely and stuck in a life I hated.
I needed a way out. A big adventure. My life couldn't go on the way it had, I just couldn't take it any longer.

Our college website had an online board where you could post whatever you wanted: looking for room mates, selling stuff, car pools, looking for fitness buddies, whatever. One day I came across an ad from a Dutch lady living in "the Wild West of BC" (that's how she put it, smart woman), looking for people to help out on her ranch in exchange for free room and board.
On a whim, I emailed her. We started an email exchange (she spoke German fluently), and I got more and more excited.

On a rainy day in March, with my heart pounding and my palms wet, I entered a travel agency. I was so nervous that I stammered in the beginning, unsure of how to do this. I had never been on a plane, never booked a flight or hotel or anything.
But the lady helping me was patient and friendly, and together we did it: I booked my very first flight, for August 5, 2002.

The story surrounding these events is actually a good one, I will have to tell it to you one day.
But for now, let's not focus on how I met Richard, and how I had to tell my parents that I would move to Canada a few weeks later.

The focus now is on Canada. How this magnificent country made me feel from the very beginning, and how it still does to this day.

It's not only the friendliness of the people, the beauty of nature and the humongous cinnamon buns I was introduced to here (there were no cinnamon buns in my youth. Just imagine), even though that is all part of it.

The greatest thing about Canada? The feeling of freedom. Of limitless opportunities. Of reaching for the stars in the firm believe that I can grasp them.
I have come from a place of "no"/"can't"/"impossible"/"unrealistic" to a place where anything is possible.

Of course, you can't blame/credit the countries alone. It's not Germany's fault that I was so unhappy there, but a combination of circumstances, family issues and myself. The same applies to Canada: As great as the country is, it alone didn't create all these opportunities. My husband plays a big role; I have changed and grown (up); and I have figured out along the way what makes me happy.

But still.  

In Germany, people like to say no. A lot. Without even considering an alternative. Being "realistic" and knowing one's place is essential. One's life path should be straight forward: school, apprenticeship/college, work for 30-40 years in that job you were trained in. No detours.
Maybe it's slowly changing now, out of necessity (not because people want to), but that's the German mindset. Germans are rigid and formal, to the point of being standoffish.

They are hardworking and efficient (the stereotype is true), but do their job without much joy or passion.
No chitchatting at the checkout counter at at store. No pleasant "How are you?" at the bank. I know people here just say that and don't really care how I am, but I like it nonetheless. It makes you feel better. It brightens your day when someone smiles at you. It may not be necessary, but it's nice!

Canadians are laid back.
In Canada, people are either more tolerant when it comes to other people's choices, or they are too polite to state their true feelings. I like honesty, but Germans take it to a whole new level. They are rude!
One example: They will look you up and down and make a snide remark about the way you are dressed that day. "Aren't you too old to be dressed like that?" is a classic, which delivers a double whammy: Rudeness about your fashion sense and your age. Bam!

Then there is the languages. I love the English language. It is the language I choose to write in because it flows so much better and is so very beautiful to me. German seems wooden and stiff in comparison.
I always disliked the formal way of addressing others (French has it too), because it makes it harder to get close to people.
English doesn't have that, you address everybody with 'you'. So much better!

In the summer of 2002, I fell in love twice. Once with Richard, and once with Canada. Both relationships are going strong, and have all the makings of being lifelong love affairs - and I couldn't be happier.

I would choose them both again in a heartbeat.

Love, Miriam

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Awwww you are so blessed! I always wanted to visit and possibly move to Canada!!! I was always told that people are much more friendlier there, of course, they say that about us southerners here in Texas, but why have Texas when you can have Canada! I'm glad you are loving the life you are living now, I'm only 21 so who knows, we could be neighbors one day lol

  3. i love this story. i'm glad you've found your place :)

  4. What a beautifully written story! I love the picture with you and the red dress and sunglasses. I love you found a place that fits you!

  5. There's nothing better than the feeling of "home." :)

  6. So interesting to read. Glad you're here to stay, Miriam.

  7. I loved reading this. Seriously. You are so brave! Gorgeous photos, gorgeous Canadian lady (you!), and gorgeous story.


  8. My husband loves Canada and would like to move there. I'm all for it because it's more progressive than the US and you have the Queen on your stamps and money :-) Did the fact that English is a Germanic language make it a little easier to learn?

  9. My home and native land! Isn't Canada just amazing? Sure we have our problems, but I love our large and diverse country. It's beautiful and fun and welcoming and charming and vaste and different. I was born and raised in New Brunswick, but we are now living in a Cree community in Northern Quebec, and I can't wait til a few years from now to live somewhere else in this big country.
    I'm so happy you've been welcomed here and are loving it.


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