Canadian Lifestyles - First Impressions

by Sabine Ehgoetz

Over three years ago, Sabine moved from her home country, Germany, to Toronto, where she has been working as a journalist and translator ever since. Up to this day, she still loves everything about Canada – apart from the winters.

When do you actually arrive in Canada? The moment a customs officer places a stamp on your passport and wishes you a friendly "Welcome to Canada"? When you get the first glimpse of the skyline or town centre of the place where you are going to live? Or on the first day you start working and have to fight your way through traffic or the crowded underground system to make it to your new office on time? No matter what moment you call the beginning of your new life or visit here, one thing is certain; it comes with a defining and lasting first impression.

Nadal, an IT consultant from the Middle East, remembers how warmly he was greeted by his new colleagues after he moved to Canada with his family. People here were very interested in his cultural background and customs, unlike the experience of one of his relatives who lives in the States and who is clearly expected to adapt to the "American way of life". Nadal’s manager even encouraged him to keep up with his religious traditions like the daytime fasting through Ramadan. "I couldn’t believe how interested my co-workers were in learning more about this time of the year that is so significant to me. I thought I had to give up how I usually celebrate it, but they even modified a lunch meeting for me, because they knew I couldn’t have any food during the day."

That the Canadian population in general is much more tolerant than the people south of the border is also something Jerry would like to point out. The gay photographer from Kansas has not once felt that he had to hide his sexual preferences from anyone or that he was discriminated against because of it.

Yet others find that there aren’t a lot of differences between Canada and the U.S. Frank, a medical student from Austria, calls our spending and shopping habits quite American. "Back home, most shops are closed on Sundays and holidays – here, those appear to be the most popular days for shopping. As a matter of fact, buying more and more stuff seems to be people’s favourite hobby here, no matter whether they can actually afford it or not." To him it seems crazy to use credit cards for everything, pay them off God knows when or buy a piece of furniture today and not pay for it until sometime next year.

And something else comes to his mind when he thinks about the first impressions he got of Canada: TV channels here are so careful not to expose their younger audience to any type of nudity or sexual contents, while they seem to be a lot more lax when it comes to blood and violence. "I was watching a Canadian program in the early evening when they showed the trailer of a horror movie scheduled later on. The scenes were so revolting that even I had to switch the channel because, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep later!"

As with most things, first impressions about our beautiful country are relative to where people come from. Some German friends of mine, who are temporarily living in Detroit, simply love to pay us a visit and enjoy a much "saner" approach to life than they experience down there, while many others who are arriving straight from European countries find our habits here rather American. It also depends whether you are coming with plans to settle down or just for a short time. In this case you may not experience the efficiency or inefficiency of the Canadian bureaucracy, discrimination because of your ethnic background or the ease of social integration. Tourists in general seem to love it here – why else would Canada be among the top five countries worldwide to which people dream of immigrating?

Once this dream becomes reality, things are not quite so clear cut. You may soon start to miss your life back home and find it hard to give up at least some parts of your "cultural identity" to become a Canadian.

This is why many people decide to live in areas where most of their neighbours share the same culture.

Dareios, who was born and raised in Athens, felt quite lonely and a little lost after he came to Toronto for a work project. Only when he finally found his way to Greektown, where a butcher started talking to him in his mother tongue and he sat down in a Greek tavern for some authentic food, did he stop feeling lonely. This proves once again that a place may be the most beautiful on earth, but the greeting you receive when you get there can make you feel either good or bad about it.

If the cab driver who picks you up from the airport is grumpy and disrespectful, you may immediately form a negative opinion and it will take many more positive encounters to undo it. Therefore never underestimate the power of first impressions and don’t let any random person ruin it for you. The location you are at may not just be someplace, but your new home!

Personally, I got off to a great start. I first came to Canada during school holidays with my family when I was 17 years old. My father had to work in Toronto for a couple of weeks and decided to take his family with him. Since my mom had to take care of my little brother, I got to explore the city on my own. This certainly contributed to the fact that I fell absolutely in love with this buzzing and charming place. Call it coincidence or fate that when I was given the option to live here years later, my feeling about my new home town made the decision to move here a lot easier.

CNM