Open Letter to Refugees, Immigrants and New Canadians

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Welcome to Canada! Let me tell you a few things about this country you now call home, and offer some advice.

This land was originally inhabited by aboriginal peoples, long before the French, English and Scottish came here to make their homes. We call them First Nations, and when you meet a First Nations person, show them respect. They may not always respect themselves, but you should show respect just the same.

In fact, you will do well in Canada if you respect everyone you meet, as soon as you meet them. They might turn out to be a jerk – we have our share of those – but wait for them to show you that themselves. Don’t assume they are one. Be polite to strangers and friends alike. That might be a big difference from the country you came from.

I don’t know what it was like in your home country, but I can imagine that you didn’t have the well-stocked grocery stores we have, the good road system, the excellent hospitals, and, to a large degree, kind people everywhere you go. There are charitable organizations to help needy people, people having cancer treatments, and a thousand other things. We like to take care of each other here. We like to look out for one another, and although we aren’t perfect at this, it’s something we do as a whole.

It might be because our founding religions were Christian. We do hold quite a few of those values in our society, and you’ll see them in our laws and policies, if you know how to look for them. Not everyone is kind and considerate, but you will do well to practice kindness as much as possible. Non-Christians are welcome here, but I wanted to mention that about our origins. Not everyone is religious, but almost everyone is kind. You are welcome to bring your religion and practice it here, but if your religion is not kind, it will not fit in here. It could, in an extreme case, even make you unwelcome.

Remember that for all the hospitals, roads, bridges, and other amenities you enjoy, someone had to pay for those. People who were born here, and who moved here long before you, did that so that you can benefit from them. You can enjoy moving about this country freely because of others who worked hard, paid their taxes, and because they cared enough to contribute. They contributed by having jobs, by joining service groups, by volunteering and by helping their neighbours with everything from babysitting to snow shoveling. Look for ways to contribute to all sorts of Canadians. Make sure you mix with other cultures and don’t just stick to your own.

We are not perfect but we generally obey the laws and conform to our social norms. You would do well to do the same. We do not consider our laws to apply to some and not to others; they apply to everyone equally, and they are enforced. If you bend them, they will snap back. If you disregard them, you won’t be able to stay here, or you’ll be put in jail – you’ll lose your freedom. One of the reasons Canada is Canada is because we had law enforcement early on; while the US had the wild west, we had the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and they still keep the order today. Respect them.

Our laws say that women have all the same rights as men; if you do not agree with this, you should look for somewhere else to live and move there as soon as you can. If moving is not an option for you, you will do well to learn to keep your opinions very, very hidden. This equality is fundamental to who we are, and you will NOT be able to change it.

Actually, don’t try to change anything about Canada. We are who we are and we’ve been this way a long time. Any of your behaviour that differs too much from the social norm will not make a change; it will only alienate you. Do not blame Canadians for alienating you. You always do that to yourself. We are quite welcoming to those who want to live here, follow our laws, contribute to our society and be like us.

We have our quirks – we love our quirks. You do not have to be a cookie-cutter Canadian. Just take some time to watch those around you and see how they act. Although we value our freedom and independence greatly, we are also more conforming than you may realize. This will be your challenge while you are new here! You will have to learn to put aside your ideas from your home country and adopt ours.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with advice. You have probably been through a lot to get here. Let me summarize.
Show respect to everyone.
Respect the laws, and follow them.
Be grateful for what you have, where you are, and those who made it possible for you to be here.
And yes, be kind and polite!

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Aren’t Canadians Great, eh?

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Happy Canada Day! In honour of this special day, here’s a “Teresa’s Top 10:”

Top 10 Ways to Identify a Canadian:

10. Canadians love slang. Newfies use it to the extreme (and it can even be hard to understand them)!

9. Canadians wear toques.  No other country uses this word!

8. Canadians are even polite while kicking the shit out of someone in a game. “Oh, there you go, sorry, I just beat the pants off you.”

7. Canadians know what should go into a survival kit for a vehicle (although we don’t necessarily have all those things…)

6. Canadians have nerves of steel, especially when it comes to mosquitoes. Once covered in bug spray, we can sit in a cloud of them and not freak out (at least not until they get really thick). We are also very calm in disasters.

5. Canadians love talking about neat places to go… usually only accessible by quad, skidoo, canoe or float plane.

4. Canadians describe distances by how long it takes to drive there — “4 hours away” — and don’t generally balk at driving long distances (we have such a big country)!

3. Canadians still smile when the weather’s miserable, and thoroughly enjoy grumping and complaining about it. -40°C does not stop us from doing things!

2. Canadians love to tell weather-related stories about when you or someone you know hit the ditch, snowbank, moose, deer or other wildlife.

1. Canadian men don’t wear speedos. Not even on vacation in a tropical place.*

We had some friends over, but now they’ve all gone home (most have to work tomorrow, including me), but here’s a drink I invented to try sometime! I call it “Mackenzie’s Demise” (a good Canadian name, I think)! It’s mixed in a lo-ball glass (not a tall glass):

1 shot Zambuca

1 shot (or slightly less) Peppermint Schnapps

Ginger ale

5 drops lime juice (from the bottle you know you have somewhere in your fridge!)  🙂

And an ice cube or two. Stir and enjoy!

* The only exception is Olympic-level athletes who compete in aquatic sports. 🙂

Writing in the Snow

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A little small-town story… A friend of mine came home from running errands today and saw that someone had stopped by while she was out. Rather than leaving her a note, or calling her and leaving a message, they bent down and wrote in the snow with their finger: “Hi Mary! Work tomorrow?” They might have written more, but that was all the room they had on her front step!

So what does the message mean? Like archaeologists with a partial stone tablet, we spent quite a while tonight analyzing it. We determined that to understand the message content, we needed to know who the writer was. If only he or she had signed the note, Mary would know if it was her boss asking her if she can work tomorrow, or if it’s a friend wondering if she will have time to get together for a coffee! The writer could have left initials; instead we are left with rudimentary boot-print analysis! A quick survey of the neighbour next door revealed it wasn’t her… perhaps she had seen someone stooping to scribble? No. Alas, the mystery will be solved, I’m sure, if Mary’s co-worker stops by to pick her up tomorrow morning or if someone else fesses up to the snow graffiti. It’s a good thing it wasn’t snowing any more, or blowing either — that message wouldn’t have lasted long yesterday!

Only in small-town Canada… when you’re out of paper, or can’t find a phone, you can always resort to the Canadian message board — a snowy deck! (Please write with fingers.)

Enjoy the snow, everyone! We’ll be in it for a while now…  🙂