60 Under 30 #4: El Salvador; Why I Travel

Thirty thousand feet in the air, on a flight bound from London’s Gatwick airport to Barcelona, my third trip to the eastern Spanish coast in the last two years, I couldn’t help but think about how I ended up here. 3500 miles from the small Ontario town I grew up in; the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, where my day began, is now home.

Each traveller has their own reason as to why they pack their bags and catch yet another flight, pouring their savings into a new experience or another visit to a city that has captured part of their hearts. Travellers as people are driven by a personal want to experience the world as much as possible, and each person has their own personal reasons for doing so.

My love for Europe was born two years ago, when my first backpacking trip began in Glasgow and was made up of six weeks backpacking across Western Europe from Scotland to Italy. It is how I ended up packing my belongings into a suitcase and moving across the Atlantic to start a new life in London, to be closer to the continent that had stolen my heart. It was where my love of travelling was cemented for good into who I am, but it was not where it began. For that, I have to trace back even further.

Looking back now, I can pinpoint the exact moment it started. Not the love of traversing the globe at least, but the battle with my own brain that would eventually lead to that very discovery.

At the time, I had no idea what the symptoms of depression were, especially when mixed into a potent anxiety cocktail. I thought I was just having a bad day. I’d had a normal school day, followed by the myriad of basketball and other sports I was involved with at the time. I got home as usual, my parents were at work, my brother out somewhere with his friends. I sat down to eat the dinner left in the fridge by my mother and began to feel the onset of what I now know to be symptoms of anxiety. It doesn’t hit you all at once, it slowly creeps into your body and mind like an IV drip into your blood. It poisons your brain, fooling it into imagining all kinds of things, both mental and physical.

It began with a feeling of weakness. For that first night, I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Just getting up from a chair felt like a monumental task. I went to bed, hoping a good night’s sleep would abate the sickness and I would wake up feeling better.

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, as it progressed further, the anxiety symptoms were the ones that continued to present themselves physically. The first time I had a panic attack, I was sitting in class and all of a sudden started feeling short of breath. Developing a sort of tunnel vision, I excused myself from class in an attempt to find a quiet place to calm down. As I sat in the back stairwell of my high school, I began to feel scared.

What was happening to me?

Worried thoughts would compound the issue and over the next weeks and months, the attacks would come and go more and more often, always at the most seemingly random of times. Basketball practice, dinner with my family, at the movies. As is typical with most people experiencing these things, I was afraid to tell anyone. To this day, none of my friends at the time, or even my family know what I was experiencing back then. It was to no fault of any of them. I tried my best everyday to not give anyone cause for worry, making every attempt to hide the panic attacks and carry on as if everything was normal. I didn’t want to burden anyone with it, so the worries remained my own.

If anxiety is worrying, depression is frightening.

It’s frightening because you don’t realize it was there until you resurface from it.

If you resurface from it.

Everyone describes the feeling of depression differently. I felt that it was as if someone attached a boat anchor to my ankle and then told me to swim. Most days became an exercise in making it back home, into my room where I could stop putting on the fake smile and pretending like everything was okay. Depression is like having a person stand next to you, all day, whispering in your ear.

“You’re not good enough”.

“They don’t actually like you”.

“Why do you even get out of bed in the morning?”.

Now at 23, I can’t imagine what 16 year-old me could possibly have had to worry about that could’ve started such a downturn. I had just gone through my growth spurt, gaining nearly a foot in a little over a year. I was a straight A student, well on my way to getting into the engineering program of my choice and had a good group of friends to cause trouble with on the weekends.

That’s the part about depression that people who have never experienced it don’t understand. There doesn’t have to be a reason, it can hit, and hit hard even when you have every reason to be happy. One day you are yourself and the next you are wallowing at the bottom of a well of self-pity and despair.

The next few months would progress into a further state of misery, while gradually becoming better and better at putting on the mask in the hopes that I would not be a burden on anyone. After all, it was all just in my head right?

That is where I reached a fork in the road.

To the left was a treacherous path, paved with anxiety and the black shadow of depression as my only guide, leading me to places I can only imagine now.

To the right was a hike up a mountain where the air at the summit is so clear, the peacefulness drowns out even the most cynical of voices in your head.

If only we knew how important some of the decisions we have made were before we made them.

That day, there were two voices that pushed me down the correct path and one that urged me to the left. The first came in the form of our school’s unsuspecting secretary, making her daily announcements. Our school board would be accepting applicants for a new program, taking a trip to El Salvador to participate in a house build with Habitat for Humanity.

Like a devil on my shoulder, the other voice spoke up in retort.

“They wouldn’t accept you even if you tried”.

Thankfully, there was a third voice that day.

It’s incredible how your parents can come through for you time and time again, sometimes without even realizing that they have. I believe the term is parental instinct. Regardless of what you call it, that night I went home as usual, and mentioned over dinner about the program. I’m not sure if depression was hoping my parents would say no so I wouldn’t have to bother, or if deep down somewhere I was beginning to fight it’s tyrannical reign over my mind. Despite the fact that we had little to no information about the program, and the only information we had about El Salvador was a brief Google search, my mother and father decided that I should at the very least apply, guiding me towards the correct path, completely unaware at the time that it was some of the most important advice they would give me.

The application process became a distraction for me. It was a focus point amidst all the noise going on inside my head, allowing for brief moments of clarity. After submitting the application and progressing to the interview stage, it eventually came back that I had been accepted. There were to be 11 students, each from a different school that would be making the trip south along with 8 teachers, also from various schools across the region.

I had reached base camp.

Getting accepted to the program was enough to slightly restore confidence in myself. It was the first small step in a battle against the voices in my head that had withered away my mental state over the course of the previous months. Leading up to the trip which was to be at the end of June that year, we met each week to participate in activities that would help us on our trip. Spanish lessons, brick laying and information about the country we would call home for two weeks. These sessions became my escape, something I looked forward to each week and one of the few places I found myself actually smiling. The people were incredible, both students and teachers, joking and learning together as we attempted to prepare ourselves for our journey.

When the day finally came, I was in a better mental state than I had been in months. I was legitimately excited, a feeling I had rarely had in the previous year. Our flight was rather uneventful, and we landed safely at the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Salvador.

As we walked out of the airport we were hit with a wall of both blazing humidity and overwhelming culture shock. Outside the entrance were hundreds of El Salvadorans waving and smiling at everyone who exited the terminal. Some greeting loved ones and others seemingly just greeting every new visitor to their home.

The mountain awaited.

We spent the first day split between a morning playing with the most adorable children at a local orphanage and an afternoon hike up to the mountains with a breathtaking view over the tropical landscape. The immersion into the local culture was an experience that was completely new to me, and I was enjoying every second of it.

Our residence was to be in a small town outside of San Salvador called Zacatecoluca. The town was vibrant in both architecture and personality. Our first visit to the local market left such an impression that still, wherever it is that I visit, I am drawn to local markets as they often yield a more truly honest glimpse into the culture of a city than any other place you can explore. Our residence was a small compound of hostel-style rooms with bunk beds, cold showers and a wonderfully friendly man named Carlos who maintained the place. Throughout the course of the week, using our broken Spanish and his broken English, the language barrier was slowly broken down and we were able to communicate with our new friend.

If the town was a cultural shock, arriving at our build site was a complete revelation. Over the course of the ten days, it would draw emotions from us all, some that we didn’t even know were possible to feel all at once. We were there to build a house for a family of twelve. It would be far too easy on a trip like ours to pretend that we were there solely to help the family, that we were part of the greater good and that we were changing their lives. We were building a house no bigger than most of our garages back home for a family of twelve. This was to allow the family to move out of a house the same size that they currently shared with another family of twelve. Throughout the course of the trip, we all quickly realized that to assume we were there to help them and help them alone was not only wrong, but ignorant.

Each day on the site the family prepared meals for us at lunch, and afterwards we would break from our labouring to play soccer and other games with the children of the family. I can still picture their smiles and their laughter when I think back to it. When we surprised them one day with a brand new soccer ball, the pure joy that erupted from their tiny faces was, at the time, a happiness I was not sure I had ever experienced.

Depression is a fickle creature. Despite the joy surrounding me, the voices in my head made me feel guilty.

“All it took for them to be happy was a soccer ball, what’s your problem?”

No one ever said climbing a mountain was going to be easy.

The rest of the week would go on, as the house neared completion, so did the end of our trip. The final day, we said our goodbyes, and nearly every one of us was in tears as our van pulled out of the site for the last time. The effect the family had on us, sharing their culture, their joys and their love, left us all feeling a mixture of emotions ranging from guilt to thankfulness. They had expanded our small bubbles of existence to include a piece of their own world in it.

That is why we travel.

Each experience, each person along the way becomes a part of our own world. Shaping how we view the worlds of others, and how we live in our own.

Sitting now, staring out the window of this airplane, just as I was seven years ago on our way back home from our adventure, I can remember what it felt like to reach that summit for the first time. The realization that there was so much beauty in this world I had yet to see, and so many worlds of others left to impact upon my own, had conquered the darkness in my own head, holding it at bay.

The clarity would not be something easily noticed if it had always been there. The climb is never simple, and will surely have to be made more times throughout my years ahead. Each time it becomes a little easier, signposts left along the way, inspiration to keep pushing along, the memory of what it felt like to reach the summit.

But up here, at thirty thousand feet, it is joy. It is the joy of exploring a new city for the first time, a pint shared with travellers from across the globe and the joy of a brand new soccer ball, kicked back and forth across a dirt road.

That is why I travel.

60 under 30 #1: Canada

It’s early. Far earlier in the day then I would normally be awake, but at ten years old there is little that could get me as excited to be out of bed before sunrise as today. No one else is awake yet, my little brother is still well asleep in his Winnie the Pooh sleeping bag in the tent next to me. He never has been much of a morning person, regardless of the day. I climb out of my sleeping bag, putting on my biggest sweater and warmest socks. Despite the fact that it is the end of July, it is cold out on the lake in the early morning, especially before sun-up. As I struggle with my shoes, my brother stirs before rolling over. I don’t have to worry about waking him, he has been known to sleep through my mother vacuuming his bedroom.

I leave the tent and walk around front of my grandparent’s trailer, situated just across the old campground dirt road from Benoir Lake. Across the calm morning water, the beginnings of morning light are starting to rise from behind the small wooden cottages and the many trees surrounding them. This is my favourite part of the mornings here. The mist on the morning lake, where nothing has yet disturbed the water. Some mornings, if it is especially quiet, you can hear the loons calling to each other. I remember one particular early morning, out on the dock, seeing a moose swimming across the lake. One small disturbance trailing behind such a large creature, with it’s large antlers being the only real part of it that can be seen above the water.

This particular morning, there is not a sound, nor a movement anywhere to be seen or heard. It is peaceful, dark still, especially amongst the tall pine trees surrounding the trailer. I walk back from the dock towards the trailer just as my grandfather steps out. He is especially careful as to not wake my grandmother who is still fast asleep inside. Without saying a word, we both walk over to the shed to get out our tacklebox and fishing rods. We each pick out our rods, both having been set-up and cleaned by my grandfather the day before. We make our way down to the dock, with the smallest hint of the red sunrise beginning to peak over the trees at the far end of the lake. With the gear loaded into the boat, we slowly undo the moorings tying the small bassfishing boat to our wooden dock and begin to cast off. Quietly, as to not wake the neighbours, my grandfather starts the engine and we cruise out onto the open water, creating the first small waves across the lake.

The lake is small for cottage country in Northern Ontario. It is farther north than most of the Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes that Torontonians flock to each weekend, being just south of Algonquin park near the small town of Wilberforce. My grandfather knows the lake like no one else, having spent every summer for decades taking his children and grandchildren on the five and a half hour journey north from our home in St. Catharines.

We do not need to discuss our destination, as it has become routine on our mornings out on the water. Barely a word is spoken throughout the entire journey, but that is how we both prefer it. Morning fishing out on the lake is less about catching the fish, as is about beginning the day in the most relaxing way imaginable. We arrive at our familiar stretch of water, through the small channel separating the two parts of Benoir. Grandpa effortlessly guides the boat in towards the edge of the lake, careful not to go through the small patches of lily pads that will be our fishing grounds. He cuts the engine, leaving nothing but the calm sound of the wake of our boat as it collides with the rocks on the shore.

We both cast out our lines, with my grandfather’s gentle reminders of the proper technique being the only words spoken between us. The minutes pass, both of us taking in the quiet as we wait for the bobber tied to the end of the line to dip below the surface. Grandpa has promised that this summer I will learn how to use some of the other lures in his tacklebox out on Elephant lake which is connect to ours through a long and winding series of wetlands, but for now I am perfectly content to be out in our usual spot waiting for that red and white floating bobble to get pulled under by today’s first catch.

The lake system connected to Benoir is large, with Baptiste being nearly an hour away on the other side of Elephant lake. We do not usually venture much past Benoir, as we prefer the smaller of the lakes with our little fishing boat. We do however, on occasion, venture up the small river connected to the lake near our trailer. It is only on the most special of occasions that my brother and I can convince my parents to take us up the long and winding river in our canoe. At the end of the river is the most spectacular of playgrounds. High Falls, as we call it, is a cascading set of small waterfalls created by the river as it meets a large Northern Ontario mass of rocks in its path. The gentle angle of the rocks create a near perfect natural waterslide as opposed to actual falling water. Most summers, the rocks are a place to find other families enjoying a picnic while the smaller members of the clan are frolicking about in the water.

As my mind drifts off, with thoughts of petitioning for an afternoon canoe trip, suddenly I am brought back to the small patch of weeds I had been staring at. My bobber has disappeared and I can feel a gentle tug a the end of the line. I give the rod a small jerk to the side, as my grandfather taught me to make sure the fish is hooked, and I begin to gently reel in. By this time Grandpa has noticed as well, and has reeled in his own line. He grabs the net from the back of the boat and gets ready to help my bring in our first catch of the day. Based on the pull from under the dark and murky water, this might be the biggest fish I have ever had on the line, and I am extremely careful to make sure it does not get away. I get the line up next to the boat as we see a silver/green shimmer beneath the surface. Grandpa carefully guides the fish into the net and pulls it into the boat. It is a large mouth bass, the biggest I have ever reeled in.

With this being a momentous occasion in a young fisherman’s life, we prepare to pack up the boat and head back to the trailer to show off the prized bass. We will not keep the fish, merely store it in the livewell long enough to take a few pictures to show to my mother and father when they arrive later today. Afterwards we will release it back into the lake to perhaps be caught again next year.

We have been gone for well over two hours at this point, and when we arrive back at the dock we find Nana and my brother cooking breakfast in the trailer for all of us. I run off the dock, excited to share the news with both of them. Nana gets the camera and my brother runs back with me, just as my grandfather finishes tying the moorings back on to the dock. We both jump into the boat, and I proudly open the livewell door for my little brother to peer into. The fish flops around in the shallow water, slightly spooking my brother. Grandpa asks us to step out of the way so he can get the fish out of the well for a picture. He expertly grabs it by it’s bottom lip, causing it to lie still. Pulling it out of the well, he stands next to me as Nana snaps a photo. Afterwards, Grandpa gently lowers the bass into the shallow water beside the dock and allows it to swim free.

Later that afternoon, my mother and father arrive in our family car, carefully navigating the roots that cover the dirt road leading into the campground. Both my brother and I are excited to see them, having spent the last week with our grandparents while they were at home working. Around the campfire that night, I regale them all with the story of how I caught my biggest fish, Grandpa as always not saying a word when I embellish the story a tad here or there. My mother is particularly proud, having been quite the accomplished bass fisher in her childhood.

Once the embers have begun to glow, and it is nearly time for me to go to sleep, I sneak away back down to the dock where my day began. 15 years later, I can still remember staring across that small Northern lake under the starry sky. It is a gentle reminder that even while I continue to travel this vast world, the most beautiful place will always be home.

30 Days

A month is a strange amount of time. On the scale of your life, one month seems insignificant. For example if you live to say, 90 years old, one month is less than one tenth of a percent of your lifetime. It is a blip on the radar.

A lot can also happen in thirty days. For example, from experience, you can:

  • Move to a new country
  • Open a bank account
  • Find a place to live
  • Find a new job

Time is certainly relative. In my head, the past month seems like an eternity that flew by in a blink of an eye. In my first post a little over 3 weeks ago, I was discussing the little victories, and the mountains I had to climb still. Now I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve reached my Everest quite yet, but the air is certainly thinner up here, and definitely a lot clearer.

I have actually remarked to several people that things have been going well enough that I am, being the eternal optimist, sort of waiting for something to go wrong. It sounds bad but if you went back and told 6 month ago Ryan that within thirty days of landing he would have a new place to live and have signed a new job, he probably would have laughed in your face.

I’d love to say that it was all a part of the plan, and that I executed it to perfection. In reality, I’d probably comment on it a bit more like a hockey player does in the post-game interview. I was really fortunate to get the win out there, I tried really hard and just hoped for the best and was lucky enough to come out with the W. I couldn’t have done it without my fantastic family and friends (both home and abroad), they were the real MVP’s out there.

Now the fun can begin. My stress level is at the lowest point it has been in nearly half a year. I know where my next paycheque is coming from, and I even have friends! Imagine that, I managed to make friends. Who knew.

I can already feel myself falling in love with this city. I spent the better part of my free time exploring small record shops in Soho, the music shops of Tin Pan Alley, Blues bars in Shoreditch and everywhere in between. I have barely scratched the surface on one of the most amazing cities in the world, but I have certainly begun to feel its charm.

Thirty days is by far the longest I have ever spent consecutively in a country that is not Canada. I actually had to think long and hard about that to make sure it was true, but even while travelling, the most I have ever spent in another country is a fortnight.

Surprisingly, though I do miss my friends and family, I haven’t really had much in the way of homesickness. I watched a video today where dozens of people in New York city wrote on a chalkboard what their biggest regret was. I would say about 90% of people wrote about something they wish they had done, and didn’t. The way I see it, fear is going to ultimately decide what you do, but what you can do is choose which fear scares you most. Are you more afraid of taking a risk than you are of regretting not taking it 5, 10, 20 years down the road? I’d be willing to bet that on most people’s deathbeds, if you asked what they regretted most, it would certainly be something they wished they’d done and didn’t, and not something they did. And that, quite frankly, petrifies me.

In the end, you will add up those less than a tenth of a percents into a big old pile, and only you can decide which ones inspired you, which ones took your breathe away and which ones changed your life.

This past one, well it certainly did all three.

 

 

 

 

The Little Victories

6 days ago, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life so far. In the previous weeks, I obtained a 5 year visa, I quit my job, gave up my great apartment in Toronto, said goodbye to my friends and family and booked a flight.

I have travelled all over Europe, even been to London prior to this, but this time it certainly feels different. When you only have a few days in a city, you rush to soak up as much as you can before you move on to the next adventure, not really absorbing much of the culture, or really adapting at all. So what do you do when there is no end in sight?

You focus on the little victories.

So far, I am literally celebrating the littlest of victories. We aren’t talking anything major, we are talking “remembered to look the correct way when crossing the street” victories. This list also includes:

  • Remembered to call the trunk the “boot” so my cousin’s 5 year old son wouldn’t make fun of me, again
  • Sorting out how to work the lock on the flat
  • Taking the tube alone and getting off at the correct stop

Ordinarily in my life this list would never have even crossed my mind. They were all pre-programmed and I was on auto-pilot. Well guess what, Ryan’s brain, there’s a software update and it’s time to figure out how to be in manual for a while.

I imagine these little victories won’t soon go away. Nevertheless they help to give the strength to go after the bigger victories. Thankfully, my visa did not require me to have a job to get here. That also means, I don’t have a job over here. Something I would’ve considered a large victory back home, is now downright scary. What if I’m not qualified, what if no one is hiring, what if they make fun of me. Okay that last one might have been a tad dramatic. If you dwell on it, it will consume you. Thus you have the importance of the little victories. They can sustain you while the big ones are beating you down.

Regardless of any kind of adversity, there are certainly things to be thankful for. Namely, in this case, I am overwhelmingly thankful that my passport has the word “CANADA” on it. There is a group online of Canadians in the UK, and I posted to introduce myself. Within a few hours, I had numerous well wishes from Canadians all over the UK welcoming me, offering to meet for a pint and advice about everything from finding a flat to places where Canadians tend to meet up. Other countries may make fun of us for how nice we are, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

All things considered, this is barely the first step on a long, long journey. There’s lots to achieve, and even more to experience living abroad. I can’t wait to get started, but for now the important thing is to remember that no matter what ups and downs may come, life is still good, eh.

 

 

 

Being Canadian: A How to Guide

So you want to be a Canadian. I mean I can’t really blame you, most people would. Here is an introductory guide to help get you acclimated to your new hockey watching, syrup swilling, free healthcare receiving life.

A Brief History

Disclaimer: The majority of this section is based on things I actually paid attention to in school. If you want a history lesson, read a book.

Originally settled by Vikings, later settled by the French, and consequently settled and/or conquered by the British, Canada was eventually founded following a rather anti-climactic agreement with Britain that probably went something like this:

Sir John A. MacDonald: “Hey Britain, let us be our own country”

Queen Victoria: “Okay fine, but only if you keep my face on your money”

There it is folks, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was born. This was followed by 45 or so years of French-English tensions about who would get to start the first poutine franchise and other general niceties leading up to World War One. Due to the whole Queen on our money thing, we didn’t really get a say in this one. Gavrilo kills Franz and all of a sudden a couple hundred thousand Canucks are on a boat going to fight the Germans. What we lacked in numbers we made up for in pure bad-assery (let’s attribute that one to the Vikings). During WWI, Canadian troops became known to both the Allies and the enemy as Stormtroopers (minus the whole Force-choking dude in the cape leading us). We fought and won battles no one else could (look up the battle of Vimy Ridge) and were all around about as clutch as Jordan Eberle with 5 seconds to go (we’ll get to that).

One great depression and fanatical guy with a mustache later and it’s World War Two. Again, Canadians held their own. We made up for only having one beach to conquer by steamrolling through it and capturing Juno Beach faster than either the Americans or the British captured theirs, opening the doors to mainland Europe for the Allied armies.

Over the course of the next 20-25 years with the help of a bow-tie wearing gentleman by the name of Lester B. Pearson, Canada would; be instrumental in founding the United Nations (you’re welcome world), decide we wanted a new flag, and create universal health care for all citizens.

The 70’s and 80’s consisted of us starring in the movie Argo, Pierre Trudeau creating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Montreal and Calgary hosting the Olympics, and Paul Henderson sticking it to the Soviets (again, we will get to that). During this time Canada also fell in love with Gretzky, said goodbye to him as well (Sorry Oilers fans, it didn’t really get any better from there did it?) and saw him pass to Lemieux to yet again stick it to the Soviets (seeing a trend here?).

The 90’s saw a Canadian team win the World Series of Baseball, our first female Prime Minister, and the forgotten child of our country get recognized as a territory. I’m looking at you, Nunavut.

As for Y2K, Canada wins our first hockey gold medal in 50 years, Steve Nash kicks ass in the NBA and Stephen Harper is elected Prime Minister in 2004. Okay I guess 2 out of 3 isn’t so bad.

2010 starts with a bang in Vancouver. I defy any Canadian to watch the following video and not get at least a few chills:

Lather, rinse, repeat in Sochi, throw in a new Prime Minister, son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, and here we are. 2016, where maple syrup is still plentiful, the country is still beautiful and the Toronto Maple Leafs still blow chunks. Good to know some things stay the same.

Hockey

Canada has many great athletes spanning across all sorts of sports both past and present. We cheer them on, loudly and patriotically, but none will ever compare to what hockey can do to this country. It’s no coincidence that even when American NHL teams win the Stanley Cup, the rosters are filled with Canadians. All 7 Canadian teams have huge fan bases that eat sleep and breathe hockey. The one thing that can unite Habs and Leafs fans? Watching our boys don the Maple Leaf to face off against the world’s best. I have mentioned them all already, but there are 4 essential moments every Canadian must know.

1972 – “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

1987 – “He shoots, he scores! Mario Lemieux!”

2009 – “Can you believe it!”

2010 – “Sidney Crosby, the Golden Goal!”

Learn these well, make up a story about how you were having a pint of Molson at a bar in Medicine Hat when they happened. This will make for some excellent camouflage when blending in with your fellow Canadians. Nothing can bring such joy to this country as one of these moments. I mean really, look at this graph showing water usage in Edmonton during the gold medal game in Vancouver:

Water usage during Gold Medal Game

The only thing louder than the cheers across the country was the collective “Ahhhhhs” as an entire nation is no longer required to hold it in.

Stereotypes

Typically stereotypes are misunderstood generalizations of a population based on inaccurate or outdated information. Apparently no one ever told this to a Canadian. Somehow as a people we have managed to embrace our stereotypes and even do our part to enforce them. Hockey is of course number one, but there are also many others we adhere too possibly without even realizing it.

Being too nice

Canadians are known around the world for “sorry”, “excuse me” and “thank you”. American TV shows like How I Met Your Mother like to poke fun at this, and of course we are too nice to say anything about it. I was about to get defensive about the scene where a character bumps into a Canadian on purpose and the Canadian apologizes and offers her a donut. That was until I realized that has actually happened to me on several occasions. In order to blend in with your Canadians surroundings, the following is recommended:

  • Hold doors open for long, even awkward amounts of time for the people behind you
  • Apologize for being in the way of the person who clearly walked right into you
  • Insist it was your fault when they too apologize
  • When in a store that does not have the thing you wished to purchase, make sure to buy a pack of gum or something. You know, incase they might think you stole something if you leave without buying anything.

Being Immune to Cold

Whether out of biological immunity or pure stubbornness, Canadians settled and continue to flourish in a part of the world most of our species would deem to be uninhabitable. There’s a saying that Canada has four seasons. Almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. New England was recently hit by a “blizzard” that was supposed to set records for snowfall. Cities, transit and businesses shut down in anticipation of the storm. In Canada we simply call that “January”. A few years ago Kingston was hit by a blizzard equal to or even more intense than the so called storm of the decade that “ravaged” the Eastern seaboard. Not only was my university not even closed down, I actually saw a student walking to class wearing shorts.

Blending in on cold days in the Great White North will take some practice. Start by purchasing a parka. Now keep said parka in your closet and save it for really cold days (let’s say below -20 Celsius). Now purchase what you would normally call a fall jacket. Accessorize your fall jacket with a toque and some Canada mittens and there you have it, your winter ensemble. Essential to survival in Canada is to celebrate the first day of Spring (10 Celsius or higher) by wearing summer clothing such as shorts, t-shirts and skirts to welcome the arrival of warmth.

False Stereotypes

Many of our stereotypes are very true. These ones are not:

  • No, I do not know Timmy in Vancouver. That is on the other side of the country, has upwards of 2 million people, and I have never even been there. Be prepared to answer questions like these whenever you visit places like Florida or Buffalo
  • Sled dogs? Obviously, I keep them leashed up right outside my igloo. (If you couldn’t sense the sarcasm in that, then I will explain. I do not have sled dogs. Or an igloo. I live in a house and my dogs have never been capable of taking me to school). If you are surprised by the lack of sled dogs, I suggest you visit the Yukon. It’s lonely and could use some new friends.
  • I am a hockey fanatic. I can name the entire roster from 2010 and 2014 as well as what Phil Kessel had for dinner last night (it was probably a cookie). Surprisingly, I never played hockey. This is more common than people would think. Therefore if you come from somewhere like Jamaica and would rather bobsled, you can do that too. Playing hockey is not mandatory, just strongly advised.

Music

Many Canadian singers and bands have gone on to achieve great things. Being Canadian requires you to know the words to at least a few songs by each of the following:

The Tragically Hip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QE2joQsWXJg)

Rush (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Tq-UsaRchI)

Bryan Adams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f06QZCVUHg)

Great Big Sea (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7Bsb-8pxG8)

Our Lady Peace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1Z89zW-8sY)

Stompin’ Tom Connors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxJvrD80nJ4)

Sadly, we must also accept our poorer contributions to the world of music. So in stereotypical fashion, I apologize on behalf of our country for both Nickelback and Justin Bieber. You can keep them America, we don’t want them either.

Fashion

Step one, find your nearest Roots store. Step two, buy a pair of sweatpants. Step three, accessorize your sweatpants with flannel shirts, cabin socks and woolen sweaters. Congratulations, you now blend in.

Travel

The only piece of advice you need is to put a Canadian flag on your backpack. This will attract Australians and fellow Canadians to drink beer with. It will also distinguish you from Americans.

Friendly Advice

As a Canadian, there are certain things you should know before you venture on out into the streets of this great nation.

  • Don Cherry is right. Just accept it, even when he’s wrong, he’s right. Just ask Ron MacLean
  • Jaywalking in Halifax will get a friendly wave from drivers. Jaywalking in Toronto will get you a not so friendly wave with only one finger.
  • A sure-fire way to start a conversation with a Canadian is to talk about the weather. From Vancouver to Halifax, if it’s raining, complain about it. If it’s snowing, comment on how much and whether or not said snow is suitable for making a snowman. If it’s sunny discuss your weekend cottaging plans or upcoming beach days.
  • Learn how to canoe. I mean properly. There is nothing worse than being stranded out in the middle of Elephant lake with a canoeing partner who couldn’t differentiate between a canoe and a kayak.
  • Most Quebecers speak English. If they live in Montreal and say that they don’t, they are probably just screwing with you.
  • The CFL has 3 downs. You may find this confusing, but as Tim Hicks wrote “We’ve got bigger balls and a longer field” as well.
  • Do not pronounce the second “t” in Toronto. It’s “trawna”. The second “t” is merely a trap to spot outsiders

Parting Words

There you have it, the beginner’s guide to being Canadian. For extra credit, I leave you with the following video tribute to all things small town Canadian.

Keep your stick on the ice.