Tag Archiv: United States

Whether, wherever, the weather

This is me, casually sharing my insights with interested parties.

Me sharing my insights with interested parties.

I’ve been paying attention to Canada. The impending arrival of friends from a different culture  has me looking for easy ways to break down societal basics. Last week at the gas station, I stumbled on to something.

 

Beautiful day, isn’t it? said the man at the cash.

Lovely, I said. And it’s been the nicest fall.

Hasn’t it? he said. He looked at his monitor and waited. The gas is still pumping, he apologized, You can’t pay yet.

That’s okay, I said. I just came in to stay warm while my husband pumps. No sense in two of us being cold out there.

Yeah, said the man. It’s just miserable out there today, isn’t it?

 

Dear friends from afar,

Canadians aren’t cold: they’re reserved. Except when they really are cold. Then you’ll find them quite warm. We bond here in bad weather. If you’re lucky your first winter, you’ll be to be trapped somewhere with a bunch of cold people. By the time you get out, you’ll be best friends with everybody.

Weather is the gold standard of Canadian verbal exchange. It works with hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, and hope I never see you again. Discussion of windchill, the chance of precipitation, and road conditions are appropriate when making friends, looking for a job, asking for directions, buying a hot dog, or offering condolences on the death of a loved one.

Think of conversations about weather as a kind of social interaction Band-Aid.  The temperature on your porch when you got up at 3 in the morning can tidy up an awkward moment with ease.

You don’t have to speak coherently about the intermingling of warm and cold fronts.  The points that matter are:

1. It’s cold. (Even if it’s not, just say it is. Being cold is part of what makes us superior to the country south of us. It doesn’t matter that they have areas typically colder than southern Ontario. #Americans have the film and music industries: we own the weather.)

2. It’s hot. (You only get to say this for one or two months so practice more on the part about cold.)

3. It’s snowing.

The most important thing to understand about weather is that it’s personal. Frost might have killed one person’s plants and only dusted another’s. People might know it was windy, but they don’t know how many branches fell on your yard. Snow banks are best measured in relatives. Your kindergarten son’s waist or your Aunt Myrtle’s head.

Whatever else they teach you in your ESL class (English as a second language), make sure they tell you what you need to know to talk about weather. When you first get here, people might try to tell you how long the winter is going to be, or how bad it was last year. People especially like to talk about the worst winter disasters they’ve lived through. If that happens, they’re not trying to scare you. What they’re trying to say is, welcome to Canada; you’re one of us now.

 

Trying to Remember

When my daughter told me to write about Ivan, my son added without looking up, “Write about Remembrance Day.”

Remembrance Day brings out my split personality. It’s the day I came to Canada. It’s boy two’s birthday. Maybe if I lived in the States and called it Veterans Day I would always remember that it isn’t about me. Coming to Canada was a big deal for my then twenty year old self. I remember it like an Israelite remembers leaving Egypt. Scary at first like you wouldn’t believe in the desert. Wanting to go back. Then wandering in circles for a few years while the promised land waited patiently for lights to dawn on marble head.

Mid gratitude reflecting on what the day has meant for me, I inevitably pass a veteran and am filled with shame. NOTE TO SELF: This day is about THEM! My brain believes in gratitude and remembrance but knowing what to do about that seems hard, so I let it get lost in the details.  Besides, it’s boy two’s birthday. There’s celebrating to be done.

Boy two does not mind sharing his birthday. He thinks it’s special to be born on Remembrance Day, the same way he thinks it’s special to be short and bow legged. (He claims this puts his legs at a better angle for tree climbing.) He was not impressed that I did not take him out of school to go to a Remembrance Day service.

Writing a letter two days after the day doesn’t fix it. Mine is an imperfect attempt to do what I tell my kids: you can’t undo the wrong thing, but you try to make it right.

Dear Veterans,

I am not wearing a poppy because they always fall off and poke me. Seeing you overwhelms me with the size of what you did. I have read many more books on events during WWII than I am years old. For some reason I just listened to six hours of an American History Channel WWII series while driving. I don’t see an old man, or whatever age you are, when I walk by you, I see some mother’s son risking his life for other people. I imagine shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, saying thank you. Instead, I fumble in my purse for change and send the kids to buy a poppy sticker for themselves. I nod at you. Say something inane to the kids about staying with me in the parking lot and move on.

I don’t like the way I do it either. I have no idea how to properly say thank you for the United States that I grew up in or for the Canada where I found home. I promise to let the kids skip school next year to stand in front of the flag with you even if it is cold and raining. Everything I get to remember on November 11, says thanks to you.

Sincere admiration and thanks,

From a woman who ought to have said something sooner