Ramble of an immigrant child.
Here is another guest post by my better half, Maria Polansky. Sometime this week, we read an article about how life in Canada was different from the point of view of immigrants from different countries, and decided to make one of our own. As someone who wasn’t born in Canada, I can relate to the most on the list. Hope you enjoy reading this!
The effects of Vancouver on one immigrant.
Culturally I’ve always been a bit lost. My parents are from two very different countries, Russia and Nepal. I have lived on three continents, which doesn’t help either.
I was born in Moscow, Russia but only lived there for two years before my family moved to Gold Coast, Australia. I had a happy childhood in the golden sand and sunshine for six years until we couldn’t get citizenship and decided to try our luck in Vancouver, Canada. The Canadian government was kinder and I’ve been living here since.
Theoretically, I should consider myself Canadian as I’ve spent the majority of my life here. But being raised in a Russian household in an immigrant-heavy city has taught me to feel otherwise. No matter how many years I’ve lived in this country there are still many things I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand about Canadian culture; for example: how people love winter sports (and winter in general, for that matter), Tim Horton’s and the most of “Canadian” food, beer; I could go on but I feel like I deserve to get my passport taken away just based on the few things I’ve already said.
The only times I’ve ever felt somewhat patriotic to Canada is overseas, happily explaining to European locals that I’m not American. It’s also inevitable that I sometimes feel homesick and miss my Vancouverite ways that most Europeans (in France, Russia, Ukraine, and England – the countries that I’ve travelled to most recently) just don’t understand. This also applies to new visitors to Vancouver that I meet.
I’ve decided to compile a list of habits or traditions that I’ve grown so accustomed to after living in Vancouver for so long – and I say Vancouver only because I’m sure life in Toronto, Montreal or smaller Canadian cities is very different.
- Exercise. Even on the nastiest, coldest, rainiest day you can still find joggers on the seawall. In Eastern Europe, many men go to the gym and exercise regularly but it’s hard to say the same for women. When I tell Russian/Ukrainian women that I go to the gym, the response is usually, “Why do YOU go to the gym? You’re already skinny.” They don’t seem to realise that there’s more benefits to exercise than just weight loss. Also, I’m always a bit surprised to find out how few people do yoga outside of Vancouver. My sister, who lives in Paris, told me it was very difficult for her to find a yoga studio in one of the biggest cities on the planet whereas in Vancouver you can just go to a park and you’ll probably find a yoga class going on.
- Diet. I’ve been taught basic nutrition in school since about grade 5 and can always find articles about nutrition and the next superfood in any local newspaper in Vancouver. The health-food craze goes hand-in-hand with the exercise community. Vancouver also caters very well to people with non-traditional diets: gluten-free/celiac, raw, vegan, vegetarian – you name it; there are so many specialty grocery stores, cafés and restaurants in the city. I love it as I am a vegetarian. In central Europe it’s easy enough for me to find good vegetarian food, but the selection doesn’t seem as good (although, maybe my carnivorous friends and relatives just don’t know where to take me). In Eastern Europe, when I tell people I’m a vegetarian they all think that I’m absolutely insane. Many people ask me, “but what do you eat if you don’t eat meat?” They haven’t been taught enough about nutrition to know that there are plenty of plant-based protein alternatives that are actually better for you than meat. They don’t seem to realise that a person can be a vegetarian/vegan and be healthy at the same time. I also find it funny that some people consider green tea to be such an alternative choice to black tea.
- Homosexuality. This point mainly concerns Eastern Europeans. I’m sure the whole world knows that Russia doesn’t take too kindly to the LGBT community. I’ve spoken to young Russians from my generation who told me that they don’t mind homosexuals, but they never seem comfortable enough around them to have a conversation, let alone a friendship. They might go to a pride parade out of curiosity, but their attitude doesn’t seem completely accepting. I’ve spoken to people who seem very surprised that I have gay friends. They don’t seem open to getting to know homosexuals for who they really are: normal people like everyone else.
- Dating/Marriage. Again, more of an Eastern European thing. Everyone is a lot more traditional over there. While I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with a common-law relationship and that marriage is unnecessary in today’s world, most of my Eastern European counterparts disagree. They think it’s a tragedy if you’re not married with a baby by the age of 25. Many people ask me if I’m married yet or when the wedding is and seem disappointed when I say I don’t know and I really don’t care.
- Customer Service. I’ve worked in retail for a few years. In Vancouver we are strictly trained to be the most pleasant and friendly people we can be for the customers. You can actually get fired for not greeting customers with a smile. In Europe, most employees genuinely don’t care, and it is very obvious. Even though, I usually don’t like to be bothered while I’m shopping, it is still strange for me when my presence is not even acknowledged.
- Politeness/Friendliness. Canadians are known for this: it is very common for strangers to smile and say hi to you. We are taught from elementary school to be nice to everyone. This all is lovely, but the negative part is that it’s often fake. What a non-Canadian might take for a genuine personal interest and friendliness, in reality it is just standard politeness. In Europe people are colder, but at least when they like you, they are sincere about it.
- Eco-friendliness. This is another thing that Vancouverites are taught starting at an early age. In schools, in public advertisements, on the news – it’s everywhere. Since the introduction of the green bin in Vancouver homes (less than a year ago) I feel guilty about throwing away an orange peel in the garbage, and it actually upsets me when I see my neighbours not using their bins properly. And then there’s Russia, where there is no such word for recycling! I don’t think there’s anything else I need to say.
In general, I’m happy that I grew up in Vancouver. Although I find myself complaining about the climate and the lack of history/things to do in town, my mindset would have been completely different and a bit behind had I grown up elsewhere. Living in a city with so many different people has really broadened my horizons and my knowledge. I don’t know if I’ll stay here for the rest of my life, but wherever life takes me I will always have a Vancouverite part of my soul.
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