Thursday, March 31, 2011

Culture Shock

It’s funny when the familiar becomes unfamiliar, when you arrive back somewhere that you’ve known your whole life and that has indelibly imprinted itself on your DNA and your outlook on the world.  Unexpected things become magical, dazzling, as you return to that world from an alien place.  Take it from me that Canada's a freaking amazing country, in case you ever doubted this.

There may possibly not be any two countries on the planet more different than Canada and India.  India, perhaps more outwardly friendly but a deeply conservative society at heart; Canada, polite and reserved at first glance, but in reality the most tolerant, accepting, laidback and generous place on earth.  India, where cricket reigns supreme, everything’s a negotiation and waiting your turn will never get you anywhere; Canada, where hockey stirs the national passion, taxis are metered and merchandise price-tagged, and you’re unspeakably rude if you don’t wait politely in line.

I love them both, but I know where I’d rather live.  I’m actually glad to be home, although my mind is still boggling at how quickly the time went by.

It was odd, though, arriving back.  Things that I wouldn’t have noticed a year ago are suddenly strange and note-worthy.  Like driving from the airport and not seeing one single cow on the road.  Like walking down Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, and not hearing a single horn.  Seeing traffic stop at red lights and even let pedestrians cross the road without trying to run them down.

Going into shops and having salespeople acknowledge me with polite smiles, then leaving me alone to browse.  Looking at the price tag on the shoes I bought and paying without being able to haggle the cost down.  (Don’t ask what I paid, you don’t want to know.  But they’re very cute and they make me feel better about having to go back to work, so they’re worth it.)

Walking down the street, without anyone calling out to me from shops to try to get me to come in and buy; I haven’t heard a single “Come look my shop, very good price madam”.  Not getting stopped once by anyone trying to take my picture; I’m no longer a rock star goddess and hardly any one pays me any attention at all.  Talking to men who don’t automatically assume that they’re getting lucky just because I said “hello”.

Going outside fully attired in winter coat, hat and gloves, instead of tie-dyed Indian cotton dress and hair tied back with a scarf.  Leaving most everything at home instead of having to walk around with all my valuables strapped to my person.  Getting good coffee as a matter of course, instead of a rare exception to the rule (well, Kerala did good coffee, but the rest of India didn’t).

No one begging for change, anywhere (well, except for that one very polite guy at the corner of Yonge who wished me a happy day even though I didn't give him anything).  Women wearing clothes that show some skin, and no one being scandalized by this.  No one huddled around piles of burning trash on the streets at night.  Not a single open sewer in sight.

Getting on public transit without worrying about my bag being slashed (more a problem in South America than in India).  Taking a cab and just paying what it said on the meter with no argument with the driver.  Going inside and being able to turn on the heat to get warm (unlike South America, or the UK or Ireland).   Getting prompt and attentive services from waitstaff who actually want to earn their tips.

Finally having a proper haircut instead of hacking it off myself.  Wearing pretty shoes instead of practical ones.  Being able to choose from more than two T-shirts when I’m getting dressed.  Planning an outfit for my first day back at work that doesn’t involve MEC clothing or tie-dye. 

Waking up in my familiar and friendly neighbourhood, in my own space that has a million books I know and love (instead of whatever random offering I found in a book exchange).  Seeing people of all persuasions walking down the street with their gender of choice, because I`m back in a society that is accepting of a multiude of different lifestyles instead of just one way to live, Realizing that I’m in Toronto because I choose to be, not just because I kind of ended up here once upon a time.  Seeing people I know and love, whom I will get to hang out for more than a day or two. 

Coming home.  It’s a good feeling.

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