July 1st was Canada day and, for the first time (maybe ever), I was feeling very proud to be Canadian. Being Canadian, for years, was just about my passport and where I grew up. But things have changed. My partner just moved over from London, UK two days after Brexit. We’ve been watching in horror at the growing stories of abject racism and abuse being hurled at immigrants throughout the UK. We read a blog post called “What’s the UK equivalent of saying you’re moving to Canada?” (referring to those Americans threatening to move to Canada in a post-Trump election) and, it turns out, the UK equivalent to saying you’re moving to Canada, is saying “I am moving to Canada”.
Lessons about Canada, before moving to Canada:
If I could talk to both the students I teach, and future immigrants, there are 3 important things about Canada that I would share. Although I will be the first to admit that Canada (like most countries) still has work to do, I think Canada’s underlying ideology is positive and attempting to move forward in an open-hearted way in its treatment of all people.
New people make us stronger, not weaker:
The New York Times recently wrote an article about the acceptance of Syrian refugees into Canada, “Refugees Encounter a Foreign Word, Welcome“, about the families that have privately sponsored other families from Syria to immigrate to Canada.
Not without its challenges, these Canadians have been helping Syrian families to integrate, go to school, learn English and find work. It’s also been a two-way relationship. One woman shared stories of the help received from her sponsored family after a diagnoses with breast cancer, and being supported with food, companionship, and flowers.
The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment has not taken hold in the same way we’ve seen in the US or the UK. When a group of Syrians were pepper sprayed in an attack in Vancouver this past year it was condemned by the Prime Minister and made front page news because “this isn’t who we are”. When I wrote last year about terrorism, I looked at the communities that breed extremism. Communities where people feel isolated and alone, where they are not able to contribute in a meaningful way are more likely to engage in extremist behaviour.
I think the latter is inherent in Canadian culture – the opportunity to be part of something larger and give back in a meaningful way. It fosters community relationships and makes us stronger as a whole.
We (try to) take care of each other:
Canada is a welfare state. People have accepted that taking care of each other is something worth (literally) paying for. We pay higher taxes in Canada, in part because we spend that money on programs to make sure that everyone’s basic needs are met. The system is not perfect. However, this is the key ideology: that I will pay taxes so that my neighbour will be taken care of as well as myself. It is very different from countries where the emphasis is on independence and reliance only on oneself.
Be friendly and polite first:
Because of the idea that, whether we like it or not, we have bought into a social welfare system, I think this has also bred a distinctive Canadian politeness. If you accept that taking care of your neighbours and even people you don’t know is important, everyone is receiving equal treatment. If we are equals, I am more likely to treat you how I would like to be treated, which is usually in a polite and friendly way.
These are just a few things that have struck me recently about Canadian culture. What else should people know before moving to Canada?