“So where in the States are you from?”
“We’re from Canada.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” (very emphatic with sorry)
This might be one of the most frequent conversations we’ve had over the last 6 months. Sometimes you can see the person thinking hard about our accent, deciding whether to go ahead and assume we are American.
Usually the people who can tell we are Canadian have either lived in Canada, or know another Canadian. So they know our accent, or at least the stereotypical Canadian accent. Yes, it would seem that “aboot” is a thing, though we insist we don’t have it and that it’s more of a northern Ontario or maybe east coaster trait.
It’s usually a different conversation with locals. For the most part, people can tell we are native English speakers but that’s about it. “Where are you from, England? United States? Italy?” We really were asked if we were from Italy, by someone in Malaysia. The first two are understandable, but we had to laugh out loud at Italy. But the reality is that for many people in Asia, especially in rural areas, Canada is just a distant place, somewhere much too far away to know anything about. It’s pretty much on the other side of the world, so we shouldn’t be surprised if someone doesn’t know anything about Canada beyond the name. Apparently our recent Olympic ice hockey wins aren’t enough to give us recognition on the world stage, or at least in Laos or Burma or rural Tibet. Funnily enough though, a surprising number of people here know about Justin Trudeau. They think he is good looking, and doing a good job. We may win here just compared to other prominent national leaders…
When we tell people where we are from, we normally get one of two responses: “so far away!” or “so cold there”. Fair enough. We do try to point out that we live in one of the warmest parts of Canada, and in the summer especially it can get really hot. But a taxi driver in Borneo doesn’t really believe it can be just as hot in Canada.
But in the cities, especially the bigger ones, people usually know a little bit about Canada. People who have travelled there, have family who live there, or are trying to get there themselves. When we were in Kuala Lumpur, we ate several times at Arab Shawarma. This little hole in the wall place (quite literally a hole in the wall) makes what must be the best shawarma in the city, if not Malaysia. We got chatting with the guy operating it, who it turns out is from Syria. He was quick to tell us about his goal of moving to Canada, and his frustrations with not being granted a visa. It’s humbling to hear about the immigrant experience from the other side, from someone who dreams of moving to our country but in reality may never be able to do so.
Other travellers constantly tell us how many Canadians they meet out on the road. We would tend to agree, having met more than our fair share of other Canadians so far. This is of course entirely anecdotal, but we have seen far more Canadian “backpackers” than American ones. Other travellers have made similar observations. There are Europeans everywhere (seriously, there must not be any Dutch people between the ages of 17-24 left in the Netherlands because they are all in Vietnam). It would be interesting to know whether we have just, for whatever reason, not run into many Americans or whether there is some tangible reason for the relative lack of Americans on the backpacking circuit. The cost of flights? Shorter vacations? Maybe they’re just choosing to travel somewhere else. Actually come to think of it, the relatively short length of vacations available to most Americans probably contributes to it. Many of the Americans we have seen are older, and are traveling in their retirement. But this is a blog about Canada, let’s get back on topic here.
We both agree that being abroad makes us more patriotic. Maybe it’s a form of longing for the familiar. We take pride in wearing our Canada shirts and having flags on our packs. People seem interested to hear about Canada, so we have had our fair share of conversations about home. We have even saved a photo of Niagara Falls and the Toronto skyline on our phones, so we can show people what it looks like. Almost no one knows where St. Catharines is, so we typically say we are from Toronto or nearby Niagara Falls.
By and large, western Europeans (France, Netherlands, Germany, UK) are the most well-travelled people we meet. But the majority don’t seem to have been to Canada, or even to North America. We find that we are educators, as a lot just know Canada as the ‘big place north of the US’. But they are curious, so we end up spending a lot of time telling them what it’s like at home. What’s the weather like, what the people are interested in, where should they visit if they come, is it cheap to travel around, etc. Everyone seems to think Canada is big, but are then surprised that they we don’t recommend trying to drive across the whole country in a week. ‘It takes a 4 hour flight to go from Toronto to Calgary? I can barely drive to Scotland in that time!’ People are also surprised that we know about soccer, and that it’s becoming more popular. And they are always surprised that we live in Canadian wine country. Do you like a good challenge? Try convincing someone from France that Canada has good wine, or even half-decent wine for that matter!
For Canada Day we were in Taipei, which happens to be home to a huge number of Canadian expats. We wanted to join other Canadians to celebrate, so we went to google searching for a Canadian owned or themed bar. What we found was even better. It turns out that every July 1, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce for Taiwan puts on a big event in one of the downtown parks. There was live music, food, and even Canadian beer (Moosehead was a major sponsor) and wine from Niagara wineries (13th Street, Vieni, Megalomaniac, among others). The line for poutine was by far the largest of all the food booths. Even though they used shredded cheese and not curds, it was a nice taste of home. There were hundreds of people, all decked out in various Canadiana. It was great to get a taste of home, even though we really missed everyone at the annual Mous family Canada Day party (there was no croquet for us in Taipei).
– Doug and Emily / July 3, 2017 @ 3:58pm / Dongshi, Taiwan @ Joe’s House