emigrating to Canada


British Passport, Canada, Thailand

British Passport, Canada, Thailand (Photo credit: dcgreer)

An experience doesn’t have to be perfectly unique to be worthy of sharing. – Chelsea Fagan

Came across a link to Thought Catalog today and read a post by an American expat, trying to quantify the experience of living aboard. She writes about “fear” and “longing” and the inevitability of finding ex-pats huddled together in bars discussing home and the leaving of it.

Maybe it’s a European expat thing because there are certainly enclaves and gathering holes a plenty for immigrants around the area of Alberta where I live. Ukrainians. Dutch. Scots. Brits. Quebecers. Hutterites. But I have yet to find Americans hanging out. Maybe it’s because we blend in so well despite our decidedly non-Canadian accents? You just don’t see American expat groups and among those of us who are making this or that part of Canada our home, there is a feeling of having narrowly escaped a lifetime of … it’s hard to put into words that don’t come off as elitist or lefty liberal or even Eduardo Saverin traitorous.

Much of the article rang no bells for me. I am not in Canada pursing an education, career or some “eat, pray, love” quasi-spiritual artist way quest. I came here the modern-day equivalent of a mail order bride of the virtual variety. And I am not even unique because I know at least one other widowed mom who crossed the border to marry a Canadian within roughly the same time frame as I did under circumstances that are more similar than not.

The only fear I can recall was that of not being allowed to cross over the border or be allowed to stay once I did. The Canadian government casts a less jaundiced eye on marital immigration than does the United States (so long as the bride isn’t from the Philipines) but the process for sponsoring a foreign born wife teems with tedious amounts of paperwork and barely intelligible rules, which no one who works for CIC (Canada Immigration and Customs) is eager to go on record explaining, confirming or denying. It blessedly doesn’t require a public bedding or stained sheets but more than once, we wondered if the photographic evidence of our union they demanded wasn’t just a thinly veiled request for porn.

I confess that I am still fairly nervous about the border. We’ve never had a problem with a crossing but with the United States ramping up to what amounts to entrance and exit checks and Canada unnerving quiet about what American paranoia it will or won’t enforce, I worry.

Maybe life in Paris or London or Abu Dhabi is just so off the charts unusual in its breadth and scope that Americans need to decompress in groups. Touch familiar bases. Talk about DWTS or Game of Thrones. Plot exit strategies if the GOP theocracy comes to full power in the fall.

Canada is just like home.

Except it’s not.

Rob assured me that living here would be just like living in Iowa.  Rural backwardness and all. Okay, maybe the shopping wasn’t as good. Alright, the shopping part would suck. But otherwise, it would be just the same. And a tad bit colder.

The western prairies are nothing like Iowa, and Canada is not the United States of America or even a wanna-be.

Even five years on, I am still struck near daily by the reality that I am an immigrant in a foreign country. And mostly, I don’t think about having left the U.S. as much as I think about how to get it to quit me. There is so much about being an American that clings like the haze around the perfume counters in department stores. No matter how cleverly you think you’ve avoided the sample girl, the scent follows.

The devil is in the definitions. The United States government sees me as an expat, an American living aboard, but I see myself as an immigrant. Someone who has chosen to leave my old life as an American to build a new life as a Canadian . Could this explain my lack of need to huddle and cuddle with other Americans?

I don’t miss America. Not really. Okay, maybe Target. Sure, they are coming here but won’t be the same. Nothing retail translates well into Canadian.

I miss my friends. Not that they have ever numbered many. I wish I had better access to certain members of my family. I wish I could spend a holiday in my hometown long enough to actually enjoy it rather than cramming reflective moments between taking care of my mother and working around the work schedules of family and friends.

Life has gone on without me. But life has always gone on without me.

Moving from one school to another and made and lost touch with countless co-workers. As I moved from this apartment to another couple to a house and then another, I met and discarded neighbors and city regions. Changing groceries, pharmacists, jogging routes, gyms and coffee shops. Every job or living arrangement entailed a certain amount of readjustments.

I met a husband. Buried a husband. Met another husband. Both came with family, friends, co-workers and accessories unique and not necessarily over-lapping.

Has emigrating been any more or less change than any other change I’ve experienced over the course of my life? Was it more of a growth experience than university? Taking my first teaching job? Marrying. Infertility treatments. Pregnancy. Giving birth. Navigating the underbelly of what passes for the safety net via Social Security and Medicaid. Divesting myself of twenty years, packing everything I still owned in a U-Haul and heading to the Great White North, which has to be a metaphor for the long winters because Canada is not as white as Americans think it is in terms of people, customs, cultures, languages, politics and spiritual diversity.

Every experience that is requires leaving something or someone behind to make room.

And in an age of social media on a planet that is always awake somewhere, leaving is a bit of a first world problem because it is a choice.

Have you left if you’ve only brought only a suitcase while the rest of your stuff waits for you in a storage locker somewhere or your parent’s basement?

Are you living or just visiting when you dine alone? If alone means trolling Facebook and texting with your friends on the other side of an ocean or international border.

What happens to you when you leave the land of your birth? Whatever you want. Intentions and the actions that back them up are what matter. Catching up on the latest gossip from the old country with people who possess a similar vowel inflection? Probably shouldn’t read too much into that. It’s the choice between being a tourist for employment or educational purposes and resolving to put down roots that counts.

What happens when you live as an expat? You eventually become an immigrant and then a citizen, or you go home.

 


At least that’s the advice the Huffington Post’s Ryan McCarthy had forreaders yesterday because while the United States is mired in the economic equivalent of the Biggest Loser, Canada put on a hefty 93,200 jobs last month.

And our housing prices do nothing but rise!

Plus we have free universal health care, gay people can legally marry and unicorns roam wild on the prairies.

Okay, maybe we don’t have unicorns.

Maybe.

But the rest? True. Except that health care is not really free when the tax rate is put under the microscope, Canadians could care less about marriage in general as the majority live in common-law relationships for the most part, housing prices are so outrageous that the average person can’t afford home ownership and all those jobs? Service sector. Think Wal-Mart greeters and working the drive thru at Timmie’s*

I emigrated to Canada just a tad over three years ago. I met a Canadian on the Internet. We fell in love. The U.S. had way more archaic immigration rules and he had the better paying job anyway, so I moved north.

Since then, I have heard nothing from my liberal left-behind friends but how lucky I am to have escaped the imploding American Dream for Canadian Utopia.

And Canada is great. Don’t misunderstand me. I love it here. But in many ways, it’s no different from the U.S.

The government is conservative and more interested in business interests than people. Money is the driving factor behind public policy. Education is being savaged when it’s not just overlooked or neglected. Health care hangs on by its teeth but only because the average Canadian would riot in the streets if the provincial governments did away with it, so they nickel and dime it to death in the hopes that people aren’t really paying attention (they aren’t). Our housing is ridiculously over-priced and long overdue for a sharp correction.

Even though some Canadians like to promote the idea that Canada is the anti-America, the reality is that Canada is much more like America than it realizes.

It’s just lucky. For now.

Luck. That’s all that separates us from being you.

People here in Alberta, where I am, live dangerously on the idea that the oil in the sands will last forever and that the damage done by the foreign companies exploiting our resources won’t leave us with polluted fields and undrinkable water.

The spice oil must flow, eh?

My husband just rolled his eyes at the thought of Americans sneaking across the thousands of miles of largely unprotected border like Mexicans in Arizona.

Canada has a points system immigration system which basically has no use for anyone over the age of 42 who can’t speak English and/or French and isn’t skilled and/or a college graduate.

I actually squeaked under the wire on the points thing but fortunately marrying a Canadian meant I was able to get into a completely different immigration line – one that was no less tedious, incomprehensible and arbitrarily humiliating – but it was faster.

But I still can’t find work in my field – education – because the government has slashed funding and there are no teaching jobs to be found just about anywhere a person would want to live and work or anywhere they would die first before considering.

So I write for a blog that pays me peanuts and is, ironically, based out of California, and I teach yoga – not exactly Fortune 500 paying gigs.

Yes, there are jobs. Canadian Tire (think Kmart) is perpetually hiring as is the local Wal-Mart. You can wait tables just about anywhere and the 7-11 in town can never keep night managers. Hotels need housekeepers and if you are really a go-getter, you can probably hobble together two or three part time jobs which will just about pay the outrageous rents with enough left over to eat, pay utilities and cloth yourself. Just yourself. Try not to marry and especially don’t breed because daycare is scarce to non-existent and quite expensive.

But … you love Canada … right?

Yep, I do. But I am not average. I wasn’t an average American either. I live in the upper edges of the middle class. I am skilled and have two university degrees. My husband is an engineer in a field where more of them are retiring than entering.

And I didn’t come here for any reason other than being in love and wanting to spend my life with a guy who happened to be Canadian.

I know some people would regard that as something akin to winning the lottery, but life can be livable anywhere as long as your expectations are aligned with your reality and you don’t make the mistake of believing that salvation lies outside yourself.

*Tim Horton’s. Think fast food but waaaaay better than anything in the States. Seriously.


Three years and the basement still yields enough junk for a garage sale. How can this be?

When Dee and I moved in, we brought only one U-haul plus a Chevy Avalanche truck bed of belongings. That was twenty years worth of life that included no fewer than six moves, a marriage and a child from years zero to four that Rob and I pared down to the essentials plus toys.

Toy purging is a long tedious process that would test the patience of the Dalai Lama.

Before we arrived, Rob stripped the living areas in order to make room for us, but he didn’t do much in the way of purging. Partly because he needed the girls to help him go through their mother’s things – and they weren’t ready – and partly because he is a bit of a pack rat. Not Oprah intervention proportions, but he saves things because they might be useful someday. And while every once in a blue moon I donate, toss or garage sale away something I wish I’d kept – this type of reasoning will pack the empty spaces of one’s existence as firmly as a gluten laden breakfast plugs up a colon.

Every summer since then, we attempt to dig out and reclaim more space.

Progress has been slow.

Sometimes, it’s not even visible to the naked eye.

This summer – breakthroughs.

First, Edie moved into her first solo apartment. She has the entire basement of a home to herself and … too exciting for words … storage space. Two small rooms that are nothing but shelves and a home for all the boxes with her name on it currently taking up a 1/4 of the south west corner shelving in our basement.

Second, Dee has noted and began to see the wisdom of decluttering, AND she can be reasoned into selling – not donating, she’s eight after all – her less interesting possessions. I am loathe to foster monetary greed in the child, but if it empties the basement, I’ll cross my fingers and hope my karma stream isn’t polluted to the point of cockroach reassignment.

Finally, Rob is tired of clutter.

Oh, he’s been tired for a while, but when weighed against reno work, us time, family time and him time, purging and restoring order often fell off the to do list. But this summer, reno is being finished up with an eye towards simply basking in our space and the space … needs to be “spacier”.

I will, of course, never achieve my dream of near empty.  A room with a view via ceiling to floor windows with next to nothing from one end to the other save my mat and a few bolsters, maybe a book or two. However, I will take purged and orderly. I will take it and be sincerely grateful.