Recently, I had the honor of being awarded a Fulbright grant to Canada. Having been previously awarded a Fulbright to Hungary, I was more than dazzled by the second opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange. When I departed from the airplane in Toronto, and entered the airport terminal, I saw a large banner written in both English and French welcoming travelers to Canada. While waiting for a connecting flight to North Bay, my final destination, I could not resist the juvenile thought that drinking Canada Dry ginger ale in Canada would be a more authentic experience.
One of the greatest distinctions between my home state of Georgia and North Bay was that throughout my stay, while the English language dominated, I frequently heard French.
Another interesting cultural distinction was the frequent use of the expression “eh” as an affirmation at the end of a sentence. For example, “It’s cold out, eh?” Much to my surprise, after several days, I began using the same expression. Also, the pronunciations of various words like “out”, and “about” were uniquely Canadian.
While enjoying dinner at my host’s home with several others, the conversation drifted toward the differences in Canadian and American cultures, and I was asked about my observations. I shared my thoughts in what I assumed to be a regionally neutral voice. I said, in an apparent accent, unconsciously laced with one very revealing Southern colloquialism, “Many of y’all speak with an accent.” With broad smiles and kind laughter, the group responded, “y’all?” The best thing about these cultural exchanges is that you not only learn about others, you can learn about yourself in the process.
While acknowledging these differences, I realized Canada and the United States have more in common than I anticipated. As a matter of fact, with the exception of extreme cold weather (from the perspective of a Southerner), hearing French, and the unique pronunciations of various words, there were times I forgot I was in another country. I stayed at the Hampton Inn, went to Wal-Mart in the mall, the food was, generally, not unlike that found in the States, and Wendy’s was within walking distance.
Despite superficial similarities, Canada varies most notably in that the British monarchy has a significant presence, as reflected in its currency. My trip to the local museum allowed me to further conceptualize, from a historical perspective, the extensive past, and current reach of British rule. This peek into Canadian history reenergized my enthusiasm about giving a lecture before the Canadian International Council.
My lecture entitled, “The Intersection of Race, and the Law: An American Historical Perspective”, was well received and invoked many questions. While I was grateful for the opportunity to share, I soon learned about another topic that I knew very little. At some point following the conclusion of my lecture, one of the attendees, with ancestral ties to both the Sioux, and Navajo tribes, shared her thoughts about Canada’s First Nations aboriginal people. Her comments invoked an avalanche of discussion from other attendees about the plight of the First Nations’ people that was mesmerizingly informative.
I enjoyed the experience of seeing my first hockey game (I didn’t know they skated so fast!), the beauty of the terrain, and the knowledge gained about the history and culture that is “O, Canada.” I would love to return to during a time when it’s not as cold, because Canada is a great place to visit, eh?