I should probably begin by stating that I truly do love my home country: I am genuinely proud to be a Canadian. My pride, however, does not instill in me a tremendous desire to actually live in Canada. In other words, I like being a Canadian; I just don’t like Canada.
I have lived abroad for most of the last three years. I spend the final stage of my foreign sojourn in Barcelona, Spain. Though it was January, I strolled the café-lined streets wearing sunglasses and sandals. I tanned my face over sangria in the sunshine on trendy terraces. And of course, I shopped. I spent ridiculous amounts of money accumulating fabulous and fashionable articles that in Canada were only found in magazines.
While in Barcelona, I had the fortunate chance to browse through Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada. What a delightful book. My fellow Canadian ex-pat friends and I flipped through its pages doing the “Oh my god do you remember this?” game with such products as Beehive Corn Syrup and that funny plastic hockey game reminiscent of foosball.
We also enjoyed watching our Spanish friends peruse the pages and ask such naively un-Canadian questions as “Have you ever been to Baffin Island?”. This wonderful book put me in good spirits about my imminent mid-February homecoming. My time to return to the motherland was drawing near and I believed that maybe it really was time to go home. What a fool I was.
My misgivings began somewhere over Labrador. I slid open the oval airplane window shutter and gazed out onto a huge, frigid, barren landscape. It looked entirely uninhabitable—and I was going to live there. (Well, not Labrador but Ontario didn’t look much better to my sun-seeking eyes.)
The thing is, as a traveler I always find myself talking about the unbearably cold climate in Canada. People immediately ask about it as soon as they find out where I am from: it is the one thing everyone in the world seems to know about Canada. I have regaled many a fellow traveler with horrifying tales of 2m high snow banks, eyelashes covered in frost, and having to plug in your car overnight to ensure it starts in the morning. But the longer I lived abroad, the more the physical memories of such stores receded to my subconscious. Eventually it seemed as if I was talking about some faraway place I had never been (or certainly wished to go). As if I had never actually shivered through minus 52 with the wind chill, I just knew someone else who had.
Once the plane landed and the cabin filled with the chorus of releasing seat belt clicks and the snaps of the overhead bins, I noticed everyone in the plane putting on enormous, puffy, down-filled jackets. I couldn’t understand where these coats came from. No one in Barcelona was wearing them when we embarked. I looked frantically into my own overhead bin in a delirious hope that this outerwear was provided by the airline for some weird anti-terrorist security measure. My level of dread rose as I found only an itchy blue airplane blanket. Then, the airline lost my luggage, eliminating my hastily assembled plan to simply wear every article of clothing I owned.
Instead, I had to confront the elements as I was, severely ill equipped in leather shoes, black cords and a thin cotton jacket. I admit I looked good, a whole lot smarter than the geeks in their sleeping bag-cum-coats. But a hell of a lot of good looking great was going to do me in minus 20-degree weather. So maybe looking smart was the wrong choice of adjective there.
Defiant and anxious, I stepped outside Pearson International Airport and into February. I expected something more dramatic, an orchestral soundtrack bursting into a chilling symphony or something. Instead I felt only pain: the burn in my nostrils and the back of my throat as the tight, icy air moved down my lungs, the watering of my eyes. I felt as though my flesh was going flash freeze before I made it across the street.
My luggage arrived the next morning. I opened my closet, grimacing at the few articles hanging on the near empty rod: these were the castaways, the rejects that didn’t make it across the ocean with me. I pushed them aside to make room for my new things. As I shoved them into the deep recesses of the closet, I caught a glimpse of beige. I had forgotten that I owned it, but there it hung, my own personal Canadian uniform.
I jerked it off the hanger and held the ankle-length, down-filled parka in front of me. The dirty beige was a strange contrast to my sun-darkened skin: the parka was the colour of a faded tan. I slipped it on, a sensation similar to crawling beneath the covers. I turned to the mirror and asked myself: Is this all I have to look forward to? My skin turning a sickening shade of parka-beige while my Spanish clothes go out of style before anyone sees them because they’ll be hidden beneath this beastly but necessary outerwear? I needed some sangria, and there wasn’t a sidewalk café within 5000 kilometers.