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I am a recovering American. This is a major admission on my part. Since moving to Canada in 2017, I’ve kept this part of my identity hidden from everyone except my closest friends. It’s a fairly easy sleight-of-hand. I’ve lived in various parts of the United States so I’m not easily pegged by any regionally-identifiable accent. The rest was simply a matter of a few linguistic somersaults: saying washroom instead of restroom; parkade, not parking lot; chatting at dinner parties about stratas rather than condo boards; and casually ordering deli meats by the gram (thanks to the conversion app on my phone). And to my utter delight, if my dirty little secret is revealed the universal response has been: “You’re American? But you seem so nice!”
To address the elephant in the room – quite literally, I suppose, since it’s the mascot of the Republican Party – yes, the tipping point for my relocation was the 2016 presidential election. Yet, I wasn’t one of those people who wrote angry Facebook posts and threatened to leave the country if Hillary Clinton didn’t win. That seemed overly dramatic – until, well, until the unimaginable actually happened.
I know some of my American friends think I took the easy route – the coward’s path, if you will. To the people who question my decision, I respond, “Do you really think it’s that easy to just pick up and leave the country where you were born and lived your entire life?” But the day after the election – and this is actually hard to really put into words – I just felt a seismic shift in my overall sense of well-being and thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.”
Such a visceral reaction may have you wondering if I’m an impulsive person. I’m not. I can sometimes labour over the simplest decisions. (Should I buy the black pants or the dark blue pair?) But within weeks of the election, I’d hatched a plan: I booked a trip to Vancouver – where I knew a number of people – as a trial balloon of sorts and stayed for the month of January. Coming from the warmth of Southern California, I deliberately wanted to experience the city during the winter. I explored neighbourhoods, made some new friends and, before the month was up, I began looking into the immigration process. After a few month’s stay back in the United States, I returned to Vancouver for May and June and that trip sealed the deal. Soon after, I sold my house (and a large portion of my possessions), obtained a work permit and found myself happily ensconced in a West End condo with awesome city views. This is my first Canada Day as a permanent resident.
So, is Canada the promised land? In my opinion, it comes pretty close. From the perspective of a former outsider, I’ve been struck by the overarching societal notion that everyone should be treated equally. I was gobsmacked one day when I opened my mailbox to find a flyer. Innocuously titled, “For Your Information,” it summarized a Parliament motion that the government should, among other things, “Recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.” The notion that a similar flyer – one that could potentially receive support from an American administration, which has mined hate and fear for political expediency – would ever show up in the mailboxes of U.S. homes seems far-fetched at best.
And then there are the simple things: People here really take the time to talk to each other; passengers queue to board a bus (an unlikely sight in major U.S. cities where last come/first served is a daily occurrence) and it’s commonplace to say, “thank you” when disembarking; strangers say “hello” on the street when I’m walking my dog; and even the way everyone puts back all the weights in the right place at my gym surprises me. I know, this all probably sounds pretty silly. But, for me, these everyday occurrences show a consideration for others that I haven’t experienced much in the past. They’ve pervaded my consciousness and made me realize that I myself need to take a kinder, gentler approach to the world around me.
My feelings of detachment from the current state of the American way of life came into even sharper focus during a trip to visit family and friends in the fall. Maybe it was the looming midterm elections – or perhaps just the general sense that something unpleasant would undoubtedly come out of the White House at any moment – but I sensed an anxiousness that I didn’t remember. The social and political dysfunctionality, a true cacophony of craziness, was like a dark cloud that followed people around and weighed on them. Everyone I talked to seemed to just be waiting for things to get worse. It was overwhelmingly suffocating and I was absolutely ecstatic and relieved to return home to Vancouver.
It’s no surprise a November, 2018, survey from the Environics Institute indicates that just 37 per cent of Canadians hold a favourable view of the United States – the lowest level since Environics began their tracking in 1982. Now, I know I’m not a Canadian citizen (not yet at least), but I’m afraid I have to side with the survey majority. To put a more precise, personal spin on it, American political pundits have talked about how the United States seems like a divided country that’s headed for divorce court. As for me, I’ve finalized my mental and physical divorce with America. Do I feel bad? Maybe a little. As we say in Canada, “Sorry.”
Lawrence Karol lives in Vancouver.