Do you still have your fork? Let’s dig into the secondo piatto of this Italian dinner party that is my life. I warn you, this is going to get a bit dark and heavy before the merengue appears. If you can hang in until we get to that merengue that is known as the Hamburg Meltdown, it will be well worth it.
A quick reminder of where we left off: 10 August 2008. My plane from Warsaw lands in Toronto. I almost backed out of my plan to move to Canada for one year (remember that – just ONE year) because a couple of months before I left Warsaw, I developed the largest heel spur in my foot that the orthopaedist had ever seen. He was so excited by its immense size. I was not. It was very painful, and I had to walk, well hobble really, with a crutch. I didn’t have time to have it treated via the public health care system, so I had to shell out a foot-sized fortune to have it treated through the private system. (Why didn’t I have it treated in Canada under their health care system, you ask? Because despite my Canadian citizenship, I was not a resident of Canada and was not entitled to health care for the first three months after my return.) This treatment via the private Polish system majorly reduced my moving money. I thought I should delay my move as I had no idea how quickly I would find work in the far-off land where I had no business connections.
Nevertheless, I let myself be convinced to go, so on 10 August I stepped off the plane in Toronto as planned. I remember the sinking feeling I had in my stomach when my newly-healed foot clomped down onto Canadian soil, and the words “Oh, fuck” escaped my lips. Right then and there, on some level of my soul, I knew major challenges were coming. I had no idea that Canada would become a black hole sucking me in and bringing with it one of the most trying times of my life.
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s so true that it’s worth repeating. I never felt at home in Canada. I never identified with Canadian-ness, whatever that is. I was, like so many other kids when I was growing up there, identified by my ethnicity and ancestry. I was the British-Ukrainian girl. Add over a decade of happily living in Europe, and I was even more disconnected with Canada. Nevertheless, there I was.
As I’ve mentioned before, January 2009 came, and I started teaching at the university in London, Canada. Let’s take a moment, have a sip of our wine, and talk about how I got that teaching position…
Up until moving to Canada, I was lucky and work had always fallen from the sky for me. I had never needed to apply for a job. Canada changed all of that. I didn’t have any business contacts, and no one knew who I was. My European education and work experience were frowned upon in London, Canada, which stumped me to no end. Add to that the limited number of jobs available in the small city of London, and it was very challenging to find work. When I finally had an interview to teach at the university, I thought I should do everything in my power to ensure I was offered the position. I had a brilliant idea. Or so I thought…
The job was with a private company that was affiliated with the university. It involved teaching Academic English, but also a course calledCanadian Studies. Hmm. Academic English I could handle easily, but Canadian Studies? Not so much. By this point, I was desperate for work as my moving funds had run out long before. I needed this job. I worried that they too would not appreciate my European education and work experience, so I decided it would be a good idea to go to the job interview and speak with a Canadian accent. My real accent, which I had had analysed by a voice coach out of curiosity, is mainly a generic British (mostly London – the UK London, of course) accent with a few Slavic sounds mixed with one North American sound. Basically, everywhere I went in London, Canada, people would exclaim, “Oh, you’re from England! I love your accent!” Apparently, when I spoke to family or friends in Canada, my accent would change and become a bit more Canadian, but it wasn’t even close to being completely so.
I spent the entire morning before the job interview practising a fully Canadian accent, and I nailed it. The interview went very well, and I got the job. It was then that I realised just how stupid we can be when we are stressed, desperate, and unhappy in our surroundings. I now had to go to work every day and speak with a Canadian accent. Pants. The first six months that I was teaching at the university, I was exhausted at the end of each day after having to focus on keeping to this new accent. Eventually, I was able to switch between my natural accent and this Canadian one with ease – something akin to switching between different languages. Which, really, is what I was doing because I also had to switch between my natural British English and Canadian English. (The grammar and vocabulary are surprisingly different, as my fellow grammarians know well.)
The upside to all of this is that I can now code-switch between these two versions of English with the appropriate accent. The downside is how my colleagues at the university found out…
I had told a few close colleagues about the silly choice I had made when I went to the job interview – it was a funny story that added to the hilarity that was working with me. My colleagues nicknamed me Austin because I was like Austin Powers from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery– that movie in which a man from the 1960s is cryogenically frozen and defrosted (I’m sure that’s the technical term) in the late 1990s. He seems like he should be up on modern culture, but he has no clue. That was me. I sounded Canadian, but I had no clue about pop culture, local culture, or anything happening in Canada.
The rest of my colleagues found out on a staff trip to Toronto. We were on the coach, drinking vodka, and kicking up our Christmas heels. Little did I know - I can’t control my accent after a few drinks. Suddenly, my natural accent came out, causing my seat-mate, Paul, to ask, “What on earth is happening to you right now?!”
Fortunately, I had been working with these lovely people for a couple of years at this point, so they knew I wasn’t completely crazy, and they knew how unhappy I was to have moved back to Canada (and to still be stuck there at this point). I am grateful. I miss them.
How had two years passed with me still in Canada when the plan was to be there for one year only? Tune in next time to find out.
Pass the wine, please.