Three years in Toronto

Summarizing my new life as an immigrant in Canada.

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On December 8 2006, I arrived in Toronto and began my MBA studies at one of the most prestigious business schools in North America. Everything was new – people, food, student life, language, snow etc. and everything familiar was left far away – people, food, work life, language, heat etc.

Last three years have been remarkable. I learnt many new things. Taking a cue from my China-loving-French-immigrant blogger friend Zhu’s post, I made a list of things that will eventually lead to an identity crisis:

9 clues I am becoming Canadian:

  • I have a number of seasonal clothing and other supplies. There’s winter jacket, fall jacket, summer jacket, fall hoodie, winter hoodie, winter toque, summer hat, winter socks, summer socks, snow boots, winter boots, (you know the difference, eh?) running shoes, sneakers, formal shoes, flipflops. I also have a humidifier (for winter) and de-humidifier (for summer).
  • Holidays that are conveniently placed on certain days of week (as opposed to fixed dates) no longer surprise me. For e.g. Labour day is first Monday of September, Thanksgiving is second Monday in October, Family Day (ON) is third Monday of February, etc. I love talking about looking forward to the long weekend, planning trips for the long weekend, etc.
  • I bitch about rush hour ‘crowd’ in Toronto subway. Rush hour means that each passenger gets only one seat (as opposed to four or five during non rush hours). Being an avid cyclist, I sign petitions asking for separate bike lanes in the city. In India, we usually have a common road for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, stray dogs, and motorists (yet the per-capita injury rate is lower).
  • I can comfortably shit in public washrooms which have flimsy partitions that barely offer any privacy.
  • My sense of “personal space” has changed drastically. Now I get uncomfortable if strangers come within a radius of 1m around me. I also use terms like “personal time off”, “personal property”, “personal blah..” – terms that are unheard of in collectivist cultures like India.
  • I get into unnecessary discussions due to my argument that the Liberals’ initiative of harmonised sales tax (HST) is actually a good idea but the Conservatives just want to oppose anything McGuinty does.
  • If someone apologises to me for accidentally brushing their bag against my elbow in rush hour traffic, I apologise to them for making them apologise to me in the first place.
  • I often say “hey! howz it goin’?” and walk away. Note to newcomers: This is a polite way of saying “hello”. When someone asks you “How are you?”, just say “Good, thanks, how are you?” instead of telling them how you actually are. This is just how we greet each other.
  • I can identify Americans (I mean people from USA).

9 clues I am still an Indian:

  • I don’t enjoy the “Indian” food served in fancy “Indian” restaurants at all. That’s because that food is so heavily customised for local tastes that it loses its Indian-ness. If you can eat your food with forks, spoons and knives, assume that it’s not genuine.
  • I always address my teachers as “professors” rather than their first name. I have an incredibly tough time calling them Rick, Steven, Mary or Mark.
  • I brush my teeth first thing in the morning and wont step out of the house without taking a shower.
  • When I see an empty seat in the train, I run to grab it. Then I notice ten other empty seats and smile at myself.
  • When I hear white people say that they eat “very spicy” food, I secretly giggle. I must say that there are notable exceptions to this rule.
  • I mix up V’s and W’s, and forget which of the 4 T’s (त, थ, ट, ठ) or 4 D’s (द, ध, ड, ढ) I should use while speaking. I’m also known to speak (and write) “Indian English” (which, I hate to tell you, is much superior to American English). I ask people if they are standing in a “queue” or whether they “endavour” to plan something, etc. I am sometimes caught using awkward translated expressions like “today morning”, “I like this too much”, “many many colours”, etc.
  • I am kinda shy of using public shower facilities, especially locker rooms where people walk naked.
  • When people tell me that Toronto is a “fast-paced city”, I secretly giggle again. Ditto when they refer to their hometowns with population of 100,000 as “cities”. Oh please! The only real cities in Canada are Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton (in that order). It might be useful to mention here that my little suburban hometown Dombivli would be the fourth or fifth largest city in Canada. Among the suburbs of Mumbai alone, Dombivli ranks fourth.
  • I carry an Indian passport and I’m kinda hesitant to give it up. Unless the Indian government stops eying all non-residents with suspicion, it won’t allow dual citizenship. And that sucks.

So you see, I am kinda all over the place, but I am happy with the balancing act of defining my identity. Only few thousand years ago we were all black and and living in Somalia. And in another few thousand years we might be on Titan or who knows if we’ll even exist! In any case, I am happy to learn and experience something new every day in a country that has so warmly welcomed me.

28 thoughts on “Three years in Toronto

  1. Pryiank oh boy that was a one funny post. So you said: ‘I also have a humidifier (for winter) and de-humidifier (for summer).’ – just simple questions, why not just humidifier, and shot it down for summer, lol. Anna :)

  2. Priyank, I don’t know if you going to celebrate, but you must, lol, so I dropped by to wish you a very Merry Christmas, nice holidays and a Happy New Year. Lots, lots of happiness. Also I wanted to send warm thanks for being a good blogger friend, appreciated very much my friend and neighbour. Anna :)

  3. Nice one, can identify with most, though I confess I lose my “Indianness” to a larger degree.

    It becomes all the more interesting when you live in the UK for a while, as well as in America, and then feel triangulated.

  4. You sound pretty balanced to me! We are bound to retain some of our heritage and I think it makes life much more interesting.

    Like you, I don’t get when people complain about “security issues” in Ottawa (try Sao Paolo and compare! :lol:), “packed” bus (try Paris during rush hour… or Beijing!). I find it funny that 600 km is “right next door”.

    There is no way I can call my prof by their first name… in French, most students even say “tu” to them!

    And my sense of personal space has changed too. I find it awkward to “faire la bise” (kiss on the cheek) when I go to France — I’d rather hug!

    • Hi Zhu, the immigration expert! You said it perfectly, a balance is important, afterall spending a quarter century of your life in one country is bound to leave permanent marks.

  5. :-) nice post

    u reminded me of stuff
    then again what is an indian passport
    u have a voters id and pan card and can speek in hindi n marathi
    more than enough in india…

  6. Very interesting comparison! I think the fact that you only have 3 years of Canadian-ness versus 20-something years of Indian-ness to compare is easy, there’s just two things to weigh. I don’t even want to list the things that factor in mine!

  7. Priyank, I loved this post as it is a subject I am always interested in – different cultures and it is very interesting to hear you tell both sides of it. I think you have adjusted in superficial things, but deep inside your Indianness is still there. I think anyone who leaves India after the age of 20 is bound to have that, unless one makes a conscious effort to change. What is nice is that you have let the change happen naturally to you and that is why it isn’t artificial. Some people go there and try hard to try and adapt and as a result become quite fake! And as for those who consciously resist another culture I think they become quite confused!
    If you let yourself be you will become more and more Canadian, naturally.

    • Thanks Nita, its a delicate process and like you pointed out, I’m letting myself in at a natural speed. However, although I am trying to battle it, I think in a couple of years I will certainly face an identity issue. :)

  8. I’m with you on the personal space, it’s something I find difficult to adjust to from culture to culture. It always takes me some time to adjust to places where the distance is closer rather than the opposite.

    I too will never give up my Turkish passport ;)

  9. this is an incredibly well written post and one that is Final Transit hallmark writing that I always admire. Loved the header, footer, middle, end, every bit of it. Thx for sharing. I loved the Carrot desert one too. yummy :)

  10. Interesting writing. Interesting self analysis.
    I trust you to keep that Indian-ness intact.
    Do you play english/canadian music on your Indian sitar ?
    Like Gandhi ji said, Keep your door open to take the good from others but dont forget your own roots.

    Whats happening now after MBA? Write that in an email.
    Enjoy and Take care.

  11. this was an extremely interesting post to read….there were many things i could identify but in a different perspective…see am a bengali who is born and brought up in delhi, married in delhi and staying there…i have had this issue of hoe much bengali Vs delhiite i am…..and as i was reading your post…coudnt help but make little notes of mine in similar manner…my judgement at the end of the note making on myself was = other than the fact that i can speak, read and write bengali, i have become true blue dehi ite..no identity issues for me at last :)))

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