As I catch up with a dear friend from home and I tell her about the funeral I attended last week and the marriage proposal I received the week before that, she begins to laugh. ‘You always do things in such extremes Anna!’ I hadn’t, admittedly, thought about this. Although, as I was leaving the funeral service it did occur to me that this was not how I expected to spend any of my year abroad. Indeed, living in Canada has gone as smoothly as I expected it would, which is to say, not very smooth at all.
Though I have lived here for two entire months now, there are still a great deal of things I have yet to get my head around. Cars, in particular. My partner still takes sincere amusement every time I accidentally attempt to get into his car from the driver’s side, for example! Sometimes he strategically lures me by heading towards the passenger’s side, knowing it’ll throw me off. It always does. For the first few weeks I would oftentimes glance at cars on the road and immediate shock would fill my being as it appeared a ghost was occupying the vehicle. Of course, a quick glance to the left and I would remember that the driver was at the other side. The ‘wrong’ side, as I am still adamant. Roads are also a cesspool of confusion and eternal frustration. What English people would describe fondly as ‘zebra crossings’ are everywhere, although- as I have almost killed myself finding out- not all of them mean you can cross the road at your leisure. Some crossings are painted pink… I have no idea what this means. All I know is that I must annoy the shit out of drivers who can probably smell the wreak of me not knowing what the hell I am supposed to be doing. Bloody foreigners!
Living in Canada also feels like you are in some kind of permanent petting zoo; only, where petting may lead to a few bite marks. Oftentimes when I sit outside my residence, skunks will scurry over to me. They are adorable but I am told that I only think this because I have yet to discover the capabilities of their anal scent glands. (A Canadian said to me that it smells like urine and marijuana… so it is possible that a whiff would be more liable to remind me of my hometown than anything else!). I have learned that if you want to suss out foreigners, place a skunk near a group of people. The Canadians will run the other way and the rest of us will run towards it with a naive excitement over its cuteness. I also saw four raccoons one evening, a little family rooting around some bins. Again, my cotton-wool instincts were to run over and pet them as though they were stray kittens. ‘They’ll scratch your nose off, Anna!’
Although, even despite the array of exotic menageries, I often find myself feeling rather alone here. Sometimes I miss walking into bars and seeing faces I recognise. Sometimes I miss people that know me beyond the realm of ‘girl from England’. I also miss Yorkshire puddings.
I will end this post on a conversation I had in the first week of my arrival in Canada-
Anna: [Upon seeing a building called Norfolk Manor] oooh! We should go there sometime!
Chad: Err…*laughing* that’s an old folk’s home.
After the university’s pep rally.
He’s old -middle aged-
and he sits on a plastic white
garden chair, at the end of your street.
You’ll see him with a cigarette-
most hours. But the man has
Half-limbed, semi skimmed
his stumps raise red as he stubs
his cigarette. And you wonder
why he chooses the flames on his
lips, the power – to turn the tables-
lights to his fingers
-he holds on longer than he has to.
Having survived my first semester at university, albeit somewhat haphazardly, I like to think that I have already learned a great number of things with regards to surviving the ‘outside world’. In what I hope will become something of a ‘how-to’ series, I will share my snippets of advice alongside my first-hand woes that naturally stem from a girl who has yet to master the art of living smoothly.
A lot can rest in first impressions- it is the difference between being ‘that intelligent female who knows a lot about 17th century literature’ and being ‘that girl who parades around with yesterday’s lasagne stuck to her face’. And never are first impressions quite so important than when you start university; when every impression is both first and nightmarishly immortal. It’s not breaking news to reveal that a drunken slobbery kiss the night before is a terribly awkward encounter in Tesco’s the day after.
But even those ‘did I really lick his face last night?’ encounters do not compare to the events of my first day of higher education. It started with the mishap we all dread- walking into the wrong class- complete with a sorry face of pleading embarrassment together with lost eyes longing for a hug and a forgiving cup of tea. The mathematics seminar group looked almost offended when I asked if this was the literature seminar. It wasn’t.
But all hope was not lost.
I turned around to see a young man waiting in the seats opposite the room I had attempted to enter. He was witness to my shortcoming and in a blaze of nervous adrenaline I blurted out my unrefined introductions. ‘Are you waiting for this room?’. I was relieved to learn that he was indeed waiting for the same class as me and- seeing a fine opportunity to start my quest for making friends- I began to chant my pleasantries.
‘Oh! That’s so cool! Where are you from?! That’s awesome! I’m from North Yorkshire! I really like your jumper! Do you have any plans for tonight?! That sounds awesome! Me? Oh! I need a night off, had a bit of a mad one last night that ended in me and my flatmates comparing dolphin impressions in the kitchen! …So, is it American literature you’re studying?’
‘Oh no’ he said.
‘I’m teaching it.’
And that is how not to make a fruitful first impression with your lecturers.
If I am to love only once,
Let it be with you-
For the Sun shines out your ass
And from your mouth- the moon.
I’ll call you a Summer’s day
And you will call me a silly cunt,
Waking in a puddle of your drool
With a glare, a middle finger, a grunt-
In bed with our socks on,
Stroking the hairs on our legs
Like stray animals on our sheets-
I am to love only once.