This column started out as a family-and-friends discussion that eventually made its way into this paper. It just goes to show you have to be careful what you say around writers.
Our discussion centred around two main points:
• How much change must we make to accept others?
• How much change must others make to receive acceptance?
There are people who are rigid in their belief zero change for themselves will be required if others wish acceptance. Customs such as Mountie hats, the Lord’s Prayer and the national anthem in schools are non-negotiable if others wish to become a Canadian.
On the other hand, people faced with the decision to come to Canada, want to preserve what they believe, without having to trade those beliefs for freedom, security and a chance at a better life as a Canadian.
I recently visited the Dakota Hotel beer store to purchase some beverages. I approached the counter with my products. The sales clerk asked me a question I didn’t understand because of the rapid-fire pace with which she spoke. The words sounded English, but had a European edge to them. My immediate reaction was to apologize and tell the clerk I didn’t understand her.
This time I made eye contact with her mouth in an attempt to read her lips. Still no comprehension on my part. I again apologized (the Canadian thing to do) and said I didn’t understand. Judging by the expression on her face and her body language, I suspect she was frustrated with the idiot who didn’t understand her.
In the end she wanted to know, if I wanted a free T-shirt and what colour I preferred. It seemed if I bought a 24 of beer (enough with the self-righteousness) I was entitled to a prize. I took a black T-shirt (I’m told its more slimming). At the age of 50, I will take anything that allows me to lose weight effortlessly.
What struck me was the feeling of being helpless because I could not understand what the clerk was saying. I find it troubling when I don’t understand others are saying to me, especially when we are speaking the same language.
I was born and raised in Newfoundland and came to the mainland seeking a better life. When I first arrived, many of my fellow Canadians had problems understanding me. You would think I would be used to not being understood.
I am torn on the question of what change Canadians must accommodate in order for others to feel accepted. I am flexible on religious practice but won’t compromise on human rights and equality. I have difficultly accepting that other parties don’t have to change and get to keep everything. I also don’t believe the Mountie hat and the Lord’s Prayer in school make me Canadian.
On Canada Day I sat in my gazebo, watching the final of EURO 2012 on a giant screen TV. No security force broke my door down and rousted my family. Everyone that left for the day came home safely. The fireworks may have masqueraded as gun fire if I knew what the sound of gunfire in the streets was like. I guess I was just being Canadian.
Sean Conway is a River Park South-based writer.
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