Old Trees & Weather Talk

MC40_OldTreeI am from Liberia, a small West African country. The last time I checked, my country was still recovering from 14 years of civil war after electing Africa’s first female president.

When you leave Liberia to settle in Canada, it won’t take you long to recognize the many differences in culture. Many Liberians back home would disagree with me because we believe that our culture is closely linked to North America since the country was established by free slaves from America. But it was quick for me to notice that our assertions are wrong.

Beside my country of origin, I have lived in three different countries on three different continents within the last decade. Canada is now the fourth. Given my experience, it was easy for me to identify cultural differences. What wasn’t easy, though, was for me to adjust to the change in culture. This confirms a saying in my country that “old tree can’t be bind easily”.

The two years I have stayed in Canada, I have struggled with calling older people by their first name. If you think about community wherein seniors are the largest age cohort, than you will understand what I have to go through daily. But this is not a problem for my 8 year old daughter who moved to Canada when she was only 20 months. She can easily call an elderly person about the age of her grandmother by their first name. I keep on reminding her that where we come from this is not allowed. We believe that name calling is the first step in showing “respect”. So handles are attached to names depending on the age gap and status. Therefore all the parents in the neighborhood are either uncle or aunt. To avoid calling first names, I approach people without calling their name which at time looks awkward.

Also, I quickly noticed that pets, be it cat or dog is an integral part of many households. I admire how pets are treated with dignity and respect. I often wonder the cost of raising a pet, and feel sorry for the thousands of people in my country that live on less than a dollar a day. Where I am from, dogs and cat are treated differently. Anytime, my daughter tells me she wants to be a Vet, I wonder if she would have said had she grown up in Liberia. Because Vet is not a career a child in Liberia will dream about since animals are never taken to vets. Besides, I can’t remember seeing a section in the groceries store for pet food.

What I admire most about the people of Atlantic Canada is their hospitality and how approachable they are. It amazes me how people initiate conversation by talking about the weather. They often go like this, “we have a good day today”. This kind gesture, for me, breaks all communication bearers and creates a platform for communication.

 - William in Saint John, NB