broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘passports’

Five ways I’ve become American — and five Canadian holdovers

In aging, behavior, culture, life, politics, travel, urban life, US, war on June 20, 2012 at 12:22 am
A typical Baseball diamond as seen from the st...

A typical Baseball diamond as seen from the stadium. Traditionally the game is played for nine innings but can be prolonged if there is a tie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 24 years (!) since I left Canada, where I was born and raised, for the United States, it’s inevitable I’d take on some of the characteristics of my new home. Although I was always mistaken in Toronto for someone south of the 49th. parallel — I talked and walked too quickly, laughed too loudly, was far too ambitious and direct in my speech.

“You’re American, aren’t you?” is not a compliment there. (My New York City-born mother married my Vancouver-born father and moved north. She has since become a Canadian citizen. Both my husbands have been American, one from New Jersey [divorced 1995] and one from New Mexico, [married 2011.])

And yes, I realize, these are generalizations — there are Canucks who enjoy baseball and Americans who love to travel and desperately want some form of government health care.

Here are five ways I’ve begun to feel more American:

1) I enjoy watching baseball. Sitting in the stands for hours, inning after inning, watching the sky grow dark and the lights grow brilliant. Popcorn and a chili dog for dinner. Overpriced souvenirs. Hokey games on-field like the race between the hot dog, the ketchup and the mustard. I play second base and can hit to the outfield, (and did not grow up playing), so I now appreciate it more as a player.

2) I love how Americans do business. They just get on with it! I’m amazed and grateful for the chances I’ve been given to succeed and thrive, by people who don’t know me from childhood or my family or with whom I attended college or grad school. That takes guts and decisiveness, both of which I value deeply.

3) I fight like a demon over healthcare, bills and any form of my rights. The single biggest change an immigrant to the U.S. must make, and quickly, is realizing no one is looking out for our interests but you (and possibly your lawyer.) Coming from a nation that’s much more of a nanny state, Canadians tend to look to the government for their solutions. Not Americans! I think this is not a bad thing, but I do not envy those with little education, poor English skills or a shy personality.

4) I’m optimistic. This is huge. I didn’t used to be. But if you’re not, you’re toast. The United States, for all its many problems — a completely useless and fucked-up Congress, growing income inequality, outrageous costs for post-secondary education, racism, the war on women — rewards those who see the glass as half-full. Whiners do poorly here. I hate whiners.

5) I generally think people create their circumstances and success. Within limits. I can’t vote, so I’m not a Republican. But barring severe mental, physical or emotional disability, I think people can achieve much without endless hand-wringing or government intervention. I was a Big Sister, a volunteer mentor to a 13-year-old girl, about 14 years ago. It was a shocking eye-opener. I had long been a default liberal, but saw within minutes that her toughest challenges were being created by her own family, whose emotional abuse, manipulation of taxpayer-funded benefits and habitual behaviors left me stunned. (Yes, I was very naive.) I absolutely believe in giving help to those in real need, but have no patience with those who abuse it or take it for granted.

And yet…

1) I believe, strongly, that excellent health care is a right, not a privilege accorded only to those with jobs, or whose employers choose to be generous. Free-market health care is an obscenity and stupidly expensive.

2) Unions matter. Barely seven percent of private sector workers in the U.S. belong to a union. Workers are too often treated like crap; they can be fired any time, for any reason, with no penalty or severance. It still shocks me how weak labor is and how powerful the wealthy.

3) I revere nature. I feel more at home in a canoe than in an SUV. I completely fail to understand kids who refuse to play outdoors and parents who allow this. If you don’t feel a passionate, deep-rooted (pun intended) attachment to the natural world, why would you fight to nurture and protect the environment?

4) I know, and have always known, that I’m a global citizen. I’ve carried my own passport since early childhood and it’s my most treasured possession, in addition to my green card. Every nation is intimately linked to the others, and Canadians travel widely. We know it, we value it. (Only 30 percent of Americans own a passport — 60 percent of Canadians did, according to government stats, in 2009-2010. If you’ve never left your borders, how can you possibly understand, and care about, how others think?)

5) War stinks. It’s a terrible waste of lives, money and taxpayer income better applied to a whole host of issues — education, health care, infrastructure. It’s appalling to watch billions spent on two wars at once in the U.S. I never understood why I didn’t know more about Canada’s essential role in D-Day until my American husband took me to Normandy to the beaches and cemeteries there. For Canadians, going to war is seen as a nasty, last-ditch necessity, not a matter of national pride and economic interest.

bonus: Skepticism!

Canadians are generally much slower to warm up socially and professionally. We’re not (as many Americans have been taught to be) “real friendly.” Why bother? Until we know, like, trust and respect you, what’s the upside? In my time in the U.S., I’ve been scammed, cheated and lied to with breathtaking impunity — as my Mom warned me would likely happen. It’s left me weary and wary of glad-handers. I also now know, and have hired, a private detective and multiple lawyers. I get it.

This worldview also complicates trade and diplomacy between two countries, as their underlying principles are often quite different — American risk-taking versus Canadian caution; American in-your-face-ness versus a more European reserve.

Whether because I’m a journalist whose life has been spent questioning and challenging authority, or it’s cultural or I just like being a curmudgeon, this is one Canadian-ism I’m hanging on to for life.

What cultural differences matter most to you in your daily life?

Learning The World — Face to Face, Voice To Voice; Kristof Picks His Newest Africa Sidekick

In education, Media, world on March 11, 2010 at 10:25 am
View of Kabul from TV-Hill, Afghanistan

Kabul. Image via Wikipedia

Just listened to British kids talking to Afghan students on BBC World News — powerful and moving stuff; there is a nine-minute audio embedded in this link.

The British children were clearly shocked to hear that simply heading off to school every morning, something they dread or fight, might mean facing a bomb blast for their Afghan counterparts:

As the children in Kabul shared their experiences, the atmosphere in the studio changed. The School Reporters from Bristol listened carefully to the harsh realities of every day life in Afghanistan – a life so different to the one they know.

They freely admitted they knew very little about what was going on and hadn’t previously thought much about what it was like to live there. Dom said he had no idea how difficult things were. He asked why they would risk their lives just to go to school.

Speaking from Kabul, Hawaa replied that it was because she felt it was important to have an education. Hawaa and Yasin said they had to try and get the best education they could, so that they could help their country in the future.

I could see how moved all six Bristol students were at the determination and enthusiasm of the children in Kabul to seize any opportunity they could to go to school.

As we came to the end of our time together, a subdued and thoughtful group paid tribute to the young people in Kabul.

Callum found the students from Kabul inspiring and praised them on their ability to cope, admitting he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do the same. Dom didn’t think he’d want to risk dying just to get to lessons and Kavita, Morgan and Eleanor discussed the bravery of young people in Kabul living in such a dangerous place.

Nick Kristof has picked his latest traveling companion, Mitch Smith, a journalism student from Nebraska who will accompany The New York Times columnist to Africa.

Here’s a bit from Smith’s winning essay:

My life to this point has been a series of double-quarter-pounders at McDonald’s, history tests and reporting assignments for my campus newspaper about the women’s rifle shooting team (feel free to insert a joke about the fact that my college has a women’s rifle team).

And it’s been a lovely ride. I attended a great high school, I am going to a fine college and – judging by the fate of most in my situation – I will land a moderately satisfying job, go on a cruise to Cancún, take an elderhostel to Dublin and then die.

Thing is, I’m not OK with that. I’m a quarter of the way through my life and still haven’t applied for a passport. As much as I hate it, I have truly done NOTHING on a global scale to make the world better (and no, I don’t put community service at elementary schools and my Eagle Scout project in that category).

But I’d like to think of my life to this point as a preparation for bigger and better things. I have been in love with journalism since picking up the sports page of the Kansas City Star when I was in first grade. I wrote for the teen section of The Star a few years ago and was also editor-in-chief of my high school paper.

But the reason I love journalism isn’t seeing my byline at the top of a story or winning awards. No, I love journalism because nothing else gives you permission to ask questions about the most intimate topics and then entrusts you to tell a person’s life story. It’s this love of telling people’s stories and inspiring action that has me interested in accompanying you on this trip.

In today’s column, Kristof also proposes a new plan to get more young Americans out of their borders and into the world:

Teach for the World also would be an important education initiative for America itself. Fewer than 30 percent of Americans have passports, and only one-quarter can converse in a second language. And the place to learn languages isn’t an American classroom but in the streets of Quito or Dakar or Cairo.

Here’s a one-word language test to measure whether someone really knows a foreign country and culture: What’s the word for doorknob? People who have studied a language in a classroom rarely know the answer. But those who have been embedded in a country know. America would be a wiser country if we had more people who knew how to translate “doorknob.” I would bet that those people who know how to say doorknob in Farsi almost invariably oppose a military strike on Iran.

(Just so you don’t drop my column to get a dictionary: pomo de la puerta in some forms of Spanish; poignée de porte in French; and dash gireh ye dar in Farsi.)

American universities are belatedly recognizing how provincial they are and are trying to get more students abroad. Goucher College in Baltimore requires foreign study, and Princeton University has begun a program to help incoming students go abroad for a gap year before college.

The impact of time in the developing world is evident in the work of Abigail Falik, who was transformed by a summer in a Nicaraguan village when she was 16. As a Harvard Business School student two years ago, she won first place in a competition for the best plan for a “social enterprise.” Now she is the chief executive of the resulting nonprofit, Global Citizen Year, which gives high school graduates a gap year working in a developing country.

OK, I speak French and Spanish and no, I didn’t know the word for doorknob in either.

But he is right to be utterly passionate about getting Americans, literally and physically, into the rest of the world, and not just Paris/London/Cancun.

I was 25 when I won an eight-month Paris-based fellowship, along with 28 journalists from 19 nations — Togo, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, Brazil. I became close friends with Yasuro, a Japanese man, in French, as I did with Mila, a Brazilian woman. Most of us had never left our homes and families behind for so long, had to work with people with profoundly different ideas of what constitutes a story (let alone what English words to use) and simply get along.

Our work that year meant traveling alone for 10-day reporting trips on politics, social issues, culture and economics. I covered Cruise missiles in Sicily; squatters in London, Paris and Amsterdam; the Royal Danish Ballet and spent eight day in a French truck driving from Perpignan to Istanbul to understand the challenges faced by drivers in the EU. Most fun ever.

No other time in my life so radically changed forever how I thought and felt about my place in the world. True/Slant has writers right now reporting from Russia, Hanoi, Rome, Beijing, Tel Aviv, India, Kabul — even Bhutan. I can’t wait, daily, to see what they’ve got for us.

My passport, (and my green card allowing me back into the States) remains my most treasured possession. Next to my unquenchable sense of curiosity.

I wish everyone had both and could use them frequently. There is no better way to understand the world than to experience it firsthand with someone of another culture — sharing a meal, laughing with someone you’ve just met on a bus or ferry, or (worst case, as I’ve done) waiting together in an ER or doctor’s office, in a place far, far away from anything comforting and familiar to you.

American college students, though, insanely burdened by educational debt, graduate with chains on their ankles, which makes taking off with a backpack for even three months, a bare minimum to start to feel truly (and usefully) disoriented, tough.

In this global economy, where understanding and working effectively with other cultures is more crucial than ever, this remains a cruel irony.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,130 other followers