Once Upon A Bromance

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Like Butch and Sundance, I’m in a Bromance.

My man and I have an especially unusual bromantic connection that spans international borders…

… by language, religion, ethnicity, age, cultural traditions… just about everything about us is, or was, different.

Although we’ve “been together” now for almost 4 years – getting together a couple of times a week – over the past year and a half we’ve spent even more time together than previously.

Depending on the rules of the COVID day, we’ve shared cups of steaming coffee or tea via ZOOM or at the local college or at 6 a.m. in a Tim Hortons’ coffeeshop, me and my Syrian bro (student/friend)…

… to study with intent for the Canadian Citizenship test.

We read and discuss, laugh and tease, he’ll go off topic like he did yesterday with an excited story about his daughter winning a new bicycle in a school contest, or even sometimes grousing over our problems.

This gentle man and his wife (and 5 beautiful, enthusiastic young kids) are exiled refugees that have been living in Canada for close to 6 years.

Each day they become just a tiny bit more “Canadian”… no, not yet by law or official decree, but for sure by custom and language.

I can perceive this change intently when he speaks in idioms to me: “Oh Larry, you’re Over The Hill!”, or, “Are you pulling my leg?“, or, when he casually orders a “double-double” now at Tim Hortons.

He’s not the only one who’s changed… yup, he’s changed me too.

I greet him each time we meet, As-salamu alaykum… (Peace be upon you)… my understanding and knowledge of Syria, the Middle East, Arabic language, and the Muslim faith have all bloomed too.

In much the same way that I learn about myself by writing these blog posts, I find that I learn about myself by working and chatting with a man who has been tossed across the globe to live in my country, my culture, so that his family can be safe from bombs and bullets and torture.

Never in his wildest dreams did he see a life in largely white-skinned, Christian-dominated, English-speaking North America as part of his future.

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision spending hundreds of hours explaining what it means to be Canadian to a young, Arabic-speaking, brown-skinned Muslim man.

He looks to me for learning, cultural understanding, and even basic knowledge that eluded him in his homeland. I shook my head in disbelief when I realized he had no idea there was an ocean (what’s an ocean?) separating Syria from Canada.

It’s clear that he’s had an awakening… BIG TIME!

I can tell because… long ago… I had one too.

My awakening came over 40 years ago when I left my hometown of Hamilton.

My eyes were opened by seeing different geographies and histories, architectures, ideologies and politics, and and and… I was wearing translucent blinders (and still am no doubt) because I had never had the opportunity to see and experience what was behind other doors.

If you spend your whole life only seeing the colour green, red has no meaning.

These new experiences were a little like a hallucinogenic LSD trip. Colours and textures were changing, my understanding rose bit by bit. The light rainbow had changed and would never go back to where it was… ever.

Today I know to actively look for other “colours” in the world.

I see this same vision of new light and colours in my Syrian friend. It’s scary and exciting for him. I get it.

OK, back to where we began this post.

What is it to be Canadian?

For those who’ve not studied or seen a citizenship test (Canadian or otherwise)… it ain’t a walk in the park for a native-born Canadian, a university graduate from another country… and certainly not an elementary-schooled Syrian.

Citizenship isn’t handed out like pre-wrapped candies at the door on Halloween.

One “earns” citizenship by working hard to understand the history and culture of this young country, this Canuck land painted one stroke at a time with thousands of years of indigenous history and millions of immigrant stories.

I have my fingers crossed that my young “bromantic” partner and his family will soon wave the Maple Leaf as new Canadians and become sewn into this quilt of many colours.

As Different as Poutine and Apple Pie


Guest Post by Jim Ferguson, Oregon, USA

Welcome to something new and something different… a guest post…

Jim Ferguson is a Baby-Boomer-Physician-Assistant-Canuck who lives in Yamhill, Oregon with his wife Deborah, a Physiotherapist. He is also the part-time co-founder/tender of the “Sheltering Branch Farm”, and a huge Montréal Canadiens booster.

Jim is a long-time friend of mine from our 1970’s days working in the Arctic at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital, and is a frequent commentor and supporter of my blog with many insightful, positive, and compassionate thoughts on the state of our world.

OK, I’ll let Jim speak for himself…

Larry Green here back for another blog installment…Heh…wait a second…you are not Larry Green! What are you doing high-jacking Larry’s blog?

Is this some weird episode of the Twilight Zone?

Well not exactly…Larry asked me to contribute a guest blog about some differences/similarities between living in Canada vs the U.S. and I offered to step up to the “blog plate” and give him a wee mental rest.

Larry told me to keep my verbal diarrhea in check and keep it under 1,000 words so here goes.

Have you ever wondered just how different Canadians and Americans are?

I have and not just a passing thought either.

I am a Canadian who has lived in “the states” for the better part of 40 years and happily I might add (inserted in case my American trophy wife Deborah happens to read this) and I have had a front row seat in observing differences and similarities between us.

I take great pride when, even to this day, the majority of people I encounter recognize me as Canadian by my accent and the familiar “oot and aboot” and “eh” and other language nuances that are unique to us Canadians.

My Canadian pride runs deep even after four decades away from “home”.

While I am a Naturalized citizen of the U.S., I am Canadian right down to my bleu, blanc, et rouge Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater and my current Canadian passport. You can take the Canadian “oot” of Canada, but you cannot take the Canada “oot” of the Canadian.

I am here to tell you that Canadians and Americans are different in many ways.

We Canadians are NOT simply a kinder and more respectful version of our American neighbors! Us Canadians have our own unique “culture” which runs deep in us.

You might be asking “what culture is he referring to?” Though we live on the same continent separated by an imaginary border running along the 49th parallel, there is much more than that which distinguishes us from Americans. Here are a few examples.

The most glaring difference that struck me upon my arrival in the summer of 1980 is this feeling that Americans are “#1”!

Many Americans (not all) see themselves as better than everyone else and when one listens to the political posturing here during election years, it is obvious that this image of “America is best” is a major platform issue of every candidate.

I mean, which politician is going to have “Don’t Make America Great” as their campaign slogan? That will be the death knell of any campaign in a nation where people see themselves as better than everyone else in the world.

I quickly realized that if America was #1 then other peoples and nations are 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and the list goes on. This feeling of national superiority struck a nerve with me. I observed the divisions so prevalent in American society (social status, class, race, gender, religious, etc) as people came here from every nation in search of the “American Dream”.

The feeling was palpable that no matter where you came from or how long you lived here, if your family didn’t come over on the Mayflower then you are “not as American” as those that did, this despite the requirement to renounce allegiance to your former country when becoming naturalized (I refused to utter those words during my ceremony).

Coming from Canada where we are proud of our nationality and have a culture of being friendly with and open-hearted to all nations and peoples, I was a bit taken aback by this brash exclusivist nationalism.

The political systems of each country and the story of how they got to this point in history are different.

I was aware of this since childhood growing up in Nova Scotia and studying about our neighbors to the south.

We have a parliamentary form of government with a Prime Minister fashioned after Britain’s government, while the U.S. broke away from Britain through a bloody revolutionary war and established a constitutional federalist republican form of government with a President. Canada has a 3-party system while the U.S. has a 2-party system.

One other interesting observation – I remember learning a lot about U.S. history in school.

When I arrived in the U.S., I felt I was well-educated about the U.S. and could hold my own in any Trivial Pursuit game where questions about the U.S. were posed – politics, sports, geography, history- no problem! I am a wealth of knowledge on things American (thanks Ms. Callahan for the excellent history classes).

This was not the case with my American friends and their knowledge of Canada. Most knew little about Canadian history and our way of life.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard the phrase “as American as baseball and apple pie”. Baseball is considered the great American pastime with stories of “the Babe” and “Say Hey Willie Mays”, etc known to many.

Well, that saying does not cut it in Canada…more like “as Canadian as hockey and poutine”. Most here in the states have no clue about the “Stratford Streak”, “Chicoutimi Cucumber”, the “Rocket”, etc (or poutine for that matter).

While baseball is part of American culture, hockey is a MAJOR part of Canadian culture (it has now spread to the states but is well down the list in importance and fan interest after baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR, tiddlywinks, and lawn bowling).

We are not baseball ignoramuses in Canada thanks to the Expos and Blue Jays, but hockey and Canada are synonymous.

Well…there you have it! Some observations about Canadian and American life from a Canuck who fell in love with a Yankee and ended up south of the border. Let’s hear your observations in the comment section. AND Larry…under 1,000 words too! Boooyyyaaahhhh!

Jim and Deborah Ferguson