Wednesday, 18 October 2006

(Reverse) Culture Shock!

JK: As mentioned above, Mel had been back to Canada as recently as February 2006 (7 months ago), but it was JK's first time home since moving to Belgium a full two years earlier (October 2004). This led to some reverse culture shock, including:

  • Cheeriness and friendliness of most people. You could actually walk into a store in Ottawa and not fear: a) it being closed 10 minutes early; b) being told to get out; or c) receiving the trusted shrug and "non, c'est impossible monsieur" line:).
  • Peacefulness. This was both good and bad. The good: JK admired the number of people who were genuinely upset when a nearby Ottawa driver honked his horn a few times in anger. In Brussels we are truly disturbed when we don't hear someone unload on his/her horn at least every hour -- including in the middle of the night! The bad: even the Byward Market seemed a bit too peaceful compared to the action on Euro-streets (I won't even bother mentioning Sparks Street).
  • Service culture. When JK realised on the way to rent a car that his license had recently expired -- and having become habituated to the Kafkaesque ways of Europe -- he panicked. "Good god, I don't have 10 pieces of identification, a letter from my deceased great-grandmother, a certificate from my childhood dentist, and 15 weeks to spare", he said. Fortunately, he was in Canada and, after a quick visit to the license bureau, we were on our way to Toronto in a rented car with JK at the helm, renewed license in tow!
  • Coffee to go. This is both good and bad. The good: convenience. It is nice to know that, if you are in a rush, a coffee "to go" can be prepared for you without risking the wrath of the server. While this is catching on in Europe, it is still considered a peculiar habit. Walking down the street with take-out coffee is practically sacrilegious. The bad: it is actually nice to sit down and enjoy your coffee, particularly the high quality - straight from the espresso machine - stuff they ply us with over in Brussels. Also, and perhaps this is a bureaucratic Ottawa thing, but it is a tad disturbing seeing every second person walking around town with a 1 litre "cup" of watery filtered coffee in hand. Coffee has almost become the new Linus and his security blanket.

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