Yesterday at work, with nothing but down-time (why didn't they close the firm on the Sunday between Canada Day and the Monday statutory holiday?), I read the Toronto Star lists of "Essentially Canadian" culture. It brought up something I frequently think and feel about being an immigrant, about living in a country in which I didn't grow up.

As I read about theatre, architecture, music - the cultural capital that makes a nation, a nation - I lack the background to put these in proper context. In most cases I lack knowledge of the plays, buildings, songs themselves.

If I read a list like this about the US, or about New York City, I'd understand the significance of every item on the list in a very deep way. I might interpret them through a viewpoint counter to the mainstream, but I'd understand both the mainstream and alternate views. I'd have a cultural context in which to place the work, and that would colour my view of it, whether consciously or no. Here, I look at culture in a vacuum.

This is why, on this blog, I'd ask for an explanation - usually about something in comments - yet be unable to fully absorb the answer, and I'd end up asking about the same thing at a later date. Good examples of this are the political events of Charlottetown and the Meech Lake Accord. They were mentioned in comments, I asked what they were, people explained. But as much as I understood the explanation, I couldn't really absorb it. I didn't have a context in which to place it, I couldn't understand the nuance and slant of what I was reading. Similarly, I didn't fully understand the parliamentary system until we watched the no confidence vote that brought down the Martin government.

On the one hand, this is exciting. I have new worlds to explore. In a sense it's like being in a permanent state of traveling. And that's usually how I see it. But sometimes, it's a little disconcerting. It leaves me feeling ungrounded. It leaves me feeling like a foreigner, with everything that word implies.

I don't have the culture clash that many immigrants do, coming from regions on the other side of the planet. In the business of daily life, it's very easy for me to fit in: Toronto is not so different from New York when it comes to that. But those immigrants also bring a distinct culture with them, and retain it as part of their identity - food, religion, holidays - in a way that I don't. I only have what I'm running away from.

I often note that I'll never know Toronto the way I know New York - not in that deep way where you know a city like it's a member of your family, like you know your own skin. I don't necessarily aspire to know Toronto that intimately. But what about Canada? I wonder if I could ever know Canada the way I know the America. (And I purposely use "America" there, not "the US".)

I add Canadian books and movies to my lists of things to read and watch, and add Canadian places to list of places to visit. It sometimes feels overwhelming - yet I'm unable to ignore it. I can't simply live here and be merely a displaced American. I have to know where here is.

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