Unreserved

Listeners share their own tales of culture shock

From Owen Sound to Baffin Island, Columbia to Canada, Unreserved listeners share stories of culture shock.
Heather Drummond moved from Ontario to Baffin Island where she embraced culture shock as 'lovely surprises'. (Supplied)

Life Among the Qallunaat is the story of Mini Aodla Freeman. Her memoir follows her from where she grew up in the Inuit communities of James Bay  to the strange land and stranger customs of the Qallunaat, those living south of the Arctic. 

Aodla Freeman was Rosanna Deerchild's guest on Unreserved. And after hearing her amazing story, we asked you for your stories of being a stranger, right here in Canada.

Here are just a few of the many submissions we received. Thanks to everyone who shared their culture shock experiences with us.

Linda Slade, Cranberry Portage, Manitoba

Love took Linda Slade from the big city to northern Manitoba, where she experienced her share of culture shock. (Supplied)
I am a city girl. My husband always expressed a wish to return to the small northern Manitoba community where his mother was born. So that's what we did. I had to learn how to adapt to rural living. We grow our own vegetables in the summer, and burn wood in the winter.

He taught me the Cree words for the animals "in the bush" and how to count in Cree. One day, we were walking along a trail. He showed me caribou moss, Labrador tea and an interesting little brown berry... called a wapos berry. I almost ate it. One of our favourite stories. That's *my* culture shock.

Note from Rosanna Deerchild. 'wapos' is the Cree word for rabbit.

Heather Drummund, Owen Sound, Ontario

I had the privilege of working with Inuit on Baffin Island for seven years. I worked as a registered nurse at the hospital in Iqaluit when I first arrived in 1986.

I was sent to pick up a 10-month-old in respiratory distress. When we flew into a settlement they would put several people who had medical appointments in Iqaluit on the plane with you.

The nurse at the outpost station did not get on the plane with the passengers, she just handed me some papers about my patient's status through the open door of the plane with the wind howling outside and the snow blowing.

An amauti is a traditional Inuit parka with a built-in baby pouch just below the hood. Photo: Five-month-old Caleb Kilabuk rides in his grandmother Daisy Dialla's amauti in Pangnirtung, Nunavut. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
So there were about a dozen Inuit people on the plane with me and none of them were children. The door closed and people were starting to find a seat on the plane as I was looking around bewildered as to where my ill patient was.

The people on the plane started to laugh as one of the women bent at the waist and started to shake a toddler out of her amauti. My wide eyes were happy to see my patient and as it was quite cold on our little plane I had the mom keep the toddler in her amauti after I had checked him over quickly and I sat beside her and monitored the little one in her amauti during our flight as it was the best place for this little one on our travels.

Oscar Laverde, London, Ontario

Oscar Laverde and his wife Mena Benitez came from Columbia to Canada, and Laverde says 'seeing so many people from all around the world was quite shocking,' (Supplied)
I'm an immigrant from Colombia. I came to Canada 10 years ago, during spring 2005 so not much different from the eternal summers we have in Colombia, however seeing so many people from all around the world was quite shocking.

Back home, we are a mix of natives, Africans and Europeans, the majority of people are mixed race, and because of the war, not many people from other countries want to move there.

For that reason I found myself culture shocked when I saw humans from all over the world for the first time, other than in TV.

Another shocking fact was noticing how little the British had mixed with the natives, this is something I always mention to my friends back home, not as something negative or positive, but makes me think a lot about our shared history in the whole Americas.

Quvi Taylor, Musqueam Territory, Vancouver, B.C.

Quvi Taylor is Inupiaq (from Northwest Alaska) but grew up on Wet'suwet'en territories in northern B.C. (Supplied)
I am Inupiaq (related to the Inuit, we are from Northwest Alaska) but grew up on Wet'suwet'en territories in northern B.C where only my mother and sisters looked like me.

In my early 30s I finally travelled to my territory in Nome, Alaska. When I arrived in the tundra village, looking exactly like my mother, I had no trouble finding grins and friendly open stares as my grandmother enthusiastically introduced me around to our relatives.

When I opened my mouth to speak, my cousins laughed and laughed at my Canadian accent, and complained when they started inadvertently saying "eh" too.

The worst thing was my uncle told me that I was making a face that made me look really unfriendly. So I quickly learned to grin wide--wider!--to let people know how happy I was to see them too, to raise my eyebrows to let people know I was listening, and to nod energetically so there was no mistake that I wanted my relatives' stories to continue.

It was a beautiful freedom to laugh like the Inupiaq, loud and long together until we were wiping tears away, falling off our chairs, gasping, and then fighting to repeat the story.

But then, it was time to go home. When I travelled through Anchorage, Inupiat from other villages would see my calico and smile broadly and ask me how the fish were this summer, and maybe who the seamstress was.

When I got to Seattle, there were no other Inupiaq, my calico made me stand out, my hair smelled like campfire, and the city smelled like garbage. For two days back in Vancouver I dreaded going out because I had forgotten how to be among strangers. I was being shocked by a culture that was the only thing I had known until then!

Thank you for helping me to remember this culture shock, and how much richer I am for it.

Lily Fanelli, Montreal, Quebec

On Friday, October 31st of 2014, I attended 'Tan Lapli' during the 'Mois du Creole a Montreal', held at the beautiful Atrium de la Maison du Conseil des Arts.

I was the only person in attendance from outside the Haitian community.

Lily Fanelli says being the only 'outsider' at a Haitian event 'helped me recognize the privilege I experience in my everyday life living in Montreal.' (Supplied)
As an outsider I caught a few questioning glances my way, as it was clear that I was unknown to them (and, well...white).… I certainly had quite a lot of difficulty understanding the speeches and poetry, as much of the event was presented in Creole. I felt entirely inadequate, unable to follow many of the cultural traditions and yet grateful that I could, at the very least, understand when anything was presented in French.

I was pleased that musical acts had been a major part of the event and I mused that music is most certainly efficient at transcending language and cultural barriers.

I felt fortunate to be able to experience an event in Montreal as an outsider and to be included in a culture other than my own. It helped me recognize the privilege I experience in my everyday life living in Montreal.

As someone who understands both official languages, who is, for the most part, comfortable in my environment — and who is not recognized as a visible minority — it gave me a glimpse of how much of the city and its people I miss out on, just because of who I am and how I live. … for a brief moment my social position was reversed and I am grateful for the experience.

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