It’s good to be home

June 23, 2011
By

At least now I know my blood is too thick for the South Pacific. I shouldn’t be surprised – I’m from a part of the world where overcast and 18 C is cause for a day at the beach.

Still, it was a shock to my pasty, Maritime-raised body to step off the plane in Fiji, one of those clusters of tropical islands where turning the page on a book is enough to break out into a soaking wet sweat.

Despite the sauna-like conditions, I had no grounds to complain. I was a lucky man – newly married to a beautiful woman and privileged enough to be able to honeymoon far from home.

Fiji sits south of the equator, meaning it’s winter there now, so the night watchmen wear tuques and jackets to ward off the chilly 28 C air.

They had no idea how good they have it. On many islands, the Fijians lived without shoes, cars or Facebook. I know, I couldn’t believe it either – isn’t Facebook a basic human right?

In a part of the world where they don’t seem to get many Canadians, we were a bit of novelty act. Their response when we told them where we were from was almost always “very cold, cold cold,” as they pretended to shiver violently. When we told one young Fijian about the concept of frostbite, he told us he only thought that happened in movies.

Funny how sometimes leaving home can make you feel more Canadian. And funny how it reinforces the stereotypes we all seem to have.

“You’re Canadian? Oh my goodness, the people there are so nice!” exclaimed one British couple.

Almost on queue, television sets immediately started showing images of angry Canucks fans trashing and torching police cars, smashing windows and generally acting like a bunch of toddlers throwing a tantrum.

We tried to explain we’re not all like that – where we’re from people only riot when the Leafs make it to the Stanley Cup, we said. In other words, it never happens.

Ashamed by what we were watching from Vancouver, we spent the rest of the trip being the ultra-apologetic Canadians everyone expected us to be – alternating between “no, you go first, I insist,” “I’m sorry,” and “I’d like to apologize to your people on behalf of all Canadians for Celine Dion.”

But we couldn’t apologize for everyone. We watched other tourists order around anyone with dark skin to bring their drink, pick up their luggage or push their baby stroller. I won’t stereotype or name names, but many of them liked to say “crikey,” watch Aussie rules football and listed Crocodile Dundee as the finest movie ever made.

They gave the rest of us travelers a bad name, but the Fijians just smiled through. They smiled politely as college students on a six-month tour of Asia explained they weren’t really tourists, they’re here to experience the world. Then they collected their $3 an hour wage and went home to their tin-sided shacks.

On the way home, we landed first in the good old USA – in the Los Angeles airport, where staff should probably issue travelers elbow pads and face masks to knock and push their way through the crowds. After Homeland Security lined us up for an hour and finished scanning our internal organs for terrorist plots, we were finally allowed to get on our next plane.

A few hours later, we were back in Canada.

Then a remarkable thing happened. The customs officer actually smiled at us. There were no probing questions or no retina scanners. Outside the terminal, people were politely lining up. They opened doors for each other. They greeted strangers warmly.

It was good to be home.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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Guelph Mercury, June 22, 2011

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