How being an Expat has made me a Better Canadian

It seems that every year, as I am doing the last minute prepping for our upcoming move back to Europe (Hamburg, Germany this time around), I get that same sad, longing feeling.  Over the years of my on-again-off-again expat life, I have grown ever more fond of my home country, Canada, making leaving it each summer for the next hockey season, harder and harder. This is not to say that I am not also in love with life in Germany and Switzerland, but more so that being an expat has really made me appreciate being Canadian.

This new appreciation for all things Canadian became apparent to me this summer, on July 1st, Canada Day. I woke up that day with an overwhelming sense of dedication to the celebration. I just had to do all the most Canadian things I could. For those of you that follow this blog regularly, you may easily guess that the day was basically filled as many traditional Canadian foods and drinks that I could consume. I started with a Tim Horton’s coffee and Tim Bit donut, of course. For lunch I ate a Poutine (a French-Canadian dish of fries, gravy, and cheese) and drank a caesar cocktail (like a bloody mary with clam juice- I know, sounds awful, but we love them!). My husband and I then spent the afternoon enjoying Canadian beers on the banks of the Saint Lawrence river. When the sun set we watched the fireworks over the water and sang Oh Canada with the crowd. Just as I have done since I was young, I teared up as I sang the national anthem; but this time was different. I never understood why Oh Canada made me cry when I was a kid. I just assumed it was because it was a powerful song with dramatic music. But now I know, I cry because I am just so proud of my country.

MMM, poutine!

While living in Germany and Switzerland I have often surprised myself with how much effort I put into maintaining Canadian traditions. It started with Halloween, which has always been my favourite occasion. My first year in Dusseldorf I was so sad to learn that Halloween was not really celebrated in Germany, and so from then on my husband and I designated ourselves the somewhat “jack-o-lantern crusaders”. Each year we have a halloween party for our expat and non-expat friends, handing out candy to the neighbourhood kids (which caught on very quickly with the locals), carving pumpkins, and holding a costume contest; all the great stuff of Halloween. The same thing goes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. I am sure I would have never learned to cook a whole Thanksgiving dinner by the time I was 26 (or cared to really) if it hadn’t been for living overseas. I just feel the need to make that turkey and stuffing and invite over our few Canadian teammates; to have a night where we can feel at home. Being away from family at such times is always tough, but if we can make those smells, and tastes, and conversations happen, there is comfort in knowing we can still feel Canadian for a moment, within such a different world.  I never really appreciated those traditional family gatherings before I left Canada, but now they have become so important.

 Now, with the 2012 Olympics soon to start, just as we are getting ready to depart, that pride in Canada is sure to overwhelm me again. I can’t wait to watch the Olympics once we are settled in our new home in Hamburg, and to cheer on the Canadian athletes (again, this really never meant anything to me before).  Although, I have to admit, if Canada gets knocked out of a particular event,  you know I will be proudly cheering for Germany or Switzerland instead.

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