Below is a lighthearted letter I wrote to the Syrian refugees who will be arriving in Canada over the next weeks and months. Last Wednesday, December 16, I sent this to the Montreal Gazette for publication consideration. I have done this several times in the past and have always received some sort of reply; either an acceptance with publication date details, or an automatic reply. This time nothing. On Saturday morning the Gazette Saturday columnist Josh Freed’s piece was of a similar nature, offering some tips for the newcomers. Could this have affected my submission? Let me be clear, I am not suggesting plagiarism in any way, but rather pure coincidence.
Dear Syrian Refugees,
Let me begin by extending to you a heartfelt welcome to Canada. As you know, our government has pledged to accept some 25,000 of you over the next couple of months. We had hoped to have the entire contingent settled by the end of this month, but that proved impossible.
Many if not all of you have endured what have been described as nothing short of inhuman conditions. Most of us will never really be able to comprehend what you have experienced. But that is in the past now, and although scars have been left, you can start to look forward to better things. I believe you will find conditions here much more pleasant.
No doubt you are overwhelmed as you begin adjusting to your new home. I imagine the government has swamped you with handy instructions about housing, Medicare, schooling and the like. But I want to take a moment or two to bring you up to speed on some of the more mundane yet essential aspects of life in Canada.
Perhaps you have heard about our winters. When people think of Canada they often imagine a cold, icy tundra. You have the advantage of arriving here during what is called an El Niño year. Usually by December our streets are covered with snow, and frigid air has descended upon us. And, unlike the ‘calendar winter’ these conditions can last six or seven months!
You see our weather is affected by the ocean off the coast of Peru. I kid you not. An El Niño year means we tend to have a warmer winter, perfect as an introduction to the season for newcomers from warm places. But don’t be fooled, please do not assume this is a normal Canadian winter. Enjoy the mild weather while you can, think of it as a transitional phase, and brace yourself for next year. As an aside, if you do find this winter to be unbearable, you have almost a year to figure out how to deal with the problem.
Speaking of ice, you may be familiar with our love of hockey; if not, you soon will be. In some cities, right here in Montreal for instance, this worship of our beloved Canadiens has often been likened to a religion. As you get settled and take care of the necessities, take some time to relax and watch a hockey game or two. There are seven National Hockey League teams based in Canadian cities, and countless junior and other teams across the country, so it may be difficult to miss. Many of you will be living in the Toronto area. A word of warning: given almost fifty years of futility in the chase for a Stanley Cup, many fans of the Maple Leafs get downright cranky when their dear Buds are eliminated. Just give them a wide berth for a week or so. But you won’t have to worry about that for a couple of months!
As you get to know us you will discover that we tend to apologize frequently. Saying sorry is often depicted as a national pastime in Canada: bacon, hockey and apologizing Our neighbours to the south find this most amusing. But frankly they just don’t understand. Let me enlighten you as to the true nature of the Canadian apology as they can be very subtle in nature – often more empathetic than apologetic.
Let’s say a Canadian and a non-Canadian turn a corner and bump into each other on a sidewalk. The Canadian will probably be the first to say cheerily “Sorry about that” even though both were equally at fault, or no fault existed. The other person may also apologize, just as cheerily, resulting in what is known as a civilized exchange. Then again he or she may seize upon the Canadian’s apology to feel superior and reply “You certainly should be sorry” or some other witty retort. In this case the subtlety of the sorry masks its true intent, which is actually along the lines of: “Sorry, I didn’t realize you are a total lout unable to function in normal society”. Now you know the secret.
I hope these little bits of advice help you to get acquainted with your new home and neighbours. Considering the upheaval in your lives I have a feeling you will have no problem fitting in here. Again, welcome.