Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Love Town?

Location – The cozy neighborhood coffee shop where Ei and I do most of our work and play. It’s busy today, with lots of customers, loud music, and many delicious drinks.

Time – 5 pm. The day is unwinding, along with everyone’s schedules and inhibitions. At least they should be.

Scene – At the end of a long common table, Ei and I sit with cups of iced coffee. Blond American curls bouncing, we laugh loudly about something (most likely related to sweet potatoes).

Two strapping young men enter from the side door. They’re laughing, too. They walk in to meet two equally happy American females. The laughs stop, but not the smiles.
“Hey Ei.” “Hey Chels.” “Hey guys.”

The four of us know each other well. We have many neighborhood friends in common. We often run into each other, chat in the café, and shoot invisible sparks back and forth.
“How’s it goin’?” “Good.”

The two open seats beside Ei and I are practically screaming. But, in reality, the only audible sound is the music behind us. There’s a pause in conversation.
It gets tense.
“Man, I need a coffee.” “Me too.”
In a flash, the men disappear.

Uh. Wha?

Ei looks at me. Her jaw has dropped a bit. I look at Ei. I don’t see any food on her face. No moles or missing teeth. What’s the deal? I would stand in line for a chance to go out with Ei – you know, if I were into that kind of thing.

Is it me?

The men get their coffee. They’re heading back. Oh ok, maybe they just needed caffeine. Maybe now they’ll make their move! But just as they approach the back of Ei’s chair, a woman with a stroller blocks their way. The men squeeze past on the other side without even a goodbye wave.


End Scene.

Toronto. How, where, when, and why do people date here? The dramatization above comes from a plethora of nonsensical love stories. (Man shows interest in girl one minute, repulsion the next. Woman turns down perfectly good, reliable partner, for complicated head-case. Man plans a date and stands up woman. Woman perpetually dates the same bad ex. Man and woman are in love with each other, but for some reason neither ever makes a move.)

Now, down South, a gentleman courts a lady – asks her out, pays for dinner, and voices his intentions. So the theory goes. But even in the states this standard is changing. Toronto’s nondescript, elusive dating scene is almost exactly what I experienced in New York City. Maybe all progressive cities are turning into Complicated Love Towns. In this progressive northern nation, is this what two single American women are destined to face? Complicated Love?!

Liberalism and gender equality have evolved hand in hand. Women are no longer expected to be meek figurines. And as their power grows exponentially, tolerance for chauvinism shrinks. Men as a whole have adjusted to seeing strong women - everywhere. Has this made their role change? Have men turned more passive – less assertive? Maybe not professionally – but what about personally? What about when it comes to relationships and dating?

There are many influences that keep our North American societies evolving. From a macro-view, Canada is pioneering forward-thinking policies the U.S. could really learn from. Progress away from archaic customs seems downright healthy.

Here’s the catch.

As much as our countries are evolving (progressing), we’re still raised on Disney movies with strong princes and damsels in distress. Fashion magazines still idolize “classic femininity” (small waist, big eyes, quiet mouth). Let's assume a woman’s attractiveness is based on classic ideals, and that she feels more comfortable being pursued, traditionally, than doing the hunting. If men are growing more passive next to their assertive sisters, how does anyone get together anymore? Will our generation just turn lonely – bitter – sarcastic? Anybody – any ideas? (Eileen - where'd you put our horoscopes for today?!)

Here’s my two cents (cents I should probably save for myself...). If all gender stereotypes fall away, true connections will hold strong. They might even seem clearer. There are people you click with and people you don’t. Man or woman – if you connect with someone (and I do believe meaningful connections are rare), jump on them. If it’s a real connection it will last. If it’s a battle, you probably won’t win. Life’s too short. Don’t give people who snuff you free reign. Don’t let the people who spark you get away.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ho, Ho, Ho, Green Canada

If I had my little way, I’d eat peaches every day…

Millions of peaches… are rolling into Toronto. Sure, down south I’ve eaten many a delicious fuzzy fruit, but I'm stoked for Ontario peach season. Let me tell you a little story about these northern peaches.

Before I moved to Toronto, I put down a deposit for a room in a shared home – a prime Craigslist find, with 9 roommates, no locks, no keys, and no rules. Well, turns out communal living isn't really my cup of tea (..
.Ei, I'm not sure if that guy's a new roommate, somebody's friend, or a street busker...)

When I first arrived at my new digs, I pushed open the unhinged front door to meet my surprised - and eager - landlord.
“You must be Chelsea! Welcome! Perfect timing! I was hoping you’d get here today! Hey, I could really use your rent money! Right away!”
“Oh. Hi. Uh… Now?”
The friendly Canadian proprietor smiled down at my Greyhound-blurred eyes.
“I only have American money.”
"It’s ok, I’ll give you a tour of the neighborhood bank! Let’s go! Here, take a peach!"
He grabbed a peach from a side-table basket and chucked it at me. As he turned me around, pack still on my back, to head outside again, I bit into the heavy, ripe fruit.
Ok - it was a strange moment. I was questioning my sanity - the decision to move to Canada - this northern breed of Americans... But, that's not the point of this story.
Ahem - I’ve spent time in Atlanta, but I’m not from Georgia; it’s safe for me to say: that was the best damn peach I’ve ever tasted.

Those *open-minded* friends had a unique Canadian existence. No one I've met before or since comes close. That said, their liberal views - perhaps pushed to the extreme - stem from a common progressive Canadian mentality. This progressive nature may be the root of today's subject: Canadian gardening. Whereas, in The States, hoses and hoes (
Get your mind out of the gutter, Ei!) are reserved for the elderly, gardens in Toronto grow equally high in all yards. College students dig alongside professors. Chefs weed next to bartender friends. You catch my drift. Who knew Canadians had such green thumbs. (Tongues, too!)

Despite the differences that unfolded between my roommates and I (
Did Steve just skin a raccoon?), I admired their free-loving devotion to the earth. I had no idea a hairy anarchist could be a encyclopedia of vegetation. And for all its kinks, my transient home had one saving grace. Its big, warm, fragrant, shared kitchen. It was a luxury to pass through the house and smell new and delicious meals every time. Our overgrown and headstrong garden of a backyard produced many a tomato-sauce, pumpkin pie, and broccoli soup. With the exception of the frozen-pizza-enthusiast DJ, every other roommate put my chef skills to shame.

The city of Toronto happens to be built on some of the most fertile land in Canada. People have told me this is why so many garden here. Nice try. If that were true, New Jersey's rich, "garden state" soil would be producing a state of horticulturists. Is produce-enthusiasm and eco-awareness an actual cultural difference? Is it a true piece of evidence we can put on our list?

If gardens aren't tall enough signs for you, let me conclude by turning to the streets. Public trash cans in Toronto combine recycling, garbage, and COMPOST. Everyone I know here has a compost bin. (
Ei - Do you know any composting Americans? Get out! You do!?) Produce is on the proverbial Canadian brain. Is that why obesity is less severe here – heart disease is less rampant – smiles are more charming?

This post made me hungry.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Long Distance Birthday Party...

Happy 4th of July, America!

We love you.

Ei and I just celebrated your birth with some wonderfully forgiving non-Americans. No poutine this time. Just good ol' fashioned BBQ food. Followed by cake and apple pie (Yes, guests were required to eat both).

Ah, elastic waist band...

Newsfact for the day: 'My Country Tis of Thee' and 'God Save The Queen' are sung to the same tune. Emblematic prizes for anyone who can get to the bottom of this.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


My country tis of thee - Oops. Oh beautiful for spacious - Oh man.


Happy Canada Day! This is so exciting! Fireworks! Corn on the cob! Star spangled - I mean, Maple spangled banners! A Declaration of In- (What, Ei! What do you mean it's not about independence? It's July, it's a national holiday, there's a parade... And Amelia said Canadians love BBQs...
But -
Well fine, smarty pants. What is it then?

What?! I was about to grab a coffee! I don't have time to research this!

Oh, Canada, hello again. And
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! That's right, I know all about your "slightly different" national holiday. Go ahead, ask me about Canada - or should I say Dominion - Day!

Canada Day, known as Dominion Day until 1982, commemorates the day, in 1867, when two British colonies united to form: CANADA! It's similar to America's Independence Day - both celebrate documents and acts solidifying our democratic nations. However, instead of memorializing a divorce from its parents, Canada celebrates a peace-loving nativity. On the fourth of July, the states had just ended a blood-filled revolution against Britain. But on July first, Canada was on course for a less confrontational union. The British/North America act of 1867 started it all. Canada took its time - Easy does it! - parting from the Brits. Finally, in 1982, with the act that changed Dominion Day to Canada Day, Canada gained full separation from England. Ahhh. At last Canada could change its constitution without Britain's approval. And the gentle separation paid off! They're still the best of friends. In fact, this year the Queen's flying to Ottawa to celebrate!

So, what do Canadians do on their special day, you ask? Well, it's one of those vaguely distinct customary differences that make Ei and I check our sanity. (
BBQs, parades, political speeches - It's just like the fourth of July - But something's different - People are less drunk, less abrasive, less red-white-and-blue - Am I home - Am I abroad - Chelsea wake up, you must be dreaming!!!) We plan on going out into the field to pinpoint Canadian pride, first hand.

And hey, Americans, in case Canada's coolness is starting to put any of you to shame, there's a dark detail I must mention. Quebec isn't a big fan of Canada Day. The Francophone province, traditionally opposed to most national movements, has long advocated its independence from Canada. Black sheep? Don't ask me! All I know is it makes me feel a little more at home to witness family drama on a holiday.

Here's to you, Canada. I hope we both have wonderful celebrations right next door to each other this year. I wish I could go to Detroit or Buffalo where they're having three-day, dual-country festivals. T
hat's the way to do it. We're all family - no one, and no holiday, is better than the other. Let's all get loud and friendly and hot and eat something salty off a long pointy stick.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One, Two, Buckle G-Hundred and 20 Shoes


Celsius is a newfangled kind of degree. Canadians like to use it to measure heat. You might hear one say: “It’s gonna be a hot one today – 29 degrees!” Don’t worry. Most Canadians are actually very intelligent – not crazy. 29 degrees Celsius converts to 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot, indeed.
Warning: arguments over Fahrenheit/Celsius may lead to mile/kilometer, feet/meter hostility.


Sometimes Ei and I forget we live abroad. Not this week. This hit me after I called a friend from home. The summit on every Torontonian's mind this weekend almost didn’t even come up.
“Oh yeah, the G20. How was that?”

Hm. I know I already posted about the G20, but a lot has happened in the last few days. And no, Americans, this post isn’t a jab at you. Media coverage has been as unpredictable as the personal opinions I’ve encountered. Outside my (somewhat alternative) Canadian circles, I’ve seen a range of reactions to the weekend – from apathetic, to enraged, to disheartened, to oblivious.

More than 900 protesters were arrested over the course of Toronto’s G20 summit. Violence, emotion, tear gas, and vandalism changed the city atmosphere. Saturday, Ei and I kept safe on the west side of Bloor. Meanwhile, the entire city core shut down. When we walked east – just a few blocks towards downtown – we could smell smoke.

News aired the blow by blow of events – "FIRE!" "DANGER!" "VIOLENCE!" "ACTION!" It seemed evident what was happening (broken windows, police cars on fire, bomb threats), but we wanted to know why. In the aftermath, personal stories have started filling the gaps. Accounts of first-hand witnesses paint a more complex picture: protesters of all kinds (organized marchers, peaceful clowns, singing choruses), police outnumbering civilians (tear gas, rubber bullets, a horse-trampled-bystander), and over-packed, under-equipped holding cells for the detained.

Out of anger, a public inquiry into Toronto’s G20 is now under way. Police are suspected of instigating protesters, accused of trying to justify their $1 billion budget. As details surface, Canadian newspap
ers are telling more and more. However, the time for worldwide first-impressions has passed. U.S. news mostly glossed over the events - highlighting violent protests and arrests. American commentary is largely angry at “reckless” protesters. But they've only seen one viewpoint. Sure, officers were there to do their jobs, but civilians had a right to be there, too. They were vocalizing their beliefs. What about the peaceful citizens who were arrested, tear gassed, and trampled in the mix?

Misinformation is dangerous. Impassioned
issues deserve to be seen clearly. Whose faces were behind the Black block bandannas and what was their message? Where is the coverage of Tibetan marchers, trying to fight for freedom? Why were hundreds of people arrested, and why weren’t their stories told? When protesters are labeled reckless – when police are called violent – snap judgments are perpetuated. The G20 exists to instigate change. So do protesters. Well, change starts with communication. In a continent that promotes free media and speech, every voice has the right to be heard.

(Hey, Ei - Hello! I'm just talkin' to ya! Bla bla blaa...)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Episode #2 Poutine

Hot off the press, the newest episode of Americans in Canada.
Ever heard of Poutine?
Jump on in!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

G-20 Sum'tin

To all Americans in Canada: Warning - You are under alert.

Ah, I feel like I'm home again.

A few days ago, Ei got an email from the U.S. State Department (
Oh, U.S.A., you bald mother hen.).
Message: U.S. Citizens! From now until June 28th be wary of travel in Canada! Especially Toronto! Due to the G8/G20 summits in Huntsville and Toronto this week, there will probably be huge protests and mobs of raging anti-Americans! We're bumpin' up our security, but... you never know! Why not go to Maine instead!
Ei deleted the actual message... but that's the gist of it.)

Well, U.S.S.D, my friend, you managed to lure Eileen back home for a vacation, but I'm still here. Bring it, G20.

As we speak national leaders are descending on Canada, escorted by legions of security guards, reporters, and protesters. Like a nose full of pollen, Toronto's about to get congested.

Traffic - by air, road, and foot - will be rerouted, as officials rope off the downtown core. Many national attractions and restaurants will close. Sporting events and theater (
ahem, Theatre*) productions have been rescheduled. The entire University of Toronto has closed for the week to protect students from protesters.

Hm. I'm pretty vulnerable right now. I'm in Canada's danger zone, without even an American sister's solidarity. Anyone looking for a target will spot me - I must stand out like a sore thumb. I mean, I might as well tattoo the American flag to my chin. How can I fly under the radar? - Avoid the subway? Stay inside? Hitchike to Buffalo? (
Eileen, where are your schemes when I need them?)

Wait - No. NO! I can't give into fear. Must look - on - bright - side.

OK. This will be a pleasant week. I'll be able to enjoy my quiet neighborhood without venturing downtown. Who needs the business district? And - hey! - looks like I have no class this week. It's almost like I'm on vacation, without having gone anywhere.

Yeah. Yeah! What was I worried about? I've survived bigger warnings. Come to think of it, D.C. and New York were always at least at Code Orange. And let's face it - from everything I've seen so far, Canada is much better at... well... peace.

With a $1 billion price tag and run-o-the-mill summit controversy, the G20 has brought the most political turmoil I've experienced in Canada yet. But apparently, lo and behold, there's also some pride for this week. Fine by me. Canada deserves to be respected as a world power. Host to the winter Olympics, it's dressed up nicely for the spotlight. I picked a good year to jump on the bandwagon!

Before I take cover underground, I'd like to add one more thing. Canada, as you become more high profile, please don't change. In particular, don't let your chatty older brother rub off on you - "WARNING! ALERT! CODE RED!" Sure, "homeland secuirty" is important. But what happens when it produces more phobias than security? - when it marginalzies people from other homelands? Canada and the U.S. were founded by immigrants. I love the principle that anyone can feel at home in either country.
Honestly, Canada I've been more than impressed by your integration (
Ei, should we send field notes to the motherland?) As an outsider and a traveler, it's nice not to feel like an alien...