For the most part on my trips outside of Canada I have known I was in a foreign country by the obvious cultural differences abroad. As a Canadian visiting Australia on the other hand I can say I never felt more at home. The land down under is more or less Canada with nice weather, funny accents and different beer (although many of the traditional imports are the same).
Australians and Canadians are brethren like no other, our attitudes and mannerisms are almost interchangeable. We both have a love for adult beverages and neither nation is shy to show it.
Both countries are proud of their acceptance of immigrants (although I can say that while Australians claim diversity nothing compares to Canadian multiculturalism, not that I saw anyway), and at the same time the two countries have internal issues with their native people’s.
One oddity I did notice however was a drastic difference in tourists, obviously geographical location being the major factor. While the majority of Canadian visitors come from our neighbours to the south, Australian tourism appeared to be mostly an influx of Asians and Europeans.
This led to an interesting opportunity, I was able to talk to new people from parts of the world still foreign to me at the time and use the chance I was afforded to help gain new perspective on the world-wide Canadian perception that has always fascinated me.
Probably the most interesting set of interactions on the trip came one random afternoon while sitting poolside enjoying some of the previously mentioned adult beverages and the great sun. The pool was one of those outdoor on top of the condo deals that I had turned into my personal smoking section for the majority of my stay. Rarely had I seen anybody use the pool, most just went to the local beach.
This day though there was hardly a spot to sit, which led to my chance introduction to a local man. Our conversation started off with the normal niceties but my obviously foreign accent led him to inquire where I was from, never shy about my Country I gave the standard “Canada, just outside of Toronto”response.
Turned out my new table mate knew exactly where I was talking about, up until a year earlier he told me he actually worked a few streets away from where I lived. The randomness is just mind-blowing sometimes, the chances of being in the same condo thousands of miles away outside by the pool and sitting at the same table with the one person who could relate to where I was from, had to be close to zero.
I guess our conversation was a little loud and clear enough for people on the other side of the pool to hear (a few drinks involved remember),because I clearly heard another voice in a heavy Czech accent say “Toronto”. I glanced around and noticed another man was making his way in our direction, “I sit here?” he asked pointing to a now empty chair at our table.
Sure, no problem, it’s not my chair. As the newcomer sat down he looked me dead in the eyes and said “I’m from Czech, Prague”. The look in the mans eyes was so intense, it was as if I was supposed to know exactly why he was telling me this, the silence lasted a few seconds that seem like minutes but finally he broke in with “Tomáš Kaberle”.
It was all clear now, I was in Australia, it was the middle of November, I was surrounded by a dozen empty beer bottles, it was 30 degrees out , and I was about to have a conversation about hockey with two men I hadn’t known for more than five minutes, both of whom were from other continents.
This was and still is the most unlikely meeting of three complete strangers who all happened to be Toronto Maple Leafs fans I have ever experienced or even heard of. The few hour disection of our favourite team that followed was some of the most fun ive had discussing the Leafs in years (lets face it, until very recently there hasn’t been much positive news around the team), and while we were an unlikely trio that day, we did have a common bond.
When I look back at that afternoons events and wonder about what the worlds perception is of Canadians, and whether we live up to their expectations, the answer may be a simple one, they think we are hockey crazy, and I would have to agree.