CANADA CHRONICLES, CHAPTER 2: When People Don’t Know How to React to Your Jamaicaness

So far I’ve been in Canada for exactly 46 days and Canada has yet to fail to surprise me.

Granted, 46 days is not a very long time to be here, but you’d think I’d be prepared by now for any and every reaction that comes my way. So far though, everyone has given me positive responses, and some more hilarious than I know how to categorize them. Here’s some of them:

1. My second day here involved a half day of orientation at McMaster University. Throughout that time, I’ve probably seen 50 people’s faces screw up at the sound of my accent, trying to map it. After twitchingly trying to avoid the question niggling at their brains, they finally asked where I was from. I literally got “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs”. For a moment I felt like a specimen. Following that were statements along the line of “Wow, you’re so lucky to be from Jamaica. I’m literally jealous right now.” I’m still wondering why they should be jealous, but obviously our tourism board has done a great job advertising Bob Marley and our beaches, while hiding what the state of our economy is like. I didn’t even know health care was a thing.

2. One day, I went for a day out with other exchange students. There was one very enthusiastic girl in particular who looked Chinese, spoke fluent French most of the time with another girl, and is actually Brazilian. Weird. On our way home, she asked me where I was from. After I responded, I braced for the typical. I still wasn’t ready.

“Oh that’s where the runner is from?”

I say, “Bolt? Yup.”

She asks, “What part of Africa is that where he trains?”

I stare. “Weh di hell yuh hear seh Bolt train inna Africa?” [This sudden lapse into patois happens often when I’m surprised 🙂 ]

“Umm [not comprehending what the heck I just said]…Yes, that’s where you’re from?”

I’m stumped. “I… what? You know where the Caribbean is?”

“Caribbean? Where that?”

I raise an eyebrow. “It’s right above you. Do you know where Cuba is?”

“Yeah! I know Cuba. That’s the Caribbean?”

I say, incredulously, slowly, “We’re… right… below Cuba…”

“REALLY? Oh, wow! [laughs] I didn’t know. So no Africa?”

I sigh. “Technically most of us are descendants of Africa.”

And so began a brief history lesson begins. She asks how we got all the way to Jamaica from Africa. I say, tentatively, “Slavery”, she says that’s sad, and I wish the conversation didn’t get so awkward.

3. I met another Asian-looking girl [who I concluded was Canadian] at a club meeting afterwards. For a while, she doesn’t say anything about my accent and she doesn’t look eager to ask about my origin. For once, I’m relieved, but all too soon. When she finally does ask and I say “Jamaica”, I still wasn’t ready for her response.

“Oh! What do I know that’s Jamaican? Ummm… [she ruminates] …. Oh! Bumboclat! Yeah! I know bumboclat! Sorry, I only know the bad words [laughs]”.

I’m wide-eyed. “You should probably stop saying that now.” [Given that the meeting was still in progress]. By now, I’m finding the Asians in Canada more interesting than Canada itself.

4. I finally had an experience in which someone was used to Jamaicans, but that’s because he’s from Toronto – the Canadian version of New York [where Jamaicans tend to settle most]. I think he was more relieved to meet one more Jamaican than I was to find someone who didn’t ask me to repeat things that my accent blurred. Apparently Hamilton is a pretty “homogeneous place” [at least from his perspective] and he wasn’t aware of how much he was taking the diversity of Toronto for granted till he got here. This dude is Indian, so I found that slightly odd. Next to Caucasians and Asians, Indians outnumber the Africans here, so I’m not sure how much diverse it could get in Hamilton. I probably need to visit Toronto.

So the overall response has been great. Granted, this could just be a Hamilton thing. My friend in St Catharines says he’s no novelty there because Jamaicans are a norm. I’m guessing it’s the same in Toronto. But I’m also starting to think that being Jamaican has a magic effect on people. For example, there have been some services that I got done for me on the same day or the next – things that I hear usually takes weeks. Am I overthinking it, or am I just blessed?

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