I don't consider myself an unsociable person, but one of the surprising challenges about coming back to Canada, for me, has been engaging in small talk within a group of people.
The topic might be centred on something as mundane as a hit TV show of the nineties and early two thousands (Seinfeld? Survivor? Friends? I missed all of them living in Japan). Among neighbours it often hones in on the perpetual issue of homeowner renovations, which in Japan just isn't done. For me, it's still so overwhelming to think about the choices and the expense, I can't get motivated to change the wallpaper, let alone take down walls.
And so I hit them in conversation.
The fact that I live in a government town adds to my perpetual sense of singularity. In Ottawa, many of my friends, acquaintances and neighbours work in the public service. At book club meetings and the odd girl weekend away, I find myself unable to contribute to the inevitable work chat that erupts into acronyms and government jargon. And so I sit there. Just listening. Without being able to relate to the discussion at hand.
The result? A really ugly room in my house (complete with 1980s wallpaper and blue carpet) that I haven’t yet had the gumption to change; bewilderment at the bureaucratic lingo that runs this town (which I can be excused for, I suppose), and a complete obliviousness to some of the most iconic TV episodes of the past twenty years (which, funnily enough, some think there is no excuse for).
The irony of it is that in Japan, my obvious foreign-ness made it inherently acceptable to be different, whereas here, I feel fraudulent all the time. I look like I should fit into some middle-class norm, but I know I don’t. And sometimes I’m embarrassed about it; it feels like I’ve taken up residence somewhere that I really don't belong.
One day, I’m going to be so sick of looking at that wallpaper I’ll just start ripping it off for the fun of it. Maybe I’ll figure out the next step after that.
Cindy Graham is a Professional Writing student who lived in Japan for 12 years. Now living in Ottawa, Canada with her husband and two children, she explores issues facing adults who return to their home countries after having lived for an extended time abroad.