tumblr_n0n1o3uNSm1rwn2euo1_400Growing up on one continent and living my mature life on a different continent has been challenging at times. The best way to describe it would be: being trained to run a marathon but competing in a triathlon now. As a marathon runner, your focus is on building your strength, your endurance because you want to be able to run for a longer period of time effortlessly. As a triathlon athlete, you need to swim, ride a bicycle and run fast. Your training has to be now divided among the three segments, with a focus on speed, not necessarily endurance. Sure, you can build on the skills and fitness level acquired as a marathon runner to become a very good triathlon athlete but the transition needs time and a shift in focus that is not happening over the night.

A few years ago, I attended a training session as I started volunteering for ISS of BC as a Settlement Mentor. In the group there were a few born Canadians, a couple of new Canadians like myself and about 4 new Immigrants that were working with ISS to improve their communication skills and to gain that mandatory Canadian experience without which their resumes were worthless. During those 4 hours I found myself quite a few times bursting out with laughter at the shocked faces of the born Canadians every time one of these new people would express an opinion or pass a judgement. It was quick, witty, refreshingly sincere and horrifyingly (for some of us) direct. I had a good time as I clearly understood where they were coming from, their tongue in the cheek remarks at times and their direct approach. There was no time wasted dancing around issues, there was no political correctness in anything they said only their truth and their perception of the reality. I found it comforting and refreshing to hear somebody’s sincere opinions after  years of trying to solve puzzles and understand what exactly was the truth hidden behind so many smiles and standard phraseology.

One of the biggest differences between North Americans and Europeans, especially Eastern and North Europeans is the degree of straightforwardness we allow in our relations. Eastern Europeans don’t believe in playing games or in beating around bushes which make things easier and less rigid. There is no script that we need to follow when trying to connect one with the other in any kind of relationship: friendship, love interest, business or just casual dating. In North America relationships are much more defined. They need to follow a script and  they rarely go deeper than two inches  from the surface. At least this is my perception of reality. Friendship or love is as deep as the depth of your knowledge and involvement in each other’s lives. When you follow a guided script with no comment areas or subjects, when you are allowed in only one compartment of one’s life, how well do you really know that somebody?

My tongue is blistered most of the times because instead of just blurting out what I really think, I am biting it.  To the every day Canadian I may sound rude and too blunt, but the Eastern European will appreciate and value my sincerity and honesty.  I am yet to learn to shut up if your new hair style sucks or what you have just done is kind of stupid and immature. I have learned not to talk about money or religion partly because I have never thought they really mattered but I am still judging people based on the number and quality of books they have been reading, their views on education and politics. Yes, politics! I don’t really care what party you vote for as long as you pick one! No voice or opinion on politics means that you are one of the many that likes the state of status- quo.

Most probably that if you are a Canadian reading my rant, you will value “strategy” and “political correctness” over the Eastern European bluntness or their  inconsiderate way of dealing with people. The Eastern Europeans view strategy and political correctness as insincerity and hypocrisy. In North America as well as in Eastern Europe being direct can and usually does create anger, frustration and hurt feelings which, in turn, prompt people to take action and change. The loss of frustration and anger or even hurt feelings that political correctness is promoting, creates a passiveness, an acceptance of the things as they are that to me equals with regress, an undesirable acceptance of the default as a personal choice. What do you think? Is straightforwardness a flaw or a quality?

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