A Russian's First Days In Canada

2012 was Katya's first year in a foreign land and one thing I learned about myself is that I need to remember that this is all new for her. As somebody who grew up in this country, it is easy for me to think that everything is normal, and I find myself constantly assuming that it is normal for my wife, too. Many times it is not!

Ontario, she finds, is very "normal". Not normal as in similar to Russia, but normal as in "plain". "It's normal here." She told me after 4 months of Ontario living. "People go to work. Go home. Pay their bills, Take a week vacation in the summer. Normal." This was after more than a year of living in British Columbia and a summer in Alberta.

She has done very well for herself in Ontario, I might add. Whereas in Victoria the most she could find was the odd cashier position at retail outlets, part-time for minimum wage, here in Ontario she landed a good job in logistics management in Guelph within three weeks of arriving! Salaried with benefits, a few weeks vacation every year and on a bus route. Our rent is much lower than it was in Victoria and she's learned "normal" life in Guelph pretty well.

But it wasn't always normal for her, and I keep forgetting that some things are just outside of her realm of knowledge.

Kitchener, Ontario

When we first arrived, back in January 2012, after we had cleared customs, we spent three days in Kitchener. Katya was completely jet-lagged, waking up at 3 am and going to sleep at 5 pm. She was also shell-shocked and unsure if she had made the right decision. She had left home for good, moving to a weird western country with her foreigner husband and leaving everything, including her family, behind for good.

Her first few days in Kitchener, Ontario did not pan out very well for her. First off it was January, and that particular year was snowless in Southern Ontario. Everything was muddy and rainy and gray. I took her on a bus in Kitchener (which she loved, constantly wowing at how much more modern and cleaner our buses are compared to Russian buses). I taught her the etiquette of letting the elderly and disabled have the front seats, and she was blown away by the hydraulic lowering of the front and the unfolding ramp for people in wheelchairs! If you're unfortunate enough to be stuck in a wheelchair in Russia, then good luck!

Katya on her first Canadian bus in Kitchener, Ontario. This is her first day in Canada!
I took her on a tour of downtown Kitchener, not the most exciting of excursions but something to do nevertheless. In front of city hall we came across two police officers on horseback, just hanging out. Katya was enthralled, but only having known Russian police she was hesitant to look at them too much. I said "Don't worry about it!" and walked over to the cops. "Excuse me? Do you mind if my wife takes a picture of you? It's her first day in Canada."
The officers smiled. "Sure! Go right ahead!"
Katya snapped a good photo.

Pub Grub

We made our way down King Street to a pub, where we went in for some lunch. This was Katya's first time in a Canadian restaurant (and she wasn't impressed). The waitress brought us menus and I ordered a pint of Rickard's Red. Katya didn't know what to get so she shared mine and decided she didn't like it. 

We perused the menu, with its regular boring pub fare, and I explained each item to Katya. Maybe out of stress, or out of a sudden and crushing realization that she was now far away from home, she burst into tears. She started sobbing uncontrollably. I tried to comfort her and she said "I'm sorry. Just give me a moment". After a few minutes of crying she recovered herself and, through sniffles, said she didn't know what to order. I ordered a plate of onion rings for us to share, and she was happy with that. In fact, by the time we finished the onion rings, she was smiling again and declared they were delicious.

We went to Guelph that evening to meet up with my uncle, aunt, cousin and grandfather. They were all very happy to meet her and treated her like family, with hugs and tea and cookies, and my uncle's hilarious way of joking around with people. We went to dinner at the Shakespeare Arms in Guelph, where a magician was going table to table with a top hat and a real live rabbit that Katya fed pieces of her salad to. She loved it, but right in the middle of dinner she fell asleep. I mean she seriously just conked out! My family must have thought she was a heroin junky or something!

The rabbit that helped put my wife to sleep at the pub...
The next day she woke up at 4 am and woke me up around 7 to watch the squirrels scavenging around in the yard outside the window. "Squirrels! I love them!" she declared with excitement. Squirrels or any wildlife are rare in the Moscow region, which is sprawling and industrial and covered in highways and smokestacks. She watched them play around all morning.

Toronto, Ontario

Finally, on our last day in southern Ontario, we boarded a Greyhound for the short 1-hour trip to Toronto, where an Air Canada flight to Victoria was waiting us. Katya was again amazed at our bus system. "There's an actual toilet on this bus?!? I have to see this" 
Then, after returning from the on-board toilet, she declared "Wow! Garbage bags hanging beside each seat! That's a genius idea!"

As we drove into Toronto she was filled with excitement, the first time I had seen her happy since we arrived in Canada three days before. When she saw the CN Tower and all the big skyscrapers of Toronto, she was awed. "This city is HUGE!" 
"It's only 6 million people. A lot smaller than Moscow" I replied.
"It doesn't look like it." She said, snapping a photo of the CN Tower from the Gardiner Expressway.

In downtown Toronto we transferred onto the Airport Express shuttle bus (the free on-board wifi thrilled Katya) and made our way to Pearson International, where we had arrived three days before after a grueling Aerosvit flight from Kiev. This time a beautiful, modern and comfortable Air Canada Airbus was waiting for us, but before we boarded we stopped at the Tim Horton's in the domestic departure lounge.

It was at this moment that Katya realized she would be fine, and for me it really sunk in that all of this was completely new to her. Strangely enough, Katya had heard of Tim Horton's before, usually attached to a joke about Canadians (when Russians think about Canadians at all). For the first time in her life, she realized that it is a real chain. 

Katya Tries Tim Hortons

She ordered a black steeped tea (Russians are big tea drinkers, and they like it steeped in a traditional style), an orange juice and a honey cruller doughnut. As she bit into the doughnut and drank her tea, she casually remarked "I like it here." I had to do a double-take. After the past three days of tears and sudden pass-outs, it was Tim Horton's that made her start to enjoy Canada! It was just like one of those "Happy Immigrant Tries Tim Horton's" commercials from a few years ago!

With Tim Horton's in our bellies and smiles on our faces, we meandered through Pearson's beautiful Terminal 1, found our gate, boarded our comfortable aircraft (Katya said "Wow! It's so modern, and clean!" She had only ever flown crappy ex-Soviet airlines), and took off for Victoria. 

We had a transfer at Vancouver International five hours later, and boarded a little propeller-driven commuter flight, which hopped over the Juan DeFuca Straight and landed in Victoria literally 12 minutes later. Katya loved the propellers and said "It feels like we're really flying!" 
"We are." I reminded her.

That day was a turning point for Katya in Canada. She loved every moment and once we arrived in Victoria and Shanana picked us up in my giant Dodge Grand Caravan XL (AWD), Katya was smiles and giggles and comfortable. There were more no more homesick tears from here on out.

Katya smiles for the first time in 3 days as she digs in to her first Tim Horton's and declares she likes Canada.


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