I applied for an emergency passport this week.
Generally I don't have a lot to do with beaurocracy. For the simple reason that I have had to put up with the uncivil servant variety before and so have a wary attitude toward any dealings with them.
Actually let me start over. This column started life as my reflections on differences that I found in living here in Canada as opposed to living in Africa. Which, given the really uncivil and uncooperative servants that have inhibited Government departments there, is the real reason why I am inclined to be unimpressed with large Government institutions.
So it has been a pleasure to deal with their Canadian counterparts.
Despite the venom that many of my Canadian friends reserve when they discuss the very same people!!
I think that they would probably have an apoplectic heart attack if they had to deal with the African variety. Mind you, and this is only hearsay, I have been told that certain European countries have an attitude toward the average citizen that makes the word contempt pale into insignificance! There is probably a training course that you have to pass, which given European Colonisation of Africa would explain the similarity.
My initial impression was started favorably by the ability to download all the documents online. Quickly and with all the necessary information included. Which helps you to get everything finalized before you go to the office.
If you need to go to the office that is. You can mail in your applications as well. Which I must admit seems to be the only way to do it if you live outside the capitals of most of the other Provinces.
The GTA has a lot of choice and I went to Hamilton. Thinking that there would be fewer people there. My judgment on that was way off but the speed that the applications were being taken meant that I had only to wait for 11 hours to be finished. Which, because I do these sort of things, meant they processed roughly 30 of us in that time. Although I must admit that the wickets were only ever fully manned for a twenty-minute period before tea. But given the speed we can forgive them their indulgences!
Interestingly during that time I only ever heard one person voice a complaint to the doorman and that was about the lack of staff. The person seemed quite satisfied with that when it was pointed out that it was teatime. But then that is typically Canadian as well.
When it was my time I had a young chap who was not only helpful but was genuinely happy as well!! Astonishing!
After paying for the Passport it was explained to me where to pick it up. I had paid a little extra to get it within a week.
Now here is the part that made me, in the words of my Daughter, “totally gob smacked”!!
TWO days later there was a knock on the door and the Canada Post person handed me my passport! I was expecting to get it a week later myself and instead it was sent to me express post due to the nature of my emergency. There was an employee who used his head and made the extra effort to keep me happy!! Including getting all the security check ups done within a day!
Very, Very, impressive!
And yet another reminder why my choice to become a citizen was correct!
I need some help.
I think it is a cultural issue, but I am not sure whether it applies to all of Canada or merely to the Toronto area.
I strongly suspect that this a localized issue merely because I haven't heard the comments from people I know from other areas of Canada, but I may be wrong.
As some of you may know I do quite a bit of work on a volunteer basis for many different organizations. In the last two weeks I was rather surprised to be embroiled in controversy twice as a result of the way people wrote rude comments about people who were trying to help them.
Here then are the two comments made to the Editor of a community newspaper and to an organization which helps people to find employment:
“No disrespect, man, but you are getting on my tits.”
“Not to put anyone down for their time,effort, or intentions, but I personally find the “xyz” postings a waste of time and band width”
I find both comments to be rude and insulting.
And I said so. Obviously I am still a fairly new Canadian because it appears that by saying “I don't want to” you are allowed to be as rude and insulting as you like!! Something I wasn't aware of.
I was immediately attacked for pointing out that in both the above cases what the author said they didn't want to do, they were in fact doing!!
Both people came back out swinging with vile intemperate language, accusations about my heritage and background, including my ability to understand English and reasons as to why I was to stupid to understand their rudeness.
In one case I was issued threats of physical violence, which is probably a pretty stupid action to take. Firstly because this is North America and litigation appears to be a way to settle each and every score and I will leave you to work out the second one.
So I sat back and thought about this since I had landed here. I came up with an interesting point. These were not isolated cases at all. In fact this type of comment is very prevalent in conversations.
OK! Time to query my immediate family and friends about what their thoughts were on this issue. My one son didn't even let me finish before he weighed in about how annoyed he was by this. Family. Friends. All of them told me that it was something they all found amazing in this country.
For a country that prides itself on its manners this particular piece of nastiness was astonishing.
And yet when I, or others, spoke to Canadians they seemed to have a different approach. Very few found it wrong to say things like “I don't mean to be mean but you are stupid/fat/ugly” and took it as an affront if someone was upset by the words.
Which is very interesting!
Does saying “but” mean that you can get away with insulting people and that they should merely accept this?
And is it a Canada wide issue or merely a Toronto anomaly?
More importantly shouldn't someone point out to whomever that it is an offensive dialogue and really should be stopped?
You tell me!
I am Canadian!
“At last!” I hear quite a few mutters in the background. Especially from those of you who had to suffer the indignity of being asked the questions that form the basis of the actual Citizenship test. All 184 of them!!
Actually I am pleased that I read, and reread the questions even if in hindsight the actual test was not that hard. I even had my Daughter grill me on all 184 questions. Unfortunately she left me on the coals for to long and overcooked me!!
Two months ago I went to Hamilton and proceeded to sit the test with about 50 others. The amount of time the adjudicators spent on telling us what would happen if we didn't pass and what the criteria were for passing began to make me think that this was not going to be a quick affair!!
Until I received the 20 questions that is!
At which stage I wondered why I had 30 minutes to finish and would they be terribly insulted if, once I had read through my answers a million times, left after 10 minutes.
Apparently though there were many people who wrote that day who did not pass so perhaps I should be a little more respectful of the process.
Then two weeks ago I received the final notice to appear before a Judge for the Oath taking ceremony.
And so 65 of us immigrants, from 25 different countries, all gathered in the court at the Immigration Offices in Jackson Square on King Street in downtown Hamilton. And I was impressed to notice that all of us had made an effort to dress accordingly. Even the little 4-year-old girl had on her best dress. And smile as well! Especially when she strode up to the Judge to shake his hand and get her Certificate!
Those of you who know me a little will realise that I have a penchant for loud ties. In keeping with the occasion I donned a suit and then put on a tie made out of the Canadian Flag! If nothing else it was certainly bright enough to blind the Mountie standing to one side. It did however receive favourable comment from the Judge so I feel vindicated at my choice at least. Although in keeping with his speech to us it may just have been his Canadian tolerance coming out!
The Ceremony itself was very moving and made feel very proud to have chosen this country as my “home and native” land!
After the Judges remarks, we all rose and had to swear the oath in both official languages. In fact I became a French Canadian before an English Canadian, as that was the order in which we affirmed our allegiance to the Queen and Country!
This was done as a group and then we had to proceed individually to greet the Judge and receive our Certificates of Citizenship and the plasticised wallet sized Card that no doubt allows us to annoy U.S Customs as we drive through.
After which we had to sign the actual Oath at a different table. Apparently because we weren't actually Citizens until such time as our signature was appended to whatever legal form was placed before us. I, and I am sure every one else there, haven't a clue what was actually on the form. I merely signed happy that I was a citizen at last!!
So for over four years now you have traveled with me on this road of discovery that I have undertaken here in Canada.
Now that I am a Canadian the voyage continues. I am really looking forward to it!
And in the spirit in which that beer was advertised
“Je m'apelle Charles et je suis Canadien”
Four years on in my new life here in Canada and the roller coaster ride I have embarked on seems destined never to end!
All I really wanted was to get a good job, pay my taxes, get established and become a good citizen. I know this sounds like the dream of most boring people but I am getting on and being a geriatric delinquent hasn't quite got the same panache that youth is able to claim.
I had the sneaking suspicion that my past firebrand activities and actions may only lie dormant for a while and that they would re-emerge once in a while but for the meantime there was a whole new Continent to explore and millions more people to meet. As docile as possible. For me!
Didn't last long!
It never has actually.
I tend to get rather upset at inequality and ignorance for some reason. Not being the quiet shy retiring type ( ENTJ anyone?) I have spent a good portion of my life watching the angels cross over to the other side of the street. And then tiptoe past!!
Living in Africa has that effect on you. Want a cause? Line up and pick one from column A and two from Column B! Toddle off outside, pick up the megaphone and weapon of choice and start your own little protest.
Which is one of the reasons why Canada was my country of choice when I decided to leave my ancestral grounds and start a new life. After all this is a reasonably sane country with a strong tradition of fairness. Right?
Well…..semi right actually!
There is still a lot of inequality, racism, bigotry and smug ignorance that I notice here. Which not only astonishes me, but actually annoys me. I did a lot of reading up on Canada in order to make my choice (don't all Mensans?) and I don't like to think that what I was sold is flawed goods. Even though I secretly knew that nothing could be that perfect. Having a Canadian Grandmother probably helped in understanding that the bias I would see and face were different to those I had faced in Africa!!
So the slumbering giant (Yes I realise that those of you who have met me will find that amusing!!) has risen probably a little earlier than even I would have liked it but it is awake and making the normal grunts and snorts associated with getting back on its feet. I have applied for my citizenship recently, and while I have to wait eight months to write it apparently, intend to be one of those pesky annoying immigrants who “get involved” and try to change things!!
Rather like all the other immigrants that came over here during the last six centuries and forged this land into the wonderful country that it is!
No doubt like many of them I will annoy some of the inhabitants and other interested parties! People smugly sure that their version of events is the correct one. Unable to see the future and change accordingly. Actually I intend to annoy them. I dislike smug complacency as well.
What I do know is that in the short time that I have been here I have grown to love this country and it's people (OK then! Most of them!!) I want to be involved. I want to give back. I want to be part of the process!!
My family did it for centuries in Africa and I want to be the start of a long line that is involved in the future of this country.
Consider this not as a warning but as a promise!
It is interesting how the topic of membership crops up whenever there is a changing of members within any organization.
It's a perennial topic that gets dragged out, dusted off and debated to death by each successive group. So much so that I am almost predisposed to smile indulgently and let references to membership pass away. Into the night as they say.
Because every committee, in every Mensa, in every country does the same thing. They attempt to find new members and retain old ones. It is as simple as that.
However there were one or two comments made by our esteemed Editor in the last Montage that need to be addressed when it comes to the local Mensa and it's membership. And its Activities and structure!
Being an “older person of European heritage” himself I'm not quite sure why he is uncomfortable around people like himself but it is interesting that he appears to have missed the many meetings that I have been to where a typical cross section of the Toronto population is present. And immersed in debate, discussion and of course the normal game playing!
To then ask what we are doing “wrong” that “prevents” us from reflecting Toronto's ethnic diversity is a bit disingenuous.
We aren't doing anything wrong at all. Mensa is an organization that has NO viewpoint and as such cannot be seen to pander to the whims of one section of any community. We market the organization for what it is. A club catering to the social needs of people with an IQ in the top 2%. Simple and easy as that. To start trying to attract people from any area is contrary to the whole spirit of Mensa.
It is also patronizing and racist and as such I will vigorously oppose it!
Conversely we can not, may not ever stop anyone who qualifies from joining. Which is as it should be. That I will actively promote.
Oddly enough there is one aspect of your Toronto Board that may be of interest in this discussion. 50% of the board are actually Africans! Which kind of makes the comment about reflecting Toronto's ethnic diversity a bit redundant.
Even more interesting is that we are lucky to have an active young Mensans group. I am looking forward to seeing many of its members becoming active in the local Board or even on the National Board.
As someone who started his tenure in various National and Local Committees at the grand old age of 24 I am very aware of how important new ideas and people can be. However the person must want to be involved. Not coerced! There is a world of difference.
Which brings me to the hub of the reply. In order to get the most out of any organization you need to be involved. To want to be part of the outcome. To provide answers and not ask negative questions!
Anyone can say what is wrong from their own perception. To break down.
Very few come up with concrete proposals to build up and move forward.
I look forward to those of you out there who want to help to move Mensa Toronto to better heights, to join with those of us that are already trying to do so.
No matter what age, sex, race, colour or creed you may be!
Now this is what I thought Canada was going to be like!
Lots and lots of snow! And cold! Very cold!
I find it amusing trying to tell my family back home that we were experiencing -30 degree temperatures. They can't grasp the concept of how cold that is. I suppose when the temperature there is in the +40 degree range it does create quite a contrast. And just a little bit of envy when they are talking to you from a swimming pool. In the swimming pool!
Even harder was trying to get across one of the more amusing incidents that occurred to me.
The temperature has generally been in the -20 degree range with the odd move up to the -10 degree range. A week ago it suddenly went all the way up and became quite warm. So like all good Canadians I put on a short sleeve shirt.
Well Wiarton Willie had decreed a short winter hadn't he? So this had to be the start as far as I was concerned.
At which stage my Son came in and asked whether, aside from all my other eccentric characteristics, I was aware that the temperature was only 0 degrees and was I mad and a bunch of other stuff that only a teenager can deliver which is designed to show that you are the only parent around who does these imbecilic things!
Mind you he has had this idea about me being weird ever since I did my first Polar Bear Dip. No! Actually I think he's had this idea for a lot longer than that, come to think about it.
Perhaps the hardest factor to bring out about the weather here in Ontario, are the extremes that you go through.
From the heat and humidity in summer to the snow and cold in winter it is hard to explain to people down south. So I don't bother anymore. I just look forward to the four seasons and enjoy them. Mainly because I have never had four seasons before.
So when we have a proper winter like we have just had it is different. I was also surprised to note that we have had over 70 days since just before Christmas with snow on the ground. Which I might add is definitely a first for me.
I was down at the Oakville Harbour the other and it was iced up all the way to the outer limits of the breakwater. With people skating on the river as well! It had that picturesque aspect to it that I had sort of imagined before I arrived here and reality put the boot in! The snow hadn't yet turned to that muddy colour. It was a crisp and clear day. The snow on the trees was exactly as Giles always depicted it in his cartoons. It was in short a perfect example of an actual Canadian winter day.
So in amongst all the hardships, there was this affirmation that actually there was some reality in my fantasy vision about Canada. That made me extremely happy actually.
So happy that I decided to put off tracking down that bloody rodent up north to have a chat about its inability to predict the weather properly. That's two years now. I know it's an apprentice but how many chances do you give the damn furry runt?
Which, given that I swore at the snowplough operator this morning, also means that I am assimilating a lot quicker than I thought!
Next step is the citizenship test.
Can I assault the snowplough operator then?
“The more things change the more they stay the same”
Or should that be the other way around? Maybe! There are so many clichés about change and its effects that I could have filled half a column already merely repeating them.
For those of you at Denise's house earlier this month and those of you astute enough to notice these things, this issue marks the start of a new Editor for Montage.
The change that I am obliquely alluding to of course.
A while ago Judy made it known that she would like to relinquish the reigns. As such the Committee has been searching for a replacement. There are a few quirks inherent in being Editor of Montage, which in the end meant that the committee's was Gary Dale.
Gary has a wealth of experience in editing newsletters and magazines, which will obviously stand him in good stead over the coming months.
Welcome to Montage Gary. May your spike be more ornamental than useful.
Judy remains a valuable member of the Toronto Committee. She carries on wearing the Treasurers hat and acts as the LocSec's conscience on occasion.
Her role as Editor of Montage, and previously MC2, has meant that our members have had a regular magazine that is interesting, thought-provoking and a solid voice of the membership. Those that wish to be heard that is! For one of the hardest tasks of any club magazine Editor is to find new content. In an organization such as ours that is very often harder than you think.
Judy always managed to fill each issue with relevant content and member's contributions. The hardest part of that being the need to badger, threaten and ultimately extract the LocSec's contribution in time for the next issue.
This was always done in the quiet inimitable way that she has.
Judy's decision to give up the pen does not mean that she will sink into a hiatus. For those of you who have been following her latest saga will know that her life looks like it will probably get more hectic in the months to come.
No doubt Gary will be expecting regular updates on that!
I must also thank Robin and Judy Martin for agreeing to extend the FSM meeting at their house to incorporate every issue. This will take place at their house before the normal West End Games night.
So we start a new Montage. Same face. Different Editor. Or something like that.
Sometime in the future when Judy is accepting her Juno I expect to hear a mention of Mensa in her acceptance speech.
And read her article about it in Montage as well!
Many years ago I was clever enough to make a new years resolution that stated that I would never make another New Years resolution again. This was something that I could carry out, and have in fact, carried out ever since.
It has meant many years of sublime indifference to the suffering of all those other people who find it necessary to torture themselves at the start of every year.
I often wonder who came up with the idea of self immolation as a way to start anew when the year turns. After all I very rarely hear people talking about making a resolution that has something to look forward too or that provides a large degree of reward.
Well! Maybe giving up smoking actually, but that is the only one.
All the rest involve sacrifice of some sort or another.
Doing without! Suffering! Giving up! Going without!
So being a hedonistic little sod at the time it was easy to decide on my last and most assiduously kept resolution.
It means that I am able to look forward to the New Year in anticipation. I can decide on actions that will bring me enjoyment. I can look for fun and excitement for the coming year and act on them.
In short I don't have to be miserable to start out with!
Although for someone who has participated in the Polar Bear Dip in Oakville for the last two years I might be a little out of kilter when it comes to understanding suffering! There is some debate about my sanity as well.
OK I mean further debate!
Especially among friends and family back in a country which is normally at 40 degrees at the same time!
So what I generally do most years is decide on odd things that I want to accomplish during the year. Maybe something to start. Maybe something to finish. New people to meet. Different things to do. And see. And so on.
Some years have a long list. Some years very short.
In fact lets be truthful here. I don't make a list because that is too much like making resolutions. Like most good adventurers I have a hazy map of were I want to go and some ideas on how to get there and a lot more hope and enthusiasm than preparation! This makes it a lot more exciting and definitely more fun.
For me, if not for everyone else around me anyway.
They are also very fluid in intention. So that if I don't have a conclusion this year I can always carry it over to the next.. Very handy that.
I still have a few hanging around from many years back. Although in one case I don't think that her husband would approve now! And in another I've changed countries so it may become a little hard to achieve. Not impossible. Just hard!
So are you someone who denies themselves or are you a person who looks forward to a new challenge?
Either way I hope you have a good year.
And a happy one!