90 days as a foreigner
Two things struck me as soon as I arrived in Winnipeg: the cold and the absence of Canadians.
Practically everyone I came across was from somewhere else. I met many Brazilians, Indians, Filipinos, Russians, and Nigerians, but only a handful of born Winnipeggers.
I have to praise Canadians for their openness to immigrants. Any other country would have freaked out. But Canadians are awfully nice. Few countries in the world can compete with this kind of niceness. If a Canadian visited Brazil, he would discover soon enough that our reputation for hospitality is terribly misplaced.
Whenever I meet a Winnipeger, this is the first question they ask (right after asking where I am from, of course):
“How are you enjoying the cold?”
“I’m not,” I reply.
“I’m still not used to it, and I was born here,” they confess with a smile.
Of all the major cities in Canada, Winnipeg is the coldest one. It’s famous for long, painful, cold, snowy winters. I gave up all hope of ever getting used to it. The weather is a favorite subject of all conversations. And if you lived in a place where you could freeze to death, you would be obsessed with it too. Wanna know the city’s nicknames? Winterpeg and Windpeg.
I was planning to write my first impressions of the city within my first week. But I struggled because my feelings about it changed every day. Some days, I would wake up sad and depressed, and I’d go to sleep with an unwavering sense of hope. It’s easy to wake up feeling gloomy at 6 a.m. when it’s -40°C outside and still dark. At these frigid temperatures, frostbite can occur in less than 10 minutes. Leaving the house becomes a terrifying experience, and dressing for it takes a lot of effort.
My first challenge was to use the conventional appliances of a typical Canadian house. The thermostat, the electric stove, the dryer, and the feared dishwasher. How stupid I felt, puzzled in front of it, unable to figure out how to load it on my own. I had to watch a youtube video to learn it. The houses here are so different from the ones in Brazil.
My first week was an endless effort to give my empty apartment the comforts of a modern home. A bed, a sofa, a table, chairs, a TV, and so on. I saw my money flying out of my wallet and disappearing from my bank account. Decorating my new home on a low budget wasn’t exactly fun.
The first time I entered the Real Canadian Superstore, I was perplexed by its size and the abundance of products it sells. The supermarkets here are gigantic. I can spend 3 hours strolling in their aisles without seeing everything. It’s preposterous. I have discovered, to my surprise, that although Brazil is the land of rice and beans, I find more variety of these products here.
I have the disadvantage of being a pedestrian in a city made for cars. I frequently see myself in absurd situations when running errands on foot. At times, the simple task of getting to the store across the street seems daunting. Sidewalks are a luxury in Winnipeg. People don’t walk to the store across the street. They drive. Everybody owns a car. They enter their comfortably heated SUVs and drive from one parking lot to another. I’m the only deranged person walking through deserted parking lots and jumping over small hills of snow.
However, my ultimate trial is the language. I underestimated the challenges of moving to a new country and blending into a new culture. I do not blend in at all. The words escape me when I need them the most. My internal voice mixes thoughts in Portuguese and English. Sometimes I can speak smoothly, and other times, I can’t say a word.
In short, everything is different when you’re not a tourist. A tourist doesn’t need to open bank accounts or assemble IKEA furniture. All of these tedious daily activities are reserved only for the residents of the city. You can visit a place as many times as you want, but living in it is an entirely different matter.
It’s difficult being a foreigner. If I will ever be able to call Winnipeg home, it is yet to be seen.