One of the comments I always get from Canadians is, “What a cultural shock, eh?” Most times when I meet people and they get to know that I am a newbie, after the initial interrogations, they say those words.

I immigrated from a tropical country where every day was summer. The average temperature throughout the year ranges between 22 to 34 degrees Celsius. In the mountainous region in Ghana, where I attended my three-year teacher training, temperatures are very cold—sometimes unbearable—when it falls down to 19 degrees Celsius. So, I was completely shocked with the temperatures here. Although I arrived here in May, where everybody was like, ‘what a beautiful day it is’, I was wearing mittens and a hat indoors. My life the first year, in terms of weather, was hard to bear. I could not stand the cold and I didn’t know how best to dress in what they called layers. Sweaters and jackets were too heavy for me to wear, and whenever I went shopping I bought the wrong clothing. It was impossible to understand the weather, and I had no comprehension of the windchill. Most times I ventured out poorly dressed and came back home at the point of dying. Today my three children have joined me in this way, as I see them rejecting the heavy jackets I give to them—coming home frozen.

Again, in my country, most jobs were distributed according to gender. We have men’s jobs and women’s jobs. So, it was a shock for me when my employer was laying tiles on the fireplace floor, while her husband was teaching me how to make spaghetti sauce. He did most of the cooking for us and mmmm! He ranks among the best cooks I know, apart from my mother. One day I asked Heather, “Why are you painting and your husband giving Lauryn a bath? What kind of system is this?” She laughed and said it again: “What a cultural shock, eh?” Last year when my husband visited, we decided to go visit my former employer. My husband had the same cultural shock: Heather sat with us at the living room chatting while her husband busied himself trying to fix dinner for eight mouths. At that point, my husband could not take it any longer and said, “Is it normal for men to cook here while women sit and talk?” Heather and I simultaneously burst into laughter.

Among many more cultural shocks, the most mind-blowing and shocking for me is people who smoke. I have already said in my previous article that my people had a great respect for the white man, to the point of almost worshipping them as gods. Instinctively, our culture ranks everything that comes from the white man’s country to be superior, and we believe, in part, that white man does not fall into most of the sins a black man struggles with. Strangely, though, the issue with smoking brings a striking difference. In my culture, people who smoke do not matter in life. They are people who have fallen through the cracks and are not heading anywhere. There is no way one will see a teacher, a nurse, or any of the mainstream workforce smoking. So, imagine my shock when I came to Canada and saw people in the most enviable jobs—wearing suits my whole monthly salary couldn’t even buy—standing in front of my “dream” high-rise building smoking. As well, even in parking lots near my place of worship! This I have not gotten over—even after more than seven years of staying in Canada.

What a cultural shock, eh?

Yaa-Serwaa-SomuahYaa Serwaa Soumah