I Met a Man on a Train, We Talked About Community

Rather, I met a man at a train station (don’t worry, David was there, too). I’d been having a rough morning of cultural differences, so while I sat in the corrugated metal seats, waiting for our train to Saigon, it’s fair to say that I had my don’t-mess-with-me-b*tch face on.

“You from Canada?”

The flag on my bag does in fact come in handy. I responded yes and began a conversation with this fifty-something man. He was wearing a casual t-shirt and shorts with a minimal backpack hanging off one shoulder. Vietnamese-born, he had lived in Canada for a few years starting when he was fifteen. David explained that while he lives in Canada, he is in fact Scottish.

“And you went to Canada? Isn’t everyone leaving there?”

I was puzzled. Um, no? Sure the price of oil is not super positive at the moment, but we’re a country and an economy based on more than just oil. The man started to talk about his experience as a teenager in Toronto. By his standards, Canada was not the country he thought it would be.

“All you people do is go to work, pay your mortgage, go home and watch TV. Am I right? Where is the community? You can’t just walk into your neighbour’s home in Canada and spend the afternoon. You have to be invited. What is that?

I didn’t really argue with the man. I have seen my share of the workforce zombies – heck, I occasionally am one – which he described. I also know that we do way more than just sit in our houses and watch TV, but to argue it felt pointless.

Then I began to think about the extreme culture shock this man must have experienced. At fifteen you’re making or have made those really strong high school friendships. You’re going through puberty, through many of your ‘firsts’, and the future is looming. What must it have been like for this man to be ripped away from his community? I can’t imagine how that would have impacted his time and experience of Canada.

He is and he isn’t right on Canadian community. No, we don’t necessarily pop over to our neighbour’s houses uninvited. Yes, he’s right in that many Canadians have never even met their neighbours, of this I am guilty. What I disagree with him massively on is that we don’t have community full stop.

Community is not built into your postal code. I do not defacto bond with my neighbours because they are my neighbours. Rather, in Canada and other places I’ve lived, community is found, sought and built. It is found through common interests, through friends of friends, even, dare I say it, through the workplace.

I didn’t have a witty answer for him at the time, but I wished I’d remembered to tell him about the Calgary Flood of 2013. Strangers came together to muck out basements, share tools, bring Timmies for sustenance and give up their spare rooms to those in need. Beyond natural disasters, my city’s community and sub-communities therein are thriving. And you aren’t limited to being part of just one. I have a writing community, an old-girlfriends-having-coffee community, and a work gal’s community, to name a few.

What do you think? Is community built, inherent or can it be both? Where and or how do you find your community?

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One Response to I Met a Man on a Train, We Talked About Community

  1. dianacranstoun January 5, 2015 at 6:18 am #

    Interesting post. In the past, when people couldn’t travel and women stayed home, then I think community was more local. And I miss some of that. But perhaps, for some, it was a little stifling and restrictive. I like (and agree) with your idea of belonging to different communities.

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