Immigration changes you in many ways. Big ways, definitely. If you’re interested, I’ve chatted about our experiences, wins, and struggles as immigrants in past posts (find them here).
But there are also the small ways.
For example, I now have this weird not-Canadian, not-South African accent going. 😅 I think it might be because of lockdown homeschooling.
Kayla is bilingual. She didn’t speak a lot of Afrikaans until recently, though she understands everything said in Afrikaans (and can read a bit of it too). Still, she grasps concepts of math, science, and biology much easier when discussed in English. I also quickly learned that trying to help her with her reading and spelling worked better if I mimicked her pronunciation, so I kind of slipped into doing that.
I also attribute some of this to Ashe. Despite them being Afrikaans too, we tend to use English terminology when chatting about social media stuff, memes, or when trying to find quotes to post on our feeds. They have a much stronger Canadian accent than I do, and I soon realised I’d slipped into mimicking them, too.
It’s like something flipped in my brain, and I don’t know how to unflip it. My family and friends back in SA have been teasing me to death about this new way of speaking. But as I said, I don’t even remember how to not. 🤷♀️
The good news is I don’t have to repeat myself all the time while interacting with people here. I’m such a hermit, so I don’t get out much anyway, but when I do end up in a store, people magically understand me in a way they haven’t up until now. So yay for that.
Another change–and ironically one we also get teased about–is that we’ve acclimatised.
South Africans have this unbreakable notion that Canada has 8 months of winter per year. And yeah, I can see how that could be possible if you lived in the far north, but Canada is an enormous place, with diverse landscapes and weather conditions. It really, really isn’t cold all the time. It’s just different.
My hometown of Johannesburg doesn’t have seasons. It’s cold or it’s hot, and it can go from one to the other at any time of the year. I mean, technically, yes, spring and autumn exist, but the change in climate is so gradual that it doesn’t always feel like much of a difference.
Also, Johannesburg is basically always sunny, even in the heart of the winter. Sunrise/set times only differ by about an hour between the warm and cold seasons. A typical winter day might start at a low of -2ish degrees Celcius, but can climb to a high of about 18, and our loved ones consider everything below 10 as freezing.
And I mean, sure. If we reach a high of 10 in the winter (like we did so many times during the past winter) it’s a lovely day, and all of Canada is outside to enjoy it.
But this is the difference. Canadian houses and clothing are insulated. Yes, we’re out in the snow in under 10 degrees, but our bodies are warm. Then, we go back inside, where our houses are warm.
Johannesburg winters, despite the lovely highs, are brutal. The lack of central heating, insulated walls and ceilings, and double-paned windows means the temperatures indoors can drop to 6 degrees C. My Canadian friends are always stunned when we explain that you keep your outerwear on inside the house, and sleep with an electric blanket AND like 3 additional blankets on the bed, AND in some cases, gas heaters that move with you from room to room.
The temperature in our house here is set to 20/21 degrees. It never drops below that. And because we like snuggling with fluffy blankets, our house is about 4 degrees colder than how most of our Canadian friends like it.
I’m not joking when I say I’ve been colder in Johannesburg in December than I’ve been in Calgary in the middle of February. 🥶
Our friends and family see photos of us playing in the snow, and always comment that it looks cold here. Then, when we say it’s not that cold, they get this mocking gleam in their eyes and shake their heads. But we’re not trying to be obnoxious. Okay, not too obnoxious. 🤣 I’m the first to complain when the November weather gets too cold. At the beginning of the season, we’re still used to the summer climate, and even 10 degrees can be annoying. By February, though, it’s just part of life.
And as for the 8 months of winter thing–it’s just not true. I think winters seem longer than they really are, because even when the world is heating up again, there might be old leftover snow, unwilling to melt. Snow/ice in the shadow of trees or buildings can take a really long time to disappear, even longer when it’s been scraped into a pile, and remain in our photos long after we’ve transitioned to short sleeves.
We have long summer days, too. Sunshine and sunshine and sunshine. Suntans, friends. Days of lounging by the side of a lake, swimming, canoeing, and hiking. We struggle to convince our kid to come indoors for dinner, just like in the movies.
The temperatures reach highs of over 30 degrees in the summer. Calgary sports a dry heat, the kind that has you glued to the fan (we don’t have aircon 😭) and your clothes glued to you. Too hot to sleep kind of heat.
Sure, we did have a really sucky summer during our second year in Calgary–all rainy and cold–but that was the exception to the rule. As I said above, it’s typically bone dry here, with the odd late-afternoon thunderstorm. Come to think of it, it’s actually a lot like Johannesburg in terms of summer weather, except that the sun only sets at around 10 pm.
But I guess the most important thing about immigrating is that you won’t survive if you don’t embrace the weather. We’ve learned to make snowy fun a part of our routine. While waiting for Kayla when school comes out, Jan and I have snowball fights. Or we make patterns in the snow, build snowmen, etc. Sledging is a highlight for all of us, and our ice spikes make it easier to navigate slipperly mountain passes.
There is magic in the different seasons. We’re privileged to be able to build this life in this new, wonderful place.