Seventy Two: Motherland

“I will always stay close to all compatriots, and share together the happiness and suffering.”  – Norodom Sihamoni

On Thursday my family and I attended a common meal in our cohousing community. We were joined by a couple other families at the table, including one family’s Chinese high school exchange student and another family’s Japanese student boarder whom was turning 30 that evening. The students are 15 or so years apart and from different countries, but they still had this natural affection for one another.

The summer that my roommate and I traveled to London on a holiday working visa (1998) was the same summer that a young woman from Ottawa with punk sensibilities and a college degree in radio communications landed. This Canadian stranger and I both gained a job at a cafe that was opening up and became fast friends. We had a couple of things in common, but it was more that we were less unlike one another than say me and the Italian antique auctioneer’s son who was there to brush up on his English skills, or my Moroccan co-worker who wanted to marry his Islamic girlfriend and open a restaurant in Casablanca. She and I were from the same motherland and that narrowed down the vast number of possible conversations to a range of commonalities in our upbringing. We were twenty-somethings who had been living in Canadian capital cities thinking that we were bucking against the traditions of British colonialism while traveling straight to the source. Music was our shared passion and we both knew the world was ours. To this day, I can tell this friend anything.

Would we have bonded if she had been from Scotland? Taiwan? Lithuania? Probably not. While I like to think that we humans can see far beyond our national origins, there can be a deep power to the landscape and culture in which we’re raised. When I first moved to the United States from Canada in 2002, I was acutely aware of the cultural differences between Canadians and Americans and they might have been strong enough for me to favor the company of a compatible Canadian over one who was American. The lenses in which I was looking at the world were distinctly Canadian and I felt more at ease with someone who understood those coded behaviors.

In the search to connect with others in this life, it has been easier to manage when I know what to expect from the other person. As I age, I try to stretch outside of that comfort zone but I still end up spending the bulk of my time with people who are more similar than not. They challenge me in many different ways, but I find it interesting to gauge where our division and meeting points are.

Are your friends like you or unlike you? Do you befriend others who are like yourself?


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