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When I lived in the Caribbean, I discovered that nothing makes you cherish your heritage and your nationality like living somewhere else.  Feeling adrift among people with different sayings, different holidays, and different ways of thinking, you are made more clearly aware of what you left behind.

I have become an East Coast expat… without even leaving the country.

I am somewhat bemused by the way the Olympics have brought an eddy of interest in other parts of Canada, notably MY part of Canada. The Atlantic Canada Pavilion on Granville Island is mobbed with long lines of people who want to taste the cuisine, listen to the folk sings, have their pictures taken in front of the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse and join the evening “kitchen party”.

Things like this remind you of what you miss…

They don’t have kitchen parties in reserved, dignified Vancouver. There aren’t jam sessions or singalongs. There may be sushi.

Perfect Husband discovered years ago, when he first moved to BC, that Vancouverites consider it to be socially acceptable to not show up to events that they have RSVPed “yes” to, often without any kind of phone call or explanation. He figured it out after multiple dinners and gatherings in which only half of the expected people actually showed up. It’s not a lack of friendliness, or a slight against the host… just a certain urban apathy which is alien to the vibrantly extroverted folks in the East. If anything, I should feel more at home here.

But I do miss the music. I spent my childhood listening to my father and my uncle pick “Mr. Sandman”, croon to “The Tennessee Waltz” and then warble about how “it coulda bin the whisky… It mighta bin the gin…” In my adult years I sat around listening to friends mournfully singing “Northwest Passage” or “Barrett’s Privateers” over their mugs of India Pale Ale, or folks trying to pick out the tune to a Fingers Eleven song on their acoustic guitars. A trip down to the pub on a Saturday night got you a free show, as a group sat in the corner with their fiddles and their Bodhran drums jamming Celtic music.

At the Olympic opening ceremonies, when they brought out that “Rhythms of Fall” tribute to the East Coast, I felt excited, and vindicated, and homesick, and… pissed off. The fiddle music sounded similar to what I had heard my father’s fiddling group play, and what you hear coming from a gazebo at Upper Clements Park on a summer’s day… but it sounded wrong.  I can’t explain this feeling, and I can’t explain what was wrong. All I know is that it wasn’t East Coast. It wasn’t bad, but it was like the Vancouver donair with the red tortilla and the lettuce. It was an approximation. The fiddlers didn’t play like Nova Scotian fiddlers. They didn’t have Cape Breton in their soul.

When they did the highland dancing… it wasn’t highland dancing. It was TAP DANCING. I’m sorry, wearing a kilt does not make you a highland dancer, and tap moves do not fit in at a ceilidh.


“It looks like Ashley McIsaac designed their uniforms,” I said with irritation to Perfect Husband. Nova Scotia is not particularly proud of Ashley McIsaac. At least, not after the 1999 New Years fiasco.

Towards the end of the piece, though, I was getting so frustrated with the fiddling and its poor attempt at East Coast spirit that I finally said with exasperation to my husband,

“You know, I’m actually beginning to wish Ashley McIsaac would show up, just to show these people how it’s done!”

…”Ladies and Gentlemen… ASHLEY MCISAAC!” hollered the announcer the second I finished my sentence. He showed them how it is done.

I never thought I’d see the day when I’d feel a gush of relief to see… Ashley McIsaac.

This is what expatriation does to a person.