When I decided to move to the U.S. for a few months, I got a few quizzical looks and raised eyebrows from fellow Canadians. With the current political climate in the U.S.—from the detentions at the border, to the battles over abortion and women’s rights to their own bodies, to the deeply flawed man and his tweets at the helm of it all—it seemed to be a strange time to enter the States.
While there are lots of small differences I’ve noticed while living in the South, I don’t often feel like I’m in a foreign country when I’m at my job at a local magazine. Sure, I’ve been called out for my Canadian accent, but on the whole, the American-ness of Charleston is not overwhelming—though Charleston is, undoubtedly, an American city. However, even as an outsider, it’s hard to forget what’s going on in the U.S. on a larger scale.
The elephant in the room
The U.S. is a divided country. I knew this when I moved to Charleston, but I wasn’t sure how it would manifest itself. I braced myself for political differences coming to a head regularly, but, instead, I find that politics is the elephant in the room. It’s almost never spoken about. I have never heard any of my coworkers speak about politics. The Republican/Democrat divide is all over the news constantly, but in the day-to-day atmosphere here, it’s almost never mentioned.
I had worried that it would come up often—that the complete opposition of values that we see on the news, the "us vs. them" nature of American politics, would be palpable. Instead, I think people here, in an effort not to label themselves, or perhaps in an effort not to make enemies, just don’t mention it—especially in an office environment, where you have to work with each other every day.
In my office full of accomplished journalists, I have a strong feeling that most of their political views are akin to mine. A coworker’s hat with the words “trust women” on it is a good sign. It surprises me, though, that politics has never come up in the course of four months.
An outsider’s perspective
And yet, sometimes, Americans decide to entrust me, an outsider, with their real feelings about their country’s government. Upon hearing I’m Canadian, more than once, the response has been, “I’ve honestly been thinking of moving to Canada lately.”
As a Canadian, I've become a kind of confidante—someone to which they can say, “can you believe what’s happening in this country?” without the fear of potentially alienating someone with opposing political views.
Since I’m outside of the divisive Republican or Democrat designation—as a Canadian, I’m neither one nor the other—some Americans have felt like they don’t need to watch their words with me. Instead, we Canadians become a kind of confidante—someone to whom they can say, “can you believe what’s happening in this country?” without the fear of potentially alienating someone with opposing political views.
Living in the American South in 2019
I struggled a bit with my decision to move to the States, even just for a few months. After all, I moved solely for personal gain; I’m not here to advocate for the causes I believe in. As a Canadian, I don’t have a platform or a vote in the upcoming election. And, with the current attacks on abortion and women’s reproductive rights—happening in Southern states surrounding South Carolina—it has been particularly difficult to view the South with an open mind. It’s discouraging to feel helpless in the face of such harmful, sexist policies: to go to the gym in South Carolina and see Fox News blaring on the TV screens above; to see a car in the parking lot with anti-abortion bumper stickers.
Watching these extremely restrictive abortion laws pass in neighbouring U.S. states was shocking—but it also made me take a closer look at Canadian politics. As much as we like to think we’re different in Canada, Toronto recently had its first "March for Life" anti-abortion rally. That hit close to home. Watching the world react to the South’s policies has been eye-opening, and has forced me to examine my own country’s politics more closely.
The United States is tumultuous right now. I will be leaving the country before the lead-up to the 2020 election truly gets underway, but there is a sense of unrest and uncertainty about where the country is heading.
For the past few months I have been an outsider looking in, and in the course of my time here, I have met some wonderful people that have rebuffed stereotypes we often associate with Southerners. Working abroad is all about expanding one’s horizons: at the very least, despite politics being the elephant in the room, I now have a much broader perspective on day-to-day life in the South.Add this article to your reading list