The first two years in Santiago presented unique occasions for my parents to groom Brian and I into the youngest gentlemen. Canadians from coast to coast are generally friendly and welcoming people yet protocol and etiquette are becoming less important as a significant proportion of the population seem to label this behaviour as snobby. There is a smaller group of people who take the more extreme side, surrounding themselves with expensive goods and procuring lavish services, leading to their self-proclamation of belonging to a selected elite. These individuals generally associate quality with the associated price tag. My brother and I were raised in a manner to appreciate quality through use rather than cost and to respect our fellow human beings no matter their financial standing or place in society. We were extremely sociable and able to foster and maintain friendships with anyone who was willing and able to communicate with us. It is something that has allowed me to feel comfortable anywhere between a group of orphans with disabilities to a room filled with politicians and foreign dignitaries.
|Maman, Mémé and I in front of La Moneda Palace|
When receptions or cocktails were held in our private SQ, protocol dictated that the hosts were to remain at the entrance of the home or designated event location to greet guests. Protocol is actually not snobby but a universal set of procedures that ensure hosts and visitors are on equal footing in terms of respect for each other. On most of these occasions, Brian and I would sport our nicest clothes and stand next to our parents shaking hands with everyone. How many young children play this host role, welcoming people at their front door with a “how do you do?” We were to add a “pleased to meet you” after each introduction. Sometimes, embassy staff that knew us would share a friendly comment or two with Brian and I. In Santiago, Brian and I had conquered the hearts of many of the Embassy, as most who had children were either teens or older. We were still in the cute bracket. In some way we were the Embassy’s children. The usual procedure after the welcoming ritual would include a brief meet and greet or standing next to our parents listening to what the grown-ups had to say. This was an extremely useful skill to acquire as it allowed me to understand how the diplomatic game works and some of the specific jargon. As soon as the guests were called to dinner, Brian and I would excuse ourselves, retiring to the kitchen for our meal and resume our evening quietly on our own. On some special occasions, our guests would be treated to the musical delight of the young Bickford duo on the piano.
Living in a rich and homogenous environment provided excellent opportunities for Brian and I to adopt certain Chile cultural aspects. However, we were also exposed to a multicultural environment due to adult expats yearning to find a piece of home in their new posting through other people and families in the same situation. Throughout my personal experiences, I have generally found expats can be divided into two quite different groups. The first of these are those who are excited about the new adventure and learning experiences of leaving their home country. These individuals are generally fascinated by the overall change in their lifestyle and begin to adopt elements of the local lifestyle. In some cases these people do not forget where they are from but tend to feel more at home in their host country. The other side of the expat persona is the complete opposite. Change has not been kind to them as they keep searching for elements of home in the new country and cannot find them. They resent everything the host country stands for and cannot relate to the locals. They dream of the day they can return home. I have seen both cases but I favour the first. I seem to thrive with change, as it is a process of self-discovery and enjoy meeting people who are open to sharing their life experiences. Each and every person experiences life from a different perspective and one day their knowledge or your own could prove useful.
I did not establish a preference for Chileans, Canadians or any other expat. I grew up understanding the existence of geographical borders. Yet I had a blend of cultures between my Chileans and everyone else. Within my family itself, I already had a rich cultural diversity, with English, Welsh, French, Spanish, Belgian and perhaps other nationalities the further I trace back my bloodline. I have family in Canada, England, France, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United States and, of course, the friends I met down the road that became my adopted family. Expats have one common uniting element: being away from home. My parents met through official functions politicians, diplomats and business people from many different professional backgrounds and countries. The expat circle is in some cases a close community and as such, Brian and I began making friends our age from Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and perhaps other countries that I may be forgetting to mention. To those who may read this and I have not mentioned. I apologize, but rest assured you have a special place in my memory and heart. I remember Brian and I had developed a strong friendship with the Ambassador of New Zealand’s daughters who spoke excellent Spanish, but they were my first English-speaking friends at that age. We seemed to run into the Kiwi family out of pure coincidence on some of our trips outside Santiago as well. I was greatly intrigued with their unique accent that seemed somewhat similar to Mick Dundee, yet at the same time somewhat different.
|Standing guard over Santiago wearing my Canada cap|
As Brian and I continued our immersion in these diverse cultures, we realized how important our behaviour was when relating to other people, young and old, as we were representing our country. We wanted Canada, whether Canada was a person or an entire population, to be proud of us. Last year, I remember receiving a Facebook friend request last year from my friend and former classmate, Stephane Simon, from back in the Santiago days that referred to me as the Canadian friend. It was quite an honour to remain in someone’s memory as a representation of a whole country. As a result of such cross-cultural bonding, I developed a sense of empathy for newcomers, trying to assist them in their adjustment to a new home. I had befriended a South African kid, who I remember quite well. He was about 2 years younger than my classmates and myself, but I took him under my wing. Stephane had also joined in. We included him in our activities and hoped he felt part of the group. My Chilean friends had also led by example exhibiting an incredible reception from the first day I set foot in the Alliance. I continue to this day extending a hand in friendship acquired in Chile hoping to help people transition to the temporary environment I call home.