We are currently on vacation in my husband’s home country of Canada. And even though I’ve been here many times, there are still a few things that catch me off guard on every visit. For one thing, the Great Lakes are really, very great. How foolish I must have sounded when I asked my then-boyfriend if he had ever been to the beach, and then presumed to tell him it didn’t count because it wasn’t the ocean! The little island we went to on this trip had a sandy beach facing Lake Ontario. As I looked out at the endless water and watched the waves roll in, I was just as serene as I was last summer when we went to a “real” beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
This isn’t the only thing about Canada that humbles me. Every time I do the dishes here, I remember how most people do not have garbage disposals. It’s just not an appliance that has ever caught on here. People could afford them; they just don’t see the need. New homes don’t come with them installed. Apartments and townhouses don’t have them. But back when I was a know-it-all, twenty-something-year-old who discounted her boyfriend’s beach experiences, I also refused to accept the reality about garbage disposals and Canada. Surely, there was some sort of mistake, I thought. Maybe I just needed to say the right word – it’s “garburator” in Canadian, not “garbage disposal,” after all. And so, when I moved to Canada, I insisted we call every apartment complex remotely close to Toronto and ask if they had a unit for rent with a garburator. As you probably guessed, the answer was always the same. Flushing my cereal down the toilet and scraping plates into the trash weren’t totally new to me. I’d been to many countries before and even lived in France. I just had it in my head that the differences between Canada and the United States were not quite as big as this. As it turns out, the differences between our two incredible countries aren’t so big. Shockingly, a garbage disposal really isn’t an absolute necessity.
I’m not sure how something so small ended up becoming a catalyst for me to open my mind to new things and different ideas more readily, but it did. For years, if someone said something to me that seemed odd or different or unthinkable, I would just remember that life without a garbage disposal used to seem odd and different and unthinkable. Then I lived without one for three years and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. My husband used to think it odd and different and unreasonable to insist, like I had, that a garburator hold the same level of importance as a refrigerator. Now that he has lived in the US for twelve years, he finds it odd and different and unreasonable for someone to live without one.
The truth is most things are only odd or different or unreasonable when they are foreign. Once you get closer, you see a bigger picture that almost always changes your perspective. You realize you’ve been looking through a mirror like the one on your car that says “objects are closer than they appear.” Life in Canada seemed so familiar I just assumed I fully understood it, but the truth is I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought. We make judgments all the time based on a warped view of the world. Things, or people, or races, or religions, seem just familiar enough that we think we can judge the differences we seem to perceive. But when we stop to listen to each other and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we see that so much lies beneath the surface.
Back to our visit in Canada, as always, we went to McDonald’s for lunch one day. Before we went, we talked about how McDonald’s is different in other countries. I didn’t want the kids to overreact when they saw, for example, that in Canada, apple slices still have skin on them. But just when I was patting myself on the back for how enlightened and open-minded I am, five dreaded words betrayed me. They just spilled out before I could do anything about it. It was like I was in slow motion. I recognized what was about to happen but could do nothing to stop it. I meant to ask the cashier what came with a happy meal. Or what kind of kids’ meals they had. Or if the happy meals came with a burger, fries and a side like in the United States. But, no, instead, I said “Do you have normal happy meals?”
I was embarrassed before I finished the question. How could I have asked if the happy meals were “normal”!? I cannot identify any part of me that thinks in any way that anything is less “normal” in Canada than in the US, and yet, those words came out of my mouth! Of course, I had to make it worse by explaining that we were from the States. As if the sweet teenager taking our order hadn’t figured that out. What a great way for me to reinforce stereotypes that Canadians have of Americans! Of course I would think our way of doing things is “normal” and everyone else’s is “abnormal,” right?
After I got over my embarrassment, I laughed and lightened up and realized (again) that we are all just flawed human beings. The best thing we can do is listen to each other respectfully and then cut each other some slack. I sure hope that cashier does not honestly think I am so arrogant that I really consider only my experience to be “normal.” I hope she gave me the benefit of the doubt and realized I was just thinking about what is “normal” to me and didn’t mean the question the way it sounded.
As a society, we are so often and easily offended by innocent words that are not meant to injure but just represent a different perspective.
But more than words, intentions matter.
And more than anything, grace matters.
We have to extend each other grace to blunder and bludgeon through each day, because we also must rely on grace. We are all imperfect creatures in need of God’s perfect love and the grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this amazing grace, I am often humbled but never humiliated. Even as an American in Canada!
(As it turns out, in Trenton, Ontario, a “normal” happy meal comes with only one side. You get fries or apples, but not both. Also, the fountain drink cup is significantly smaller than the one you would get if you were to order a “normal” happy meal from a McDonald’s in Plano, Texas.)