Well, you probably all know by now that I grew up in Austria and came to Canada when I was about 20 years old. I don’t really have much family left over there, the only people left are my brother and my sister-in-law. In fact, my brother is my only living biological relative as both my parents were single children. So no cousins, no aunts, no uncles. I often say in jest that my family tree is a stump….
Coming to Canada by myself at the tender age of 20 wasn’t actually as hard as one would think. Although I didn’t know anybody I had a one year work permit and a job lined up, so I had a place to go to. Getting adjusted and dealing with the language was not the greatest obstacle either since I always had an enormous interest in foreign cultures and I love learning languages. One of the most difficult things was the weather (winter drags on into March and April), and of course the lack of mountains – that was definitely hard to accept for an Alpine enthusiast like me.
When I came to Toronto I already spoke decent English, but of course in Austria we generally learn British English (or what Austrian high school teachers think is British English), so the main thing was I had to change my accent around and lose words like “bonnet” (British English for “hood”) or “boot (instead of “trunk”) and get rid of my highly sophisticated yet fake English accent that I had so lovingly nurtured during my high school years.
During the first 9 years of my life in Canada I frequently travelled back to Austria to visit my father, grandmother and brother. My mother had passed quite tragically at a relatively early age in 1987. My brother is 9 years older than me, and he moved out early on, so I never really had a chance to develop a very close relationship with him, although I would have liked to.
1995 was a major year in my life, since both my father and grandmother passed away that same year, and combined with other factors, these two events ushered in an extended dark phase in my life. As a result of many sad memories I had no desire to travel back home for a long time and I did not go and visit my home country for 8 years, from 1996 to 2004.
Finally in the spring of 2004, my husband and I connected with my brother and sister-in-law in the south of Spain. It was my husband’s first time in Europe, and my brother and sister-in-law had driven all the way down from Austria by car to the south of Spain. It was also the first time my husband and my brother met and we spent a fabulous 12 days together. It was great to have everyone together during that vacation in Spain, particularly since my brother had never visited me in Canada. For him, not having flown in an airplane since the early 1980s probably had something to do with it.
But during my trip to Austria last November (first time back in 8 years) I spent a really great 9 days with my brother and sister-in-law and on the last day we had a little celebration that included our neighbours from my home town, a married couple in their 40s. And all of a sudden I sprung the idea: Why don’t the 4 of you come to Canada together next year?
An exciting idea was born. All 4 people were getting excited about the idea of travelling to Canada together to visit us. This was big news for all of them since their main travels up to this point had been restricted primarily to driving vacations to Italy, Croatia and the south of France. So jumping in a plane and coming to Toronto was a big step for all 4 of them. It would be everyone’s first time in North America.
Well, today is the day, when my Brother Ewald, my sister-in-law Anneliese, and my two Austrian neighbours Luis and Isabella are going to arrive, and they are going to be greeted by my husband Nigel and me, on our home turf right here in Toronto. The last 2 weeks have been extremely busy restructuring the house so it would hold sleeping quarters for 4 guests (2 of whom can’t sleep in the same room because one snores and the other has light sleep), so we had to create 3 private sleeping areas in the house.
But one pull-out couch, one futon and one inflatable airbed later, we’ll be able to house all of them quite comfortably and I am really looking forward to spending 9 days together in Toronto, showing them around my new home town and introducing them to the New World. I’ll keep you posted…….