Gone Native

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Originally I was going to call this blog “Gone Native”. It was going to be a humourous look at my life (re)integrating into Canada, and my attempts to look, talk and act like the “native” Canadian, i.e. the everyday Canadians of dominant white culture.

The idiom has its roots in colonialism: it refers to adopting the “lifestyle or outlook of local inhabitants, especially when dwelling in a colonial region; to become less refined under the influence of a less cultured, more primitive, or simpler social environment”. (This was the best definition I could find, on Wiktionary).

The idiom was not meant to be positive, and was and still is used pejoratively. As in “Uh-oh! She’s gone native!” Conquest and colonialism don’t work if you sympathize with the locals and start to see things from their side.

I did see the conflict of using “Gone Native”, given that in Canada the term “native” is used to refer to First Nations and peoples of Aboriginal descent, and I am in no way integrating myself into a First Nations lifestyle.  “Gone native” is wildly offensive, in that it is used to refer to those how have lost their whiteness, their colonial superiority, their heritage, by becoming more and more like those whom they are there to subjugate. The phrase has its roots in British colonialism, and since the First Nations of Canada were colonized…well, you see what I mean.

Less cultured, more primitive, simpler? Ugh.

For me, going native was more of a play on words, a tongue-in-cheek reflection on colonialism, and simply the best way to describe how I saw my life those first few months when I arrived in Vancouver in 2012. By traditional definitions, I was, and still am, a former expat: I was born and raised in Canada. I left to live and work overseas. I moved back.  And moving back to Canada meant I was merely coming home, settling down, and returning to normal life, right?

But I also felt like an expat in Canada; I felt like an expat of the tribe of expats made up of all my friends and colleagues who were also expats in those countries where I lived and worked. I also felt kind of like an expat native of those countries where I had lived and worked–I had “gone native” just about everywhere I had lived. Returning to Canada, it just seemed like one more country to navigate and understand and integrate into, as best as I could. I felt like because I was now permanently settling in Canada, I was really and truly “going native”.

So, the blog was going to be called “Gone Native”, because I was going to write about all those weird things that people write about when the move overseas to live and integrate in a foreign country: the food, the way people dress, the weather, weird subcultures (hipsters!), navigating public transit, my first experience being invited to do X with the natives (drinking locally-made booze!)…all those weird, odd foreign things that we think are so crazy and bizarre when we refer back to our own culture.

And when I came to that realization, alongside the obvious colonial and racist overtones of the title, I knew that my original impulse had been correct. It’s always about our cultural references.


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