Postcards from Abroad: Toronto

On his return to Canada after the winter break, Niall Spain is keen to hit the ground running.This New Year has been a time of firsts. It was the first time I missed a flight, from London back to Canada. This is definitely something I never want to repeat for the sake of both my sanity and my wallet. International flights are not cheap, and spending twenty-four hours in an airport is not anyone’s idea of fun. In fact it’s pretty awful. Without a few hours of BBC’s Sherlock, and a season of Breaking Bad, I don’t think I would have made it.Still, make it back to Canada I did, albeit a bit later than intended, just in time for another few firsts. My first Canadian winter, followed by my first night in the hospital, and my first set of stitches. These firsts are all related. Originally I was quite enjoying the Canadian winter. I’ve been lucky in that it has been rather mild here, practically still summer up until the new year, and even now that winter has arrived temperatures have been nowhere as low as they have been in the past. It has been snowing, which I love because we get far too little snow in Ireland, but it has not been at all heavy by Canadian standards. As a result, I haven’t had to acquire much in the line of winter wear. My incredible landlord bought me a winter coat for my birthday, and apart from that I had been told to buy a “tuque” and winter boots to be fully protected against the cold.If you’re confused by the word tuque, do not be alarmed. I had no idea what it was when someone first mentioned it to me. In fact, after asking a few Canadians and even looking it up online I am still fairly confused. Everyone who mentioned this mythical piece of winter attire had either different views on what constituted a tuque, or had no idea whatsoever. The only real headway I’ve made is that it seems to be a term for a hat. Why not just use the word hat then? Crazy Canadians. In the end I just got a hat. I also decided against the winter boots.That was a mistake, and possibly why I ended up in hospital.Canadians are so efficient at clearing the snow away that it’s easy to just take for granted that a path will be completely free of snow, or indeed ice, wherever you go. After two weeks of this I got a bit relaxed, and was fully unprepared for that almost invisible patch of ice. Being without winter boots and thus without much grip on my shoes, I fell pretty spectacularly. I managed to break my fall on a nearby wall but only with my head, hence my first hospital trip and five stitches in my forehead.Still, despite those minor disasters, things have been great. I may have an everlasting hatred for Gatwick Airport, but the first semester in Canada ended in fine style. I had a great Christmas with my family and friends, and I’m thrilled to be back. The new college term has been eventful, highlighting in particular an aspect of Canadian society that we really don’t seem to exploit in Ireland: themed parties.Consider this; in the past week I have been to a Lego party (where you play with lots of Lego), a Nintendo party (fancy dress with a Nintendo theme), and then there’s a Blanket Fort party on Friday (we’re turning a friend’s apartment into a giant blanket fort - how spectacular is that?). Last semester there were many others, from the run-of-the-mill Toga parties to the more risqué ABC parties (Anything But Clothes). Even better is the fact that everyone takes the themes pretty seriously. There’s nothing worse than people showing up in normal clothes at a fancy dress party. It’s just not on.I find these themed parties spice up going out in a great way. The variety is amazing, and you not only have the fun of preparing for these parties yourself, but also of arriving and getting to see what everyone else did too. These should happen more at home.Stitches and themed parties aside, life in Canada continues as normal. My landlord consistently buys me lunch, despite my attempts to evade his charity, and in return asks only that I teach him how to use the Internet and his new Blackberry Tablet. He is eighty, and has never used a computer before. It’s been an experience. The only worry I have is that my facicious use of the word ‘eh’ (pronounced ‘ay?’), seems to be becoming less and less of a joke. Canada is contagious. You’ve been warned.