Today in bureaucracy, my afternoon was spent at the Toronto passport office. In true Canadian style, it couldn’t have been more pleasant an atmosphere if they’d installed a chocolate fountain. When I walked in, all the moisture in my mouth took a hike and I was left with nothing but desert. I was nervous, for the same reasons your knuckles whiten when you see a cop. Regardless of whether or not you’ve done anything wrong, being in the vicinity of authority has a visceral effect. In this case it was wholly unwarranted. There was a line to check that you’d brought all of the necessary documentation. The woman at the counter was friendly and helpful, going through each item of identification in order to make sure I wasn’t wasting my time. I got my number and sat down. The passport centre had around 10 desks and rolling screens with service numbers listed. Your number came up, you went to the corresponding desk. It was an efficient system. There were probably about 30 people waiting by the time I arrived and I sat for no more than 20 minutes myself. The woman who served me went through my entire application and made sure I had all the correct details. She said their number one priority was to do their best to ensure applicants wouldn’t get refused once they’d paid. She pointed out a detail or two I could’ve clarified better and we corrected them. Two weeks, she said, and I’d finally have my Canadian passport. I’ve been here for over two years and I’ll finally feel like a true Canuck.
This brings me to a point of contemplation. My New Zealand passport will expire next year. Do I renew it? If I have my Canadian passport, do I really need a New Zealand one too? Aside from New Zealand, where am I gonna travel that’d justify official Kiwi documentation? How often am I likely to go home over the course of the five years validity the passport comes with? Is it worth paying the $200 or so to ease my entry once or twice? Or is something larger at play here? I guess it’s a personal issue, but how would I feel about not having a passport from my home country? Yeah, I live here now, but I’m still a New Zealander. There’s a stab of emotion that I can’t quite describe coming into play when I imagine not having identification from my own country. Having both passports doesn’t mean that either is invalidated, so what do I have to lose other than a little bit of money and time in renewing it?
Okay, it’s easy to see that from a practical standpoint it’s a bit of a no-brainer. I’ll renew my passport when I need to. Done. What I’m more curious about is my personal identity. I know that I’m a Canadian. The law says it and I have a big piece of paper with a vicious unicorn that qualifies this. I’ve lived in Toronto long enough to be considered a local. You know what though? More often than not I still consider myself an outsider. It’s not a lack of familiarity with my environment, but a lack of intuitive cultural understanding. I haven’t grown up with TVO, I still call it “ice hockey” (as opposed to Canadians who use the simplified moniker “hockey”) and I don’t get how Tim Hortons is anything but shit coffee. I may know a few go to Canadian Heritage Moments quotes, but if people reference important historical and cultural touchstones they fly well over my head. Every time someone is surprised by my accent, despite their polite and friendly intentions, it makes me feel separate. Othered. It’s not a major qualm. I’m not crying myself to sleep over it. All I’m saying is that I’m in a curious state of limbo that’s mildly unsettling. I’m not saying I need to forget where I came from and become a whole new person. I’m just wondering when this state of equilibrium balances out and I understand my place in the world. I want to know what my cultural identity means to me and furthermore, what I want it to mean.