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Learning a new language in a new land, would we ever fit in?

It felt like drowning: heart pounding, head spinning. On my second day in Canada I stood in a Toronto supermarket, my hand outstretched in a beggar’s gesture.

“I want this … white thing. Milk gone bad,” I said. “We eat it with borsch.”

“Is it a buttermilk? Curd?” asked a woman in her 60s, her forehead wrinkled in mild concern.

Her response confused me. What’s with this “curd” thing, I wondered. Isn’t curd part of sheep’s fat? And how could something simultaneously be a butter and a milk, solid and liquid?

“Sorry to ask, dear, where are you from? You don’t look Russian,” the woman said as she flashed me her best “inclusive Canadian” smile.

I blinked once or twice and opened my mouth. Nothing came out. I knew what I wanted to say. Yes, ethnic Russians are 80 per cent of the population of Russia, but there the census reports 194 other ethnicities. No, I don’t look Russian, I was born in Sakha Republic in Siberia. The territory of my homeland is one third the size of Canada, and the capital, Yakutsk, is the coldest city on Earth. I wished I knew enough English to be able to say all of that.

Source: Globe and Mail

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