Saturday, November 24, 2018

Why rural PEI is socially isolating

In the beginning, it was only supposed to be temporary. I was going to move back to my hometown in western, rural Prince Edward Island for a short period of time. After being laid off from my job in Vancouver, BC, it was meant to be nothing more than a transitional period. I definitely had no interest in 'living rural' for long but at the same time, wasn't really sure what was next.

I ended up staying longer than expected, either because of work or circumstances that popped up along the way. I've spent the last few years with one foot in the door while the other firmly planted on the other side, always prepared to make a dash for it whenever the right opportunity came along. Any day now.

I've always been very upfront about why I don't want to stay here and often, it's met with a combination of defensiveness and uncertainty when I attempt to explain my side of things. Of course, this is most often from people who've lived here for their entire lives and therefore don't realize how incredibly socially isolating it is to live in western PEI. 

But let's step back for a moment. In fairness, this isn't something I'm only just dealing with now. Growing up here, I often felt the same way. Reminding you this was before the Internet and I didn't have a license or a car, so I was stuck. Literally, stuck. Not to mention the fact that I didn't fit into the cliques. I wasn't dressing as the other kids did, (not just because I thought Vuarnet shirts and Edwin jeans were lame but because even then, I wasn't a sheep who followed the herd) I wasn't cool enough for the popular kids and I was too weird for pretty much everyone else. That's fine. I didn't intend to stick around for long.

Fast forward a few years and you assume that as an adult, things would be different. I had lived in different places, published some books, worked in various jobs, had many experiences and was pretty confident compared to my high school days. However, I came back to discover that little had changed. Cliques still existed, people now treated me like one of 'those' people 'from away' (which means you aren't born and brought up here; essentially you've been tainted by those 'away' places) and I realized that I had walked back in time...by about 20 years. I attempted to make friends but found many people friendly, yet standoffish. So they would talk to me at the grocery store but they weren't interested in hanging out. At first, I thought it was me and attempted to be friendlier in case people thought I was a city snob but I later clued in that it wasn't my personality necessarily turning people off.

See, in rural PEI, people know everything. They know where you live. They know your car. They know where you work. They know who you date (and fuck on the side....and if they don't, they assume it's anyone of the opposite sex you speak to cause I've also noticed men and women aren't friends here). They know your friends and your friends are either the people you've known for 100 years or a relative, but usually a spouse. This seems to be an unspoken rule and after being here for a while, I just stopped asking people to do anything with me because I already knew they wouldn't. The boundaries are already established.

It's very socially isolating. People often put down the 'big city' where 'no one knows their neighbor' (I'm not sure why that's a bad thing) but yet, I've lived in the big city and had an easier time making friends than I ever did here. I've made friends at the bus stop, at my work, with strangers who worked at a nearby store, you name it. However rural PEI, forget it. Here, I have mostly only acquaintances.

I also have little in common with people here, so that doesn't help. My idea of a fun afternoon isn't jumping on an ATV and driving through mud, drinking and driving (if you don't believe, check out all the beer cans on the side of the road) and going to any church function isn't exactly yanking my chain either. However, many things here are centered on the church. 

I also hate country music. Like, with a bloody passion, I hate it. I also hate anything redneck. No confederate (racist) flags for me, thank you and you wouldn't catch me wearing Cabela clothing and actually calling it fashionable. I'm not even going to talk about the dating aspect of things because there is no dating aspect of things. Most men are attached right out of high school and have kids five minutes later. While I was out dancing on tables on Saturday nights, many of my classmates were apparently having babies. 

Who knew this was a thing?

Racism is big here. Like, really big. I once had a relative tell me that all the people from 'those foreign countries' should all 'go back where they came from'. I pointed out that her people were once from somewhere else, in attempts to point out her ignorance but that particular point was missed. Another person saw a Muslim family and suggested they were going to 'blow us up', which demonstrated her ignorance. Of course, there are Trump fans here too. One moron told me he wished Trump could rule Canada too. I almost barfed on him.

Jobs are scarce here. I had one local interview where I gave terrific references from long-term employers only to be asked if I had any references 'from here'. I guess the others didn't qualify since they were 'from away'. Many people are known to get jobs because of political patronage. People pretend it's not a thing but it is. I've seen it. Not that politicians are interested in having many jobs here. Most are seasonal or government-sponsored (the employment equivalent of 'throwing crumbs at us') therefore giving just enough work to apply for EI (a federal program) which keeps people feeling they need to stay in the politician's good graces in order to keep on...you know, eating, especially come election time.

Then there are the pesticides. Lots and lots of pesticides. The only reason why the Irvings don't own PEI is that there's probably some pesky law in the way that doesn't allow them to take over the entire island and turn it into one (super pesticide filled) potato field. This, in itself, is a topic. It makes me nervous to stay here much longer because I'm not interested in joining the cancer club that constantly has new (forced) members. As in, I hear the word 'cancer' every day because someone new seems to have it every day. People pretend that's normal. It's not normal.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of friendly, kind people here who aren't racist, who are educated, open-minded and open-hearted but there are also a lot of unspoken rules that I don't tend to follow. And for that reason, it's pretty isolating. This is my reality.


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