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Well, I can just recount a series of incidents regarding my experience here as a new immigrant to Canada from Pakistan.
I can see that our neighbors have been pretty helpful in telling us what they think our image is like, and we’ve had some of our own illuminate us with their experience.
So I won’t go into what the image is like, good or bad, just how I have been treated or what I’ve experienced, and you can decide from that whether you think my Pakistaniat has caused me suffering or joy or has been irrelevant.
Public Transport: No one used to sit with me in public transport unless other seats were available. Especially women. Not problematic per se, women typically prefer seated with each other. The only time this didn’t occur was when a Latin American lady and her daughter sat next to me even though plenty of other seats were available. Which made me realize Latina women probably give 0 fu*cks about anything and are pretty hardcore. But here’s the kicker: When I started my job and started dressing for the office during the summer, all kinds of people started sitting next to me regardless of the space on the bus. It was then that I realized it was my dressing: When I was dressed in smartly ironed office clothes in the summer, I looked very corporatish and presentable and thus people were comfortable sitting with me. In Winter, I donned a very rough-looking bunch of layers like bulky parkas and scarfs that covered my face that made me look slightly menacing and thus people avoided me. Canadians are dressists. If you dress nice, they’ll take you home. White, Black, Brown, doesn’t matter. No wonder Hudsons Bay and other outlets have such giant operations here.
Pakistani experiences: I was once at a work event where a recruiter (white, male) was delighted to hear that I was from Pakistan. He had worked with Pakistanis in Dubai before and had a great impression of them.
Pakistani women tend to have a much better reputation than Pakistani men as their involvement in crime is low, they get educated, work careers and generally turn into productive members of society at a much higher rate than the men. I kind of feel like Pakistani women are far better established abroad and more respected than Pakistani men.
Actually, on point #3, I should also mention that Pakistani men are constantly fed a steady diet of “rankings” like “Pakistani men voted #2 hottest on dating website in America” and whenever someone investigates the source of these claims, the website is like 90% bots or middle-aged rural American women who might just be looking for anything with a pulse. I don’t think Pakistani men are considered particularly attractive here in Canada. This is more due to their attitudes than their looks. They must often struggle with the fact that women here are looking for partners that will work hard at their jobs but participate equally in house chores and treat them as equals. If you do that, well and good. But quite a few Pakistani men come here, and they struggle because they have been spoiled by their mum’s as princes of the house and cant do chores, clean up after themselves, have an incredibly entitled personality. This is why even Pakistani women sometimes don’t want to marry Pakistani men in Canada unless they are forced to out of peer pressure or it’s their own choice. So if you were hoping for some natural hunkiness to be your savior abroad: I can tell you that places like Toronto have some of the best-looking people on the planet from all over the world and women have a vast variety of tastes. So if you think you can compete with the athletic Black gentleman scoring dunks on the basketball court or the Korean gentleman powdering his nose on the subway and making his skin glitter, well I got news for you buddy: Invest in tissue stocks. Women here have very different criteria for judging men, and you might not be on the scale even. This is not specific to Pakistani men but brown men in general as well.
You are more likely to face racism and hatred from other immigrants than local Canadians. I was told by an Italian gentleman to go back to my country and that Muslim immigrants were ruining Canada. The gentleman himself was in Canada on a visa. One of my housemates was an Indian and we got along great, he was a super chill guy, cooked a lot and for some reason, he got laid a lot as well despite being very average looking. It makes me think women just love men who can cook well. Anyway, one day his mum visited and when she saw me, she assumed I was Indian. She started telling me how much she hated it when her son had to go to school in Oman where there were so many “filthy Muslims”. I kept my usual blank face, which I had perfected over years of government meetings in Pakistan. Then she inquired what my name was and when I said Usama, she got all nervous and started telling me about all the Muslim friends she had. I just laughed it off. Older people from previous generations are like the racist grandmas white Americans have. What are you going to do?
In Italy, we were chumming along quite well with a pair of Bangladeshis until they found out that we were Pakistani. They just went quiet. Didn’t fight or get aggressive. We understood and made our excuses to leave. I don’t blame them. Their country suffered massively at our hands and we have made 0 effort as a government to make amends. But I met a Bangladeshi uber driver here and he was quite happy to hear I was from Pakistan but he had a ginormous beard so maybe it was a Muslim Ummah thing rather than a Pakistani positive image thing.
In Egypt, I could see that Egyptians were a little apprehensive of us at first since they had heard that Pakistanis were “very religious”. I had no idea Egypt was as secular as it was till I went there. But they are also far more repressed than we are in some ways. They quickly warmed up to us when they got used to use though.
Nepalis and Sri Lankans are some of the friendliest South Asians you will encounter abroad as a Pakistani and have never held my being a Pakistani against me. I was surprised to see how beautiful Nepalis are as I had never seen one before, they have incredibly smooth, tanned skin and very movie star features. I swear living next to the Himalayas have been incredible for their looks, and I would consider them as some of the prettiest South Asians (men and women both). Sri Lankans are some of the best people to party with and the Sri Lankan Tamil community is extremely well established here. Very dynamic, enterprising and with their own businesses and technical careers. I have never faced any discrimination from them as a Pakistani although my Sri Lankan friends are quiet frank about the fact that they would never visit Pakistan because they are terrified of terrorism. Quite understandable for 2 reasons: The Sri Lankan cricket team bus attack. And the fact that they have lived through some terrible terror in their own country, so why go from the frying pan into the fire?
Chinese people are very friendly towards Pakistanis in Canada. I mean the middle and upper class Chinese who come to Canada and are educated and well settled. The more rural or poor Chinese communities just see the world as Chinese or Non-Chinese. Actually, I think Pakistanis and a few other chosen nationalities are the only ones that Chinese folk are comfortable including in their inner circle, I have even seen Hong Kong folk not be afforded that courtesy despite the fact that they speak Mandarin and we don’t. Once, at a bar, one of my Chinese friends loudly declared that he could get along with anyone but not someone from Hong Kong. It was a startling view into South East Asian politics that Pakistanis are not very aware of. My advice: Don’t interfere and don’t voice your opinion on such matter, they are not our turf. Also, hot pot is amazing and you should try it but you need to learn the East Asian style of eating out: Plan for a 3-hour meal, eat slowly, take breaks in between.
Indians: I have mostly seen Lahore and Karachi folk get along with Indians fine as they have the big city cosmopolitan feel that lets them get along with different kinds of folk. As a stiff-necked, government type from Pakistan I was surprised to see how culturally different Indians are from the more KPK-Balochistan-Islamabad types. I guess we are too stiff and formal for the more open, freestyle of communication that Indians have as we were raised in the Urdu tehzeeb style of interactions. This is why Pakistanis make good government employees and Indians make good businessmen lol. I would say southern Indians are relatively more chill with Pakistanis whereas northern Indians can be a bit tricky. Punjabi Indians will love you if you can speak Punjabi with them. But like the Chinese, Indians have their own bubble mentality and tend to stay within their own circle so it’s a coin toss who you get along with and who you don’t. Also, Indians won’t make any special effort to connect with Pakistanis abroad as they are busy setting themselves up with contacts among the local Canadians (same as us) so if Pakistanis and Indians become friends it is just something that happens, not something that’s assured. As I mentioned in #6 regarding China and Hong Kong, a shared language is not enough to mend national tensions. In Professional circles, I have found Indians pretty polite, professional and generally don’t care much if you’re a Pakistani, everyone is focused on their career here. But behind closed doors, when there are no Pakistanis around, I have no idea what their opinions are. Diaspora Indians who were born and raised in Canada are somewhat generally easier to get along with although sometimes they say stuff which I feel is somewhat racist towards South Asian immigrants in general.
Btw, since our friends from across the border were so happy to share their viewpoint on Pakistan’s image with us: I have spoken in private to citizens from Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh and the things they’ve had to say about India make me feel that India should be more worried about their image in their own immediate neighborhood.
White Canadians are very polite and accommodating towards Pakistanis in educated, professional circles but I should tell you: People who were born and raised in Canada have their own frank, close way of talking to each other compared to when they talk to immigrants. If you’re an immigrant, even if you speak fluent English, we don’t have those shared common memories and cultural bonds with local Canadians that they have with each other. So when you talk to them or they to you, it’s kinda like how kids from a guest’s family talk to the kids from the host family when your family visits another family. Its formal, polite and can be lively but it takes a while to thaw out the lack of common shared experience. Nothing to do with being a Pakistani though. But as you immerse yourself more in local culture and accumulate more shared memories (like how the Raptors won the NBA finals this year, woohoo! Let’s go Raptors!), the more you will start to get along with local Canadians.
Quebec is a bit of an anomaly: Folk from there discriminate more on language than anything else. I’ve seen some very reserved Quebec folk become very open and talkative once they learn you speak French. Immigrants from French colonies generally have a far easier time in Quebec than Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese or any other immigrant community that doesn’t speak French. But between you and me: I don’t really think Ms. Quebec is worth the effort to learn French for, she ain’t all that. Keep it between us!!
Israelis are a 50–50. Sometimes they will get along with you in a formal kind of way, otherwise, they might be scared of you and think you might go Allah hu Akbar anytime on them. Oh, but if you have even the vaguest idea of Israeli history then they brighten up immediately. Nothing warms them up more than a Muslim from a country like Pakistan who knows about Israeli history, politics, society and so on. Wonder why though.
Iranian folk are friendly as long as they mistake you for being Iranian. Once they realize you’re Pakistani, they might go a bit sour.
To be honest, you need to actually have an image first for your image to be bad and most Canadians are vaguely aware of Pakistan’s existence now that the war on terror is winding up and bigger issues are on their media’s horizon and national consciousness. So if you say you’re Pakistani to them, you might as well have said Mozambique or Uzbekistan or Pluto. They generally file people into either local or immigrant, with locals subdivided into cities, provinces, etc and immigrants divided into black, brown, African and other more general categories. Actually this applies to other immigrant communities too and the reaction of a South Korean to hear you are from Pakistani is basically the same as telling them that you are just not from South Korea.
This is why it’s honestly a myth that Pakistanis pretend to be Indians abroad. I came across this on Quora for the first time and it was mostly people with their own personal anecdotes. I have honestly told everyone I have ever met that I was Pakistani when they asked and even corrected them when they mistook me for Indian. The Pakistani restaurants here either clearly label themselves as Pakistani or name themselves after Pakistani cities or have names like “Karahi Bros”. The only times I have seen India mentioned in Pakistani restaurants is when Indian and Pakistani Muslims intermarry and they have titles like “Indian and Pakistani cuisine” mentioned in their banner. Why hide being Pakistani when no one here cares?
A bit further re-enforcing of point # 10: Remember how I told you about that Italian guy who said Muslim immigration was ruining Canada? For the most part, Canadians also see the outside world in such broad categories that they will generally either mentally file you away as brown, Muslim, hot, ugly, gets work done, lazy, etc rather than Pakistani in specific because they don’t really care. If you said you were from North Korea, that might spike more interest, to be honest. I’ve told people I was from Pakistan and have never really seen anyone show any further interest besides maybe Indians, sometimes a Chinese or two and other Pakistanis. If the recent Don Cherry rant was any further proof: Canadian attitudes are towards new immigrants in general and then further subdivided into the religion or region of those immigrants. You being a Pakistani? No one cares.
This might seem hurtful to Pakistanis who may have hoped that at least people might know about Pakistan but yea, Canadians have their own internal eco-system of news items they care about (elections, maple leaves, raptors, blue jays, financial markets, recessions, pipelines, trump, China, etc). Pakistan is barely a blip on their radar. I’ve only seen Pakistan mentioned once or twice in the news and this was in the elevator TV that was taking us up a building. Most folk abroad have sorta forgotten about us unless they are used to having sizeable Pakistani communities like the UK. If they don’t then we might be in the news for a while if something big Pakistani related happens but otherwise, no one cares. People here are too busy with their careers and relationships and interests. They mostly care about who can help them with their careers, who are rich, who aren’t, who got married etc. Your nationality is kinda irrelevant as no one has the mental bandwidth for it.
So yea, there have been instances where people have become reserved when I mentioned I was Pakistani. And there were instances when they didn’t care. And instances when they responded in a friendly manner. The situation is too complex here and you can get a variety of responses that may surprise you.
All in all, if you do come to Canada, I would say that people here will treat you fairly well regardless of your background if they see you make the effort to adapt and treat your home country well.
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