When I was twenty-two, I moved from the Toronto suburb where I had grown up to the city of London. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t immediately bee offered a job upon graduation, couldn’t imagine telling people that I had my degree but was still a waitress and had to find something concrete I could say I was doing. So, London. They spoke English, I could legally work there, and to everyone else it would look like an adventure.
I quickly found a job as a temp and when I went in every morning my boss Ben would say “are you alright?”
To my North American ears and twenty-two year old emotions it seemed like he could tell something was wrong so I would respond honestly.
“Quite homesick actually. I can’t afford the Internet at my flat yet and I don’t know anyone here so I haven’t spoken to another human since leaving work Friday.”
“I’m just so lonely and feel very disconnected from everyone I know.”
“A bit sad today. It’s my graduation day and I’m missing it and to be honest I’ve been wondering if this whole thing is a mistake.”
It was a year later, back in Toronto, when I learned that “are you alright” is just the young Londoner’s version of “how’s it going?” Ben hadn’t been asking me if anything was wrong and he definitely had not been looking for an honest response about my loneliness. The guy was just being polite on the way to his desk and probably thought I was a nut. Because it is nuts, honesty. No one ever really wants to know the thing you’re thinking.