Chapter 3 – FOB – Fresh off the boat ; Chapter 4 – Working in a new environment – By Geoff Burrowes

Chapter 3: FOB – Fresh off the boat – “Welcome to Canada.” – By Geoff Burrowes

Don’t anyone tell you that the first year in a new country is going to be easy! If they tell you that say “Y’u lie!” or if you’ve already adapted “Liar, liar pants on fire!” We had more advantages than most and still culture shock hit us full blast.

We couldn’t have been received more graciously. My cousin Mike met us at the airport and brought us right home. Auntie Dee smiling said “Welcome to Canada.” with big hugs and showed me, Norma, Brian, Dave and Ian into their home where they had a self contained room prepared for us in the basement.  Mike had all the Government forms that we would have to submit, such as the applications for OHIP and for National Insurance.     

He gave us a list of changes we could expect in our new country and the names and telephone numbers of a couple of well recommended head hunters as well as a suggestion of a budget and what we could expect to pay for things. My dad had advised us that I should get a job as quickly as possible. “If you have to get a job filling potholes on the street get it and do it to the very best of your ability so you won’t have to depend on anybody for your family’s needs.”

I have to tell you that I felt the same curious mix of emotions that I had felt before when embarking on a big adventure, a combination of fear and excitement. Norma, my , showed no fear and that was reassuring. At that time in my life I hadn’t learnt to talk about my emotions and maybe that was reassuring for her. The first dose of culture shock hit next morning when I called the third head hunter who asked me to send him a picture. Much later I realized that he must have heard my Guyanese accent and wanted to make sure of my ethnicity before he introduced me to his clients. I know that something about it didn’t sound kosher at the time and I hung up and crossed his name off the list. The second employment agent I called that morning had set me up with an appointment with a local director of an international office equipment company. Mike had taken the applications we had filled out that morning and mailed them to the appropriate Government offices.

My friend Desmond Hill who was also known as Joe Brains and who with his wife Jackie had moved to Canada some time before gave me some good advice. He said, “Man, Toronto is big – I would advise you to get a car as soon as you can!” I told my dad when I called him and he said “I have got some money in a bank on Bloor St. Use it as a down payment for your car.” So I went car shopping! The fourth dealership I tried was Honda on Yonge street. They were just introducing a small car named “Civic” for less than three thousand dollars. I worked out a deal with the salesman and signed up for my first Canadian car. My acquaintances warned me “That car is too small – Canadian winter winds will blow it clear off the road.” Instead it turned out to be a wonderful buy – one of the best cars I’d ever owned and it sold me on Hondas for life.

This was before seat belts became mandatory and we would pack our family and as many of their friends as we could manage into this gallant little light blue hatchback. I remember we went to the circus at Scarborough Town Centre with eight of us in the little Civic and we were blessed that we never had a problem – just lots of fun! There was a large chimp, which would swing on a rope over the crowd and pee when he reached the end of his swing. The crowd members who received the blessing took it well and our boys and their friends thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Today, in our politically correct climate, the Circus owners would probably face a class action lawsuit!

Chapter 4 – Working in a new environment – – By Geoff Burrowes

In the process of getting a job I was blessed as well.

My appointment was with Mike Virtue a VP of Olivetti who was originally from Jamaica. He was dark haired, slim with a neat beard and moustache and still had traces of a refined Jamaican accent. He said “So you were working for NCR, how come you’re not talking to them?” I replied that I had written to NCR before I left Guyana but had not had a reply and when I contacted them in Toronto they said that they had no vacancies.

NCR had a first class office in Kingston Jamaica so Mike knew of the thorough training I had received and after some probing questions he offered me a job in the Olivetti business machine branch. I travelled back to Willowdale in Toronto, Ontario to tell my family proudly that I was a newly minted Olivetti salesman. In my first week in Canada!

I keep saying that I suffered culture shock even though we were so blessed.

It came in the form of a deep ache for Guyana and friends and family that I couldn’t describe to anyone without being accused of ungratefulness. Although we were so blessed I missed the land of my birth.

I also made dumb mistakes being fresh off the boat: I bought my boys skates at the skate exchange which were white and in one case the ankle was surrounded by fur. I had no idea that they were girl’s skates! The boys and Norma quickly showed me the error of my ways and made me return them! But not before they were humiliated at a rink in Scarborough. I still remember my son Dave, who now coaches his son’s hockey team on the ice, skating around on his ankles in his white skates. What kind of father would do that to his sons? An FOB immigrant – that’s who!

I had been trained at NCR in Guyana that selling was an honourable profession, and that you could depend on your managers to put you in the best position to be successful.  That a successful sale was equally good for the company, the customer and the salesman. It took me far longer than it should have to realize that it was not that way in Toronto. Selling office equipment in Toronto, at that time, was a dog eat dog environment where the only thing that mattered was getting the sale.  Customers were aware of it, fellow salesmen were aware of it and only the naïve salesman from Guyana didn’t recognize it.

I had a number of prospects very close to being closed and the excellent technical people at Olivetti were working to solve technical problems that were important to the customers when my vacation time came up. My immediate manager at the time was a tall thin charismatic Canadian who was loved by all who worked with him. I filled him in on the status of all my prospects and left town to visit my sister-in-law and her family in Texas. After a wonderful holiday with them I returned to find that my manager had closed a number of my cases. I was delighted and he took full credit for closing the sales.

When however I came to install the systems I found that he had told them all that we had resolved the issues that we were fixing and that the computers could be installed immediately. I spent most of the next few months trying to fix the mess that he had created. The result was that I didn’t have time to build new prospects and I was fired for lack of production. He never admitted to his part in my failure and accepted the fruits of my sales and was promoted for his villainy. I was devastated as I had never been fired for not producing and I felt betrayed by someone I looked up to.

At that time I had a friend and colleague Peter Urs Bender who was Swiss and had come to Canada years before and who had taught himself English and become a successful salesman and was in the process of building a  thriving motivational business. Now he had overcome culture shock in the most spectacular fashion! He saw how shattered I was and said “You can’t go out looking for a job in that suit!”

My suit at the time was a  fashionable brown Guyanese tailored Crimplene suit and was  as far as I was concerned was perfectly adequate but Peter was right – it was not fashionable in a Canadian city like Toronto. He took me to his tailor, paid for a new suit and proceeded to rebuild my confidence. God bless people like Peter Bender! He has also become a well respected author and his motivational books are still selling well years after his death. Rest in peace Peter!

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  • detow  On 12/12/2020 at 6:14 pm

    In all of my over fifty something years of being in Canada I never thought that there was another Guyanese, of lighter complexion than mine, would have experienced such similar situations as I did. After having not long returned to Guyana from England I decided to try my luck elsewhere as I was, against my will, being dragged into political situations that I had no desire for. As a result I traveled to Canada, and had it not been for a German national, Ernst Wagner who has just passed on; may he rest in eternal peace, I would have left Canada. On the first occasion of applying for a job in Canada, although being well qualified for the position, I was advised that the position required CANADIAN EXPERIENCE.

    On my next attempt at being employed I tried getting a job as a computer salesman at Olivetti Underwood which was situated in Thorncliffe Park in Toronto, and having passed the written and verbal tests with flying colours , I was advised by the manager Peter Antanossil,(?) ( person who I will never forget, that I was the successful candidate and should call him on Monday, the interview and test having been done on a Friday, and he would let me know when I would be starting work. As instructed I called on Monday and was advised by Peter’s secretary that he was out and and wanted me to know that the position had already been filled by someone who started work right after the interview on Friday.

    I could go on for another three attempts at being employed but I will skip them and go on to how I was successful at being employed in my first job that I knew diddly squat about, an auto parts salesman, and that was only because my close friend Basdeo Hazarie who worked at Canadian Tire spoke up for me and, lying through my teeth, was hired by Leon Sweetman, the then auto parts manager.

    For me the rest is really history. With my newly found CANADIAN EXPERIENCE I was able to land other jobs within my sphere of qualifications and experience, and ended my care in 2001 as a senior executive with a government ministry.

  • geoffburrowes  On 12/12/2020 at 11:57 pm

    Our complection may be different but we both come from the dear land.Maybe we can get together for coffee some time!

  • geoffburrowes  On 12/13/2020 at 12:01 am

    Thanks to Cyril Bryan who gave me a chance that has caused me much pleasure in the pandemic!

  • detow  On 12/13/2020 at 1:33 am

    Getting together for coffee sounds like a plan but Covid 19 is presently in the way. Also, for the past thirty 38 years I have lived away from Toronto and, at the grand old age of 84 no longer drive long distances. At any rate, thanks for the invite.


  • geoffburrowes  On 12/13/2020 at 2:21 pm

    a very gracious refusal – can we leave it that when you next come to TO you’ll get in touch with me and we’ll meet at a convenient Timmy’s and get to know one another?
    Merry Christmas

    • detow  On 12/13/2020 at 2:46 pm

      Sounds good Geoff. A merry Christmas to you as well. Stay safe.

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