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10 Weird and Funny Questions French Asked Me About Canada

The Geese Are Going Home, Ottawa, April 2012

Other than my mother and my brother who came to Canada last sum­mer for a visit, no one in my close fam­ily or friends has ever been on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

I don’t talk about Canada that much when I’m in France—I’m usu­ally too busy enjoy France in the first place. Besides, I’ve been away for a long time now: although I still enjoy writ­ing about cul­tural dif­fer­ences, I don’t make a point of com­ment­ing on them out loud (it could get pretty annoying!).

One thing you have to know about French, though, is that they have an opin­ion on every­thing. And some­times, it leads to funny com­ments and questions!

“It must be nice in sum­mer when it’s 5°C!”

When peo­ple hear “Canada”, they auto­mat­i­cally shiver with cold. All that snow… surely, it doesn’t melt, does it?

Well, it does. Granted, our win­ters are longer and colder than in West­ern Europe, but unless you live really north (as in Yukon or Nunavut) chances are you will expe­ri­ence spring and fall. And depend­ing on where you live in Canada, it can get bru­tally hot in the sum­mer, like over 40°C!

“North Amer­i­can food…tsk-tsk, they are all obese over there!”

I also used to think that French were culi­nary supe­rior to North Amer­i­cans. Granted, French food is pretty damn good but most French today don’t spend hours prepar­ing elab­o­rated tra­di­tional recipes (not to men­tion that tra­di­tional French food isn’t exactly diet food either!).

This trip, I noticed that a lot of French ate “the Amer­i­can way”, i.e. lots of junk food. Fast food joints like McDonald’s seemed con­stantly packed, and local fran­chises were sim­i­larly busy.

I’m the first one to sigh with Jay Leno and his catch­phrase,  “how fat are we get­ting that… [insert lat­est food crazi­ness here]”. But whether you live in France, in Canada or in the U.S., what really mat­ters is the food choices you make every day. You can eat crap in France and healthy stuff in Canada if you choose to, and it’s pos­si­ble to have a bal­anced diet in North America!

“So, you can work in the U.S., right?”

Believe it or not, Canada and the U.S.A. are two dif­fer­ent coun­tries. And sorry, not Schen­gen agree­ment over there.

Besides, why would I want to work in the U.S. right now? The econ­omy is crappy and the gold rush is over!

“How do you pay for your med­ical bills?”

It’s very com­pli­cated. First, I have to open my wal­let. Sec­ond, I have to pull my health card out—and this is the tricky part, I almost break a nail each time. Then, I hand it to the doc­tor and put it back into my wal­let. Et voilà!

French are so proud of their health care sys­tem that they don’t real­ize that most coun­tries adopted a sim­i­lar approach. When it comes to health care, the U.S. is actu­ally the excep­tion, not the norm.

From a user’s point of view, the French and the Cana­dian health care sys­tems are quite sim­i­lar. Both have their strengths and weak­nesses but none will bank­rupt you!

“How does it feel to live in a soul­less sub­urb in a city with­out a centre?”

Most French learned at school that city plan­ning in North Amer­ica is very dif­fer­ent than in France: the down­town core is typ­i­cally run down and poor and sub­urbs are more afflu­ent, whereas in France, it’s the opposite.

This view is a bit extreme, though. Ottawa (and many Cana­dian cities) has a vibrant down­town core and not all sub­urbs look like what you see on TV!

“Must be tough in the win­ter when it’s dark 24÷7…”

Huh huh. Try again. We do see the sun in Ontario, this ain’t Baf­fin Island!

“Ah, Canada! Sleigh dogs, Indi­ans, bison, igloos… lucky you!”

Er… I’m sure the Arte (note: the French-German cul­tural chan­nel) doc­u­men­tary on the Wild West was great but Canada changed quite a lot these last cou­ple of hun­dred years.

“How often do you go to New York/L.A./Chicago etc.?”

How often do you do to Greece, Turkey or Tunisia? Every week­end? Dur­ing holidays?

All the Amer­i­can cities that are famous in France because of U.S. TV series look close to Canada on the map. But most are still far enough that we don’t go there all the time. NY is 700 km from Ottawa—that’s almost like cross­ing France from north to south. As for L.A…. sure, it’s on the same con­ti­nent but it’s about the same dis­tance as from Paris to Baghdad!

“My cousin/daughter/boss went to Canada for two weeks last sum­mer. He is now com­pletely bilingual!”

Yeah, right. As if you could become bilin­gual in a cou­ple of weeks. I heard that one so many times it’s not even funny.

In two weeks, you can cer­tainly improve your Eng­lish and pick up some new vocab­u­lary but you will be nowhere close to bilin­gual, unless you were already fluent.

But wait—chances are the language-gifted per­son was in Mon­tréal in the first place. Mon­tréal, a city where most res­i­dents speak… French.

“You live in Canada? Oh, Que­bec, you mean, right?”

This one annoys me to no end. French always assume that Canada = Que­bec. If you are French, it goes with­out say­ing that you live in Montréal—you’d be crazy to live any­where else. I mean, the rest of the coun­try speaks Eng­lish! And they look like Americans!

There is noth­ing wrong with vis­it­ing Que­bec or set­tling there, it’s just the way French dis­dain­fully claim that there is noth­ing to see out­side of that province that bugs me.

Meh. At least, in Ottawa, Toronto, Win­nipeg or Van­cou­ver, we don’t feel like we are liv­ing in a “petite France.”

Have you heard any funny com­ments about Canada? Any weird questions?

28 comments

  1. Yea, Cana­di­ans have no issues work­ing in the states, you could cross every morn­ing to go to work and no-one would care. If you’re going to make an arti­cle crit­i­cle of a for­eign­ers mis­un­der­stand­ings of Canada, you should at least get the answer right yourself.

    • This is absolutely not true. I’d love to see your facts and sources for your state­ment. There are a few agree­ments I believe between US and Canada regard­ing nurses for instance, but 99% of Cana­di­ans need to get a green card, work per­mit or what­ever to work in the US.

      Unless you are talk­ing about work­ing ille­gally. In this case, I’m not sure why you would advo­cate it.

      • have to agree with zhu on this.
        a cana­dian in the states is pretty much like every other for­eigner in the states.
        take this advice from a nat­u­ral­ized cana­dian in the states:
        TN visa is a non immi­grant work­ing visa, and the moment the us immi­gra­tion offi­cer that will issue that visa at the bor­der, senses you have plans set­tling in the states, kiss your even vis­i­tor visa goodbye.

        NAFTA makes things eas­ier to work in the states, but not that easy anyway.just mak­ing bureau­cracy a bit eas­ier (as com­pared to mex­i­cans, who have same ben­e­fits under NAFTA) doesnt mean any­thing, as real­i­ties are deceptive.

        cana­di­ans are sub­ject of any bru­tal behav­ior from the US immi­gra­tion, when it comes to los­ing their job (hence no valid TN visa) and can be deported mas­sively … Florida being famous for this.

        as for bran­don, cross­ing the bor­der every morn­ing to work in the states I will have to advice few things:
        1. your lie to the inspect­ing us immi. offi­cer at the bor­der, bet­ter fly high, as if you dis­close your inten­tion of work­ing ‘just for the day’ with­out the proper visa, you indeed have jeop­ar­dized your ‘free’ move­ment south for much longer than you think.
        2.no SS card/number with no employ­ment restric­tions from DHS, can place you and your employer, under very seri­ous crime charges.
        3.no state ID/permanent US address, to go along with SS card, can draw atten­tion and when inspected by police even by acci­dent near to the bor­der, the next guys they call is bor­der patrol.
        4. speak­ing the same eng­lish lan­guage doesnt qual­ify one auto­mat­i­cally for the job.while tend­ing to be favored in a north amer­i­can environment,canadians have to go through same amount of paper­work and reg­u­la­tions, to work legally in the states, or do an AOS.

        and for zhu since I have seen the dark side of the moon, I can give you an advice (which is a sub­jec­tive one of course, depend­ing on the busi­nesses we are in): the grass is greener south, believe me :)

        • Hi and thank you for your expla­na­tion and clarification.

          I’m not a US immi­gra­tion rules expert (well, come to think of it, I’m not a Cana­dian immi­gra­tion expert, it’s just that when you’ve been through the process you under­stand it a bit more!).

          It’s always pos­si­ble to work ille­gally any­where, but the risks of get­ting caught isn’t prob­a­bly worth it these days. I mean, a Cana­dian banned from going to the US would be a very mis­er­able Cana­dian, espe­cially when it comes to fly­ing inter­na­tion­ally (so many Cana­dian flights go through the US!).

          Thank you for shed­ding light on the work visa sit­u­a­tion. I don’t know much about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of the NAFTA agreement!

      • Hi Zhu, what an inter­est­ing blog you have. As some­one who was born in Ottawa and has lived and worked in many parts of the world, I find your cul­tural dif­fer­ences posts to be fascinating.

        Bran­don is actu­ally partly right, and you are partly right. It is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward for Cana­di­ans with cer­tain pro­fes­sion­als (such sta­tus gained sim­ply by the appro­pri­ate bachelor’s/graduate degree or even in some cases Com­mu­nity Col­lege diploma) to work in the US legally. Infor­mally, we call it a “TN Visa”, though strictly speak­ing it’s “TN Status”.

        The for­mal per­mit­ted pro­fes­sions per­mit­ted range from Accoun­tant to Zool­o­gist, with a great many in between.

        This is thanks to the 1994 NAFTA (North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment between Canada, US, Mex­ico) treaty.

        Your depen­dants (spouse, chil­dren) can gain entry under TD sta­tus which per­mits them to pur­sue edu­ca­tion, but not to work. Of course if both spouses qual­ify for TN sta­tus and have jobs offers then they may enter as both hav­ing TN status.

        That said, TN Sta­tus is crit­i­cally depen­dent on your con­tin­u­ing to pos­sess your job; if you are fired/laid off, you have to leave the US imme­di­ately, even if you have chil­dren in the school sys­tem, and/or a lengthy lease on your house/apartment. Imme­di­ately can be within 24 hours, leav­ing no real time to make arrange­ments for any­thing other than an imme­di­ate very expen­sive trip home.

        Need­less to say this is an unpleas­ant sit­u­a­tion to be in, espe­cially if the econ­omy is weak, and it can cre­ate enor­mous dis­rup­tion and havoc in people’s lives.

        I empha­size I am not an attor­ney, and what I list above is sim­ply from my gen­eral knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion, hav­ing worked in the US, and had many friends work there with TN sta­tus; it is absolutely not intended to pro­vide for­mal advice for anyone.

        • Thank you very much for your expla­na­tion! I don’t know much about US work visas, I admit it. I was just pretty sure you couldn’t cross the bor­der and start work­ing in the US just like that, the way Schengen-zone coun­tries cit­i­zens can in Europe.

          I know a few tem­po­rary work visa hold­ers in Canada who lost their sta­tus the hard way when the econ­omy crashed, and sud­denly had to go home. It sure wasn’t a fun sit­u­a­tion to be in.

          I guess work­ing in the States under such visa is good if the money is good too, but it doesn’t feel like a life-long plan con­sid­er­ing the sta­tus can be revoked.

  2. Hi Zhu,

    I always appre­ci­ate this kind of posts: I learn so much from them.

    What can I say? The Amer­i­can health care shocks any Euro­pean. And you are right: Amer­ica is an excep­tion (it is the only devel­oped nation not to have a uni­ver­sal health care sys­tem). But even­tu­ally they will get there.

    LOL…Zhu, j’aime les gens!

    Cheers

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