5 Unexpected Little Pleasures Every Immigrant Enjoys

Pim's (French cookies) bought at my local supermarket in Canada

Pim’s (French cookies) bought at my local supermarket in Canada

The immigration process and the subsequent move often send immigrants on a roller-coaster of powerful emotions—frustration, stress, anxiety, hopefulness and relief. Then the famous “honeymoon stage” kicks in after landing, when immigrants experience anticipation and delight at the newness of the country. Life is awesome, people are great and every challenge is met with enthusiasm.

Of course it doesn’t last. Real life catches up with fantasy. Novelty runs out.

You’ve settled in. Things are more normal, more predictable. You have a routine.

It’s only natural.

But there are still 5 unexpected little pleasures that every immigrant gets to enjoy every now and then.

Making spontaneous phone calls to home

Does anyone realize how complicated it was to call home before Skype? I remember these days.

Dialing directly from the landline was a costly option, so you had to run to the nearest convenience store to buy a $5 or $10 international prepaid phone card. Sometime, you’d splurge on a $20 card but it was usually a bad idea because these cards were unreliable and the money left after the initial call tended to magically disappear.

Once you had the card, making the call wasn’t exactly straightforward. First, you had to scratch the code at the back with a penny, then dial a 1-800 number. After going through a menu in ten different languages, you were prompted to enter the code, then other random numbers, then the country code, then the area code, then the phone number. And ta-da! You were connected. Or not. Dropped calls were always an issue and sometime, the code was illegible. The per-minute rate was obscure and you were rarely getting your money’s worth.

Now, calling home is super easy with Skype or any other VoIP providers. You can have a video call and show your loved ones how awesome you look. You can install the software on your cellphone and chat with someone thousands of kilometers away while doing your grocery shopping or watching the kids at the park. It’s… comforting. I love it.

Finding a familiar brand or product

Once in a while, lost in the sea of thousands of strange foreign products and brands you have yet to adopt or fully enjoy, you find a familiar name or packaging. NO WAY! Is that… Yes, it is—something from home!

The availability of imported goods is one of the perks of globalization. There is nothing like sipping a Starbucks coffee in China when you are really tired of green tea or finding a box of mac and cheese in Paris because you ODed on baguette and la gastronomie.

Canada has at least five or six different brands of jam and they are all just fine, but I get irrationally excited when I spot a jar of Bonne Maman jam at the supermarket and yes, I pay the premium price for it. Same goes with cookies. Some days, I need my French Petits écoliers (usually available at Loblaws, FYI) or other LU brands.

I also find the seemingly random availability of foreign brands and products funny. For instance, Leader Price cookies are displayed as an exotic top choice at IGA supermarkets in Quebec whereas in France, it is a cheap store brand.

Hearing your native language

You’re sitting in a coffee shop or queuing at the cash register and suddenly, you pick up a word, an accent, a familiar speech pattern. Someone is speaking your language! Your brain tunes in to the conversation and you listen avidly, no matter how mundane the exchange is. It all makes sense! And even if you are not actively listening, the familiar sounds are soothing.

No matter how fluent you are in your second (or third, or forth…) language, your mother tongue brings back memories of the world you left behind. You would love to strike a conversation with that familiar stranger, just for the pleasure of pronouncing words with confidence and without any accent, for once! And if you do… well, see below.

Meeting someone who knows your city

If to the mundane “Where are you from?” question someone names a familiar place, you may find yourself shouting “ME TOO!” Or even “NO WAY! That’s like… twenty kilometers from where I grew up/went to school/used to hang out!”

Despite what we always say, the world isn’t such a small place and meeting someone from a familiar place feels special.

Note that the level of joy and surprise is proportional to the probability of such encounter. When I meet French people in Montreal, I think “so what?” Unless they are from Nantes, the city where I grew up, I don’t care. Now I’d probably get excited to meet a French in Nicaragua and I found myself staring at each the four Westerners I spotted when we were in Wuhan, China. Similarly, if you are from a big city—Paris, New York, Beijing, etc.—the odds are better and the experience isn’t as special, unless you narrow it down to a district, a street, a school, etc.

Receiving mail from home

Do you know who queues at the post office? Immigrants. I know, I am one of them. When I go to a postal outlet, I always meet people from all over the world mailing pictures or little pieces of life to their family back home. I do the same—I mail drawings from Mark, pictures, little gifts.

And of course, we all expect mail in return.

Anyone loves discovering something else than bills and junk mail in the mailbox, but spotting a foreign stamp or a thick envelop is very special. Get an actual parcel and it’s Christmas. Even the packaging looks cool! Stamps, these blue “by air mail” stickers, multiple postmarks, the almost faded custom form… Snail mail is love mail!

Do you experience these little pleasures? Anything else I forgot?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Martin Penwald on

    I still use a international phone card in Canada, and I don’t have trouble with dropped calls or rates until now. But I was using Vox International which was far more interesting than Vox Europa for example. But it seems they noticed it and the Vox International phone cards have been discontinued recently. A $10 card could last me more than 2 monthes, now, a $10 card lasts around 1 month, depending how often I am in Canada or US.
    In US, there is a integrated international calling plan included in my plan, which works the same as a calling card, but uses the minutes of my phone. It is convenient and not too expensive. Besides, international phone cards in the US are extremely expensive compared to what is available in Canada.

    I don’t use Skype (besides the fact that it is not a Libre software, there are alternatives) because VoIP uses too much bandwidth on a cell data plan.

    And you forgot the sixth unexpected pleasure : SNOW !

    • I forgot the name of the cards I used to buy… 20/20 I think, among other. The best part of Skype for me is to be able to use it as an app from my phone. I heard many people complaining about it but it’s still the cheapest and most convenience option for me so far. It doesn’t seem to use much bandwidth on my phone either, I’m way below my limit.

  2. I remember those cards all too well! It was always the same thing, 5 euros and they promised some crazy amount of minutes. Sometimes I felt that those 5 euros used to stretch for months and months and I really wondered why they hadn’t cut me off yet and other times I used a card for all of five minutes before it told that my time was up. And that was using landlines, not phone booths (those ate up the money even faster).

    I had forgotten all about those cards.

    • Yes, same story here! Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever bought long-distance phone cards in France… funny. At least in Canada you have 1-800 numbers to connect to the service. I’m not sure it is the case in France… is it?

      • Martin Penwald on

        It is a good question. I have no idea. But these days, almost every French landline phone operators provide free unlimited calls to almost everywhere in the world, so it is not a problem.
        And because in North America it is the call receiver who pays in the case of a cell phone, we often manage with my parents that they call me, so they do not pay more than their monthly fees whatever they do, and I only pay the reception. And in Canada, my plan provides free and unlimited calls on week-ends, so it is not very costly for me to stay in touch with France.

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