5 Things Canada Taught Me


Street Art in Ottawa

It’s only when I go back to France that I real­ize how “Cana­dian” I have become. Indeed, the first few days are not easy as I strug­gle between my Cana­dian way of doing things and my innate “Frenchness”.

Years after years, I take the pulse of the pop­u­la­tion and I can’t help com­par­ing France to Canada. While the for­mer is still a great coun­try on many aspects, there are many rea­sons why I won’t come back to live in France any­time soon. On the other side, I recently real­ized that Canada taught me a lot more than I expected.

Canada taught me…

To have a pos­i­tive atti­tude towards life: Look­ing back, I can’t help think­ing that the French are slightly neu­rotic. Sure, the econ­omy sucks, unem­ploy­ment soared and the cost of liv­ing is higher than most can afford. It gets worse every year and while a lot of French pre­dict a rev­o­lu­tion will occur sooner or later, they are afraid of change. French are more pes­simistic and wor­ried than ever: the con­sump­tion of tran­quil­iz­ers in France is the high­est in Europe! Cana­di­ans are cer­tainly more down-to-earth and gen­er­ally have a “can-do” atti­tude. Some­times life sucks but you work hard to make it bet­ter. I some­how embraced this pos­i­tive atti­tude and learned to develop my abil­i­ties rather than com­plain­ing that I couldn’t do such and such. I’m more open to change and def­i­nitely less negative.

To speak both French and Eng­lish (some­times simul­ta­ne­ously): For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Jean Chre­tien famously said “It’s not a prob­lem if you don’t speak Eng­lish very well… it may sound stu­pid, but the more mis­takes I make in Eng­lish, the more I feel like your aver­age Cana­dian”. French have extremely high lan­guage stan­dards: spelling and gram­mar are of para­mount impor­tance and are used as a gen­eral indi­ca­tor of someone’s edu­ca­tion and social sta­tus. Sim­i­larly, French pick on for­eign accents, crit­i­cize bad gram­mar and even dare each other to com­plete Pivot’s famous “dic­tée”, a yearly national dic­ta­tion con­test with com­pli­cated less-used words. French lan­guage is seen as a key ele­ment of French iden­tity and a part of French cul­ture. Although Canada has an ongo­ing argu­ment about bilin­gual­ism, Cana­di­ans are much more relaxed when it comes to their offi­cial lan­guages. First, a lot of Eng­lish Cana­di­ans have to take French at school and they real­ize how hard the lan­guage is. “Bilin­gual­ism” stan­dards are lower than they would be in France: in Canada, you are often con­sid­ered bilin­gual if you can com­mu­ni­cate in both lan­guages, even if you make mis­takes. Sec­ond, Canada is an immi­grant coun­try and peo­ple gen­er­ally under­stand that a large part of the pop­u­la­tion may not speak Eng­lish as a first lan­guage. Mak­ing fun of accents and mis­takes is very much frowned upon and empha­sis is put on actual com­mu­ni­ca­tion rather than on grammar/ spelling.

To see cit­i­zen­ship and immi­gra­tion dif­fer­ently: In France, you are con­sid­ered French if you speak the lan­guage flu­ently, if you com­pleted your edu­ca­tion in France, if some of your fam­ily is French, if you have been liv­ing in France for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions etc. The check-list is end­less. It always annoys me when sec­ond or third-generations French kids are seen as “immi­grants” sim­ply because they have a for­eign name. Exam­ples of “inte­grated” immi­grants are often exam­ples of second-generation immi­grants who are French any­way. On the other side, Canada wel­comes a lot of new­com­ers, many of them from coun­tries who are cul­tur­ally far from Canada. Yet, most seem to adapt and to embrace the Cana­dian way of life, even if they keep some of their cul­ture, which is encouraged.

To adapt to change: First, I learned to adapt to a new coun­try, a new lan­guage and a new way of life. Sec­ond, Canada is the land of change. Weather-wise, you go from harsh and cold win­ters to hot and humid sum­mers in no time. In this huge coun­try, cities range from Euro­pean Mon­tréal to business-centered Toronto and you don’t have to drive long to arrive in the coun­try­side, which is another world by itself. The pop­u­la­tion is mul­ti­cul­tural and you can say “hello” in quite a few lan­guages as you explore areas such as Chi­na­town, Lit­tle Italy and other eth­nic neigh­bor­hoods.

To treat peo­ple well: I always feel that rela­tions with peo­ple are gen­er­ally less con­flicted in Canada than they are in France. Cana­di­ans are more polite – it’s not a myth. They are also good at chit-chat, are quite civil with each other and value con­sen­sus. Don’t get me wrong: French are not rude. They are sim­ply taught to respect the peo­ple they know well (fam­ily, friends) and to dis­trust strangers. For instance, the rela­tion between customer/client and employer/employee is totally fucked up in France. It’s a power game rather than a win-win exchange. Sim­i­larly, socials classes still influ­ence daily rela­tions between peo­ple: liberté-égalité-fraternité, maybe, but peo­ple are quick to judge you based on your job, your edu­ca­tion or your accent.

How about you? Has you coun­try taught you anything?


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. Hi Zhu!

    Very nice post, congrats!

    I’ve learned lost of things liv­ing in Canada these past five years. And when I think about this a lit­tle more, I real­ize that I learn new stuff almost every­day. From words, to small things, to big things… what­ever you imagine.

    That’s what makes my immi­gra­tion process so rich and awe­some… the con­tin­u­ous learn­ing curve that makes me reacher every day and I hope never ends…

    Have a great day Zhu!

  2. Wow! every­thing you’ve said about France is sooo true, I feel that way com­pletely when I com­pare France to NZNZ being the same as Canada of course… apart from the lan­guage thing, we only know Eng­lish and a lit­tle Maori, and not much else! I miss the can-do atti­tude, the wel­com­ing atti­tude, the friend­li­ness, the ope­ness and the laid-back no stress approach to a lot of life.

    France has taught me to enjoy the week­ends, enjoy hol­i­days, and enjoy a Sun­day when every­thing is closed. You don’t need to go shop­ping on a Sun­day. Sun­day is a day for fam­ily, for rest, for you. I like the French way of life in this sense — work is not life, you must enjoy it too.

    France has also taught me about good food, and that you should enjoy it, and enjoy your com­pany. I will cer­tainly miss this aspect of the French cul­ture. Eat­ing is all about tak­ing the time to enjoy good qual­ity food and not eat­ing some crap food on the run.

    I’m sure there are many other things :)

  3. Salut Zhu,

    Bilin­gual is good when­ever you can be under­tood. Per­fect or unperfect!Language is for communicating.I like hav­ing two languages,but on the other hand.It is a part of me,this duality!!

    Bisous :)

  4. Well it seems that Canada has brought you a lot of pos­i­tive lessons. I cer­tainly agree that Cana­di­ans often have a can do atti­tude, are easy going and treat oth­ers well. Speak­ing eng­lish and french simu­tan­iously though…now that is a good trick 😆

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