What Does a Canadian, Chinese and French Household Look Like?

Chinese, French and Canadian!

Chinese, French and Canadian!

Baby Mark is going to grow up in a multicultural environment: Canada is an inclusive country and we mix our cultures and traditions at home.

Feng was born in China and came to Canada when he was in his early teens. I was born and raised in Nantes, France, and came to Canada in 2004. We both traveled the world, alone and then together. Although we adopted Canada and are both Canadian citizens, our respective backgrounds coexist peacefully at home.

So, what are our Chinese, Canadian and French sides?

A Chinese home…

We hang colourful traditional Chinese lunar calendars on the wall. They are usually red and gold with an embedded upside down “福” (the character for “luck”) and mark Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival. Incidentally, Chinese seem to have a passion for free calendars. Every year, my in-laws bring us about ten different ones picked up at the bank, at the supermarket, at the office… I mean, how many calendars do you need, really?

We have more pairs of chopsticks than knives and forks. True story: when my mother and my brother came to visit us in 2011, we rushed to IKEA to buy more knives, forks and spoons because we realized that not everyone can use chopsticks for everything!

We use Chinese for some items at home. For example, we always call the thermos the “暖瓶” (nuǎnpíng) and “rice” is 米饭 (mǐfàn). We also use Chinese expression such as “等一下” (děng yīxià) which mean “wait” or “冷不冷” (lěng bù lěng) which means “is it cold?”

We tend to cover things—okay, let me explain that one. For some reason, Chinese like to cover or wrap items—or simply leave the original packaging—to protect them. For instance, the remote control is protected with plastic wrap (because you know, you grab it with dirty fingers when you eat in front of the TV). We have a red carpet over the stairs’ existing carpet. It used to drive me crazy but I’m now used to it and I must admit it kind of make sense.

We have a lot of Chinese food in the kitchen, including plenty of different kinds of “菜” (veggies) such as Chinese broccoli, bok choy, etc., hot sauce, Chinese noodles, 八角 (anise), Chinese candies, etc. We make weekly trips to T&T Supermarket, but Food Basic, Walmart and Loblaw also have a great “international” aisle.

We have Chinese medicine such as Tiger Balm in the bathroom cabinet.

And of course, we celebrate Chinese New Year!

A French home…

Like most French, I usually eat bread at dinner time. So there is good bread (usually rye)—not sliced bread with tons of preservative, aka “pain américain” like French call it—on top of the fridge.

I suspect I have more beauty products than your average Canadian household. I’m a fan of L’Occitane, Nuxe, Nivea and a few other French brands and I love creams in general. I try to buy them in France though, because anything French is more expensive here.

Pictures of crêpes and bread hang on the wall in the kitchen. I took these at the market in Nantes.

I have condiments such as French mustard, French pickles, herbes de provence, etc. in the kitchen and I use them a lot.

Even though I mostly read novels in English, I have a few hardcovers of my favourite French authors, including Jean-Christophe Grangé and Maxime Chattam.

We have French remedies such as homéopathie (not French per se, I know, but a very French thing nonetheless), Strepsils (for sore throat), Arnica gel, etc.

I have a couple of pairs of Doc Martens, British boots that were very popular in France in the 1990s but are somehow unknown in Canada.

A Canadian home…

We have a shovel in the garage. Comes it handy during the winter to dig ourselves out after a snow storm.

We have coffee mugs from Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, Starbucks and Second Cup—even though we don’t really drink coffee.

We even have Canadian Tire money somewhere.

We have an impressive collection of gloves, scarves and hats, including the iconic red mittens with the maple leaf.

We have a few Canadian flags (admittedly folded, not displayed) from Canada Day and from my citizenship ceremony.

We proudly celebrate Canada Day and yes, we watch hockey (when it’s not on strike…).

We mostly speak English at home and have adopted Canadian culture in general.

How about you? How do you blend your different cultures, customs and traditions at home?


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. Ben and I are both french, but both our dads are spanish too. That’s another common point we share! Usually, my “spanishness” is transcribed in the food I cook: I only cook with olive oil, and my specialties are all spanish. We do use spanish words like “Toldo” for stores. We often feel the urge to visit Spain or go to our spanish grocery store to eat some kikos or pipas… 😉

    Do you communicate in chinese, with Feng, or only french or english?

    • That’s funny, I didn’t know you had Spanish roots! Do you find a lot of Spanish products in Lyon? I’d thought the city has more of an Italian influence.

      We speak English at home (Feng doesn’t speak French, although he understands more than your average “anglophone”) and a little bit of Chinese (some expressions don’t translate well into English).

      • In fact, I think the italians settled in the St-Etienne region, and the spanish more in Lyon-Villeurbanne… So we’re not alone, and the community is quite big! 🙂
        Do you speak english with Mark too?

          • My dad never spoke spanish to us (it wasn’t “trendy” by the time, you had to be french before everything), and now I regret not to be fluent… 🙂

          • I hear you! I have an Italian background but I don’t speak the language either, because at the time the keyword for my grand-parents was “assimilation”.

  2. Hey Happy New Year Zhu & Feng & Baby Mark !!!! Wishing all a prosperous New Year with abundance of wealth and health too.

    Now I know why Chinese in China wrapped their remote control hahahah, we don’t do that here in Singapore and although Chinese there are still some difference in the way we speak though.

    • What, you don’t wrap your remote? 😆 I found that S’porean speaking Chinese have a really cool accent, very easy for me to understand for some reason.

  3. Doc Martens were very popular in the 90’s in Canada too! Or at least in Victoria, BC, where I was a teenager at the time.

    As a Canadian with European background and a strong interest in Asian food and culture, I always find your blog posts to be great. Thanks! 🙂

    • Salut Zhu,

      What a great family portrait! Mark is growing fast 🙂
      We at home are also a “melting pot”… D being French born is my daily gastronomical consultant and politcal commentator :). I have learned a lot about French cooking because in the past when D wanted to eat something I, either: 1) Didn’t know what it was 2) Didn’t know how to cook it 3) Both. It was the same for wines. For real, I learned(and am still learning) to cook in France!

      D loves his country in his way, which is much much less of the intense patriotism that I can find at home.

      I am of American. I bring an optimism,common sense and very nostalgic. I have still strong feelings for the US and display proudly my flag on 4 July. I have my little objects and family relics from home. A few are in my kitchen, including Grandmother’s old apron & her plates.

      Love is beautiful when it is between world citizens, n’est-ce pas?
      Hugs xox

    • I didn’t know about the Doc Martens! Looks like they are making a comeback too, I saw a few pairs in shoe stores around Ottawa. But they don’t seem to be that popular. It’s a shame, they are great shoes!

      It’s funny you developed an interest in Asian food and culture. Do you know what sparked this interest?

  4. What a multicultural home, I love it ! My boyfriend is québécois, but I’ve gotten him in the habit of having supper after 8 pm. Maple syrup and dulce de leche can always be found in my fridge (btw, I’m from Argentina). We speak mostly French, but I like to throw in some Spanish pretty often.
    Have a good weekend !

    • Ah, lucky you converting your husband to “la hora latina” for dinner! I can’t believe how early folks eat here. I can’t get used to it. And I’m sure he loves dulce de leche… I have some in my fridge too.

      Where did your husband learn Spanish?

      • He doesn’t speak Spanish yet, I talk to him and teach him, he really wants to learn it to be able to communicate better with my family. We aren’t married, but we are moving together soon to, guess what, Ottawa :). I don’t think you remember me, you “interviewed” me once for you immigrants posts. I was kind of lost till I bought a new phone with Internet. I can’t get used to eating so early, I still have my merienda (it’s like tea time for British).

        • I remember you 🙂

          You’re moving to Ottawa? That’s so cool! Well, welcome 🙂 Is there anything I can do to help? Advice? You know I love giving advice 😆 Feel free to email me anytime, and hopefully we can meet in Ottawa.

          That’s cool that your husband tries to learn Spanish. Feng also learned a bit of French to communicate better with my family. Hey, it’s part of the cultural deal!

  5. Ah, you just sent me back memories of childhood in the Philippines. Yes, you’re right, the Chinese love free calendars, and my family would receive them too from so many sources; from the bank, from work, from the shop, and they’d always be printed in these thin white papers with blue/black and red ink. And the holidays would be marked with English and Chinese.

  6. Doc Martens were popular when I was a teenager in the 90s in Canada. A lot of the goths and alternative teens wore them. Pop culture teens liked Sketchers. Sporty teens liked to have Nike or Adidas shoes.

    I really enjoyed this article discribing your multi-cultural household. It made me think about my own experience with my Italian-Canadian family and now with my French husband. I was wondering, are you thinking of sending Mark to a French-language school?

    • I hate Sketchers, these shoes are expensive and they don’t last at all!

      So how do cultures mix in your home? What language do you speak mot at home?

      I haven’t given much thought to schooling yet. On one side, I want him to learn French “properly” (the grammar is hard enough!), on the other side I don’t know if I want to send him to a catholic school and from what I understand, most French schools are.

      • There is a catholic and public school board for each language in Ottawa. You should look at the French-language public school board website to see where the schools are. When I was a pupil in an English-language public school, there was no mention of religion at school. We talked about Christmas and Easter, but I don’t remember being taught about Jesus, the bible, etc. It was more about making cards for your parents at Easter and Christmas, learning to be generous and giving, chocolate eggs hunts at school, etc. I imagine the French-language schools to be the same?

        I remember when I was a young child, the French-language school was right beside ours. There was a fence dividing us and we used to talk to “those kids” in that “other school” through the fence. Now that I think about this all these years later, it’s kind of symbolic, the fence dividing us, and kind of sad.

        While I am glad for the friends that I met in my English-speaking schools, I wish my parents had put me through the French-language system. It would have saved me a lot of trouble later on. There was the possibility of French immersion in the English-language schools, but that just isn’t the same. Some pupils finished the high school French immersion programme and they could hardly speak French.

        There are so many bilingual francophones in Ottawa but much less bilingual anglophones. So many of my friends from my English-language high school are up against them in Ottawa’s job market. Some of them speak French, having completed the French immersion programme, but they can’t offer the same level of language skills that a bilingual francophone can. It is so much harder to become bilingual when you are an anglophone and go through the English-speaking system. English is everywhere, on the net, tv, in the streets, most of the francophones speak English, etc. As a francophone in Ottawa, you are going to have an impossible time looking for a job without knowing English – so that’s why almost all of them speak at least conversational English.

        I’ve rambled on a bit so I was thinking maybe I should do some kind of Ottawa and bilingualism series on my blog. These are just my experiences growing up in Ottawa so please don’t think they necessarily apply to your family’s situation or that I’m trying to push French-language schools on you. Just food for thought.

        • Thank you so much for your feedback, it’s really valuable to me 🙂 We will indeed have to make a decision at one point (it seems a distant future but kids do grow up fast!) and I need to think about all that. I do think French should be learned “properly” because the grammar is pretty tricky. “L’anglais ça s’attrappe” say a lot of people here–it’s true to a certain extent. I have never learned English formerly, I picked it up when I came to Canada and taking language classes would have made my life easier at first!

          No matter what, I do want Mark to be bilingual and I try my best to get him used to hearing French. Oh, and Mandarin as well… but that’s another challenge!

  7. Hey Zhu,

    Just for the records
    I am from India, moving to Canada this fall

    I so love your posts!!!
    Cheers to that
    That’s all I had to say for the moment!!

    • Welcome to this blog and welcome to Canada! Congrats on making it through the immigration process, I hope you will enjoy the country and the move!

  8. We speak French at home, Portuguese outside. The kids will definitely learn Portuguese very fast once they start going to school. I don’t know how busy I will be then, but I’m thinking about teaching them French grammar at home too (through the CNED?- don’t know yet).

  9. Super, quel mélange ! J’écris en français, je devrai moins réfléchir comme ça.
    Ici, j’ai fait adopter à mon cher et tendre quelques habitudes bien suisses, comme le fait de dîner à 18h30, de se brosser les dents le soir (et non uniquement le matin, comme le font les Mauriciens), et de manger à table (et pas devant la télé, sur le canapé).
    On parle un mélange de créole et de français, on cuisine aussi bien des spaghettis carbonara que du poulet massala…
    Bref, un joli mélange ici aussi.

    • Je ne savais pas que les Suisses dînaient si tôt! Comme les Canadiens…! Marrant le fait de se brosser les dents le matin plutôt que le soir (ou mieux, les deux quand même). Est-ce que ça a été ur pour toi d’apprendre le créole?

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  12. Hi, I liked your post. Yes, I am Maltese and my husband is Brazilian. We live in Rio de Janeiro. We do mix and match our cultures. I often end up cooking mediterranean dishes with Brazilian meat cuts and finish off with some tropical fruit for dessert. Variety is not only the spice of life but the spice in our food too, i guess! 🙂

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