Challenge Your Beliefs

Challenge Your Beliefs (Notre-Dame Church, Ottawa)

Challenge Your Beliefs (Notre-Dame Church, Ottawa)

The more a country welcomes immigrants, the more local beliefs will be challenged, in one way or another. It seems pretty logical to me. Expose your culture to newcomers and even though they will eventually blend in, the original culture will be slightly transformed, little by little.

More and more countries wonder about their “national identity” and whether it is lost through immigration.

But newspapers often forget to report on immigrants’ point of view. We change too.

As a French, you’d think my cultural values are somewhat close to Canadian values. After all, I grew up in a secular developed country and my mother tongue is one of Canada’s two official languages.

Yet, some of my core values were challenged at one point or another after I moved to Canada. I had to reconsider what I had been taught as a French. What I had blindly believed in for all the years I spent in France. What had been passed on to me by my parents and by the education system.

Even the slightest things.

Let’s start with something obvious: religion. I’m an atheist. I grew up in a secular society: France is very proud of the fact church and the state are separated. You’d think I experienced very little culture shock in Canada — yet, I have. As I have already mentioned a few times, the importance of religion in people’s life in North America surprised me a lot. I was also shocked to see that a few beliefs, that were made illegal in France, were considered as “religions” and were perfectly legal in Canada. For instance, the Jehovah Witnesses and the Scientology Church are “cults” according to the French law. But in Canada, they are just regular religions.

So I started wondering: was France going too far with secularism, or was Canada way to lenient?

On another topic: public health. France and Canada are both developed countries with high life expectancy and somewhat similar health systems. You’d think both have the same kind of regulations, norms, recommendations and so on. Well, no quite. For instance, in France, you can buy raw milk (unpasteurized) cheese since French consider it’s the bacteria that gives the cheese the flavour. But in Canada, it is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in the name of hygiene. So, do French put their health at risk, or are Canada stomachs just not strong enough?

It is true that French have a kind of amoral attitude to all things epicurean. Where should I start? Well, no (enforced) legal drinking age, fatty “gourmet” food such as foie gras and charcuterie, smoking… French do enjoy life and they rebel against anything that doesn’t look “natural”, such as “junk food” and genetically modified crops. Canada, on the other side, is more on the cautious side and has toughest food safety policies. Yet, I know at least three or four people in Canada with severe food allergies — none in France. This allergy trend in North America has always puzzled me. Obviously, there must be some kind of environmental factor triggering them, yet on many grounds Canada seems so much safer and health-conscious than France!

On the health topic again, medicine on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are quite different. Something sold over-the-counter in France may be by prescription only in Canada and vice-versa. In France, pharmacists have the right to give medical advice while in Canada they can’t. Both countries have their own alternative medicines: homeopathy in France, chiropractic in Canada.

As a patient and as a newcomer, it can be very confusing to learn that the medicine you used to take for a cold is a “narcotic”! And on the other side, being prescribed something considered as “strong” medicine back home is weird. Who to believe?

Social norms are also different. Let’s take education. Both countries have different views on what put kids’ safety at risk. For instance, baby walkers are prohibited in Canada but are still very common in France. I know some immigrants who had their imported baby walker confiscated at the customs! One big debate is also about spanking. Last year in Canada, senators approved a bill that could see parents charged for spanking their children. As a French, I found it very weird. Obviously, beating a kid is wrong but I see a big different between child abuse and spanking… On the other side, I was shocked to learn that some schools in Canada, including in the “quiet” Ottawa region, had a “no backpack rule” for fear that kids will smuggle weapons and drugs. I know this is meant to create a safer environment but I can’t help wondering how we got there in the first place.

The list goes on and on: pretty much every aspect of your life is challenged in some kind of way. As an immigrant, it’s often difficult to keep a good balance between adopting your new country’s way of life and still retaining some of your beliefs, values and habits — after all, it’s not because you immigrated to Canada that every thing is great here and must be done the Canadian way.

As for me… well, I won’t stop eating unpasteurized cheese, that’s for sure!

How about you? Any values, habits etc, from your new country you didn’t adopt? Anything you find just plain weird?


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. As a recent transplant to Madrid (from Canada), there are lots of strange things here – mostly that most stores close up between 14:00 and 17:00.

    I find a shocking lack of diversity over here – considering this is considered to be a major European port.

    Being a child of immigrants (and being one myself), I always grew up slightly outside of Canadian culture. So there is not a whole lot I have thrown away, since I have had to question my difference always.

    Probably my biggest culture shock was in moving from Montreal (where I grew up) to Toronto and finding it so incredibly English with ethnicity confined to ghettos.
    .-= richard´s last blog ..Blancanieves Boulevard =-.

  2. In France you can take your dog into many restaurants, and it’s not unusual to see a couple of small, snoozing dogs under the tables in even a fairly nice place. If you tried that in Canada all hell would break loose! Surely the French do not suffer from any more animal related infections than Canadians. On the other hand, civilized, cultural Paris is full of dog turds; there is no cultural expectation that you should pick up after your beast, even as you walk along the Champs Elysee. Here in Toronto, if your dog poops on the sidewalk, and you don’t have your plastic bag ready, someone will quickly but firmly say “I think you forgot something”.

  3. I really appreciate your frank views and direct talk about immigration and the varied lifestyles that make us global. I worked for 20 years in Human Relief and Development in many countries and discovered that my “Americanisms” were not as lofty and correct as I might have once thought. In fact, while in France, I was HORRIFIED to see the behavior of my American peers in demanding hamburgers and ice tea! I moved to Canada a long time ago, and believe it or not, there are some pretty distinct differences even between these two countries.

    I am working with an organization right now that is targeted at helping businesses create diversity values in the workplace – and teaching them to respect ethnic and cultural differences. ZHU, I wonder if you might be interested in providing a guest post on finding work in Canada or how you would recommend Canadian business could make new workers (immigrants) feel valued and welcomed? Please contact me at the email address I have offered, and check out the site listed here for reference.
    .-= Harmony´s last blog ..Workplace Creativity on a Budget =-.

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