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 Mon­tréal (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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