Exactly four years ago, I got up very early. Feng and I got in the car still half asleep. It was a big day for me: I was crossing the border to the U.S.A only to come back to Canada a few minutes later, to validate my permanent resident visa and to become a landed immigrant.
It all went very smoothly. We drove to Prescott, an hour from Ottawa. We exited Canada, stepped into the U.S.A, and then showed up again at the Canadian customs. I had nothing to declare but a box of Tim Hortons donuts, my papers were in order and I already had an address in Canada to receive my permanent resident card.
The immigration officer tore my one year working holiday visa from my passport, saying I wouldn’t need it anymore. He wished me luck and informed me that three years from now, I would be eligible to apply for citizenship. It had seemed like a long time back then, and it was pretty much the last of my worries — becoming a landing immigrant was already a huge accomplishment for me. We drove away, back to Ottawa.
Four years ago already.
A lot happened during the last four years. After gaining some work experience here and there, I found a job as a French teacher and taught government workers for a few years. I started a new job that I love last October in a whole different environment: it’s challenging and pretty rewarding. For the first time since I’m in Canada, I feel that I found a “normal” job, not one immigrants take because they don’t really have the choice.
My English got better too. When I first arrived in Canada, I could speak some English but I was far from being fluent. First, I had trouble understanding North American accent: in France, French teachers teach British English. I could understand written English fine, but writing was a painfully long process. And I was missing a lot of cultural clues to understand what was going on around me. English is not a difficult language but it does rely a lot on pop culture, slang and idiomatic expressions. Learning from a book isn’t very helpful but for the basics. If you want to speak like a Canadian (or an American for that matters), you have to be familiar with the culture.
I remember that when I first met Feng, I asked him once how long it took him to be fluent in English. I was impressed because he didn’t have any accent. He replied something like ten years. “You gotta be kidding”, I thought. But I can see what he meant now. Communicating in English isn’t difficult: after a few months in an English-speaking country, anybody can pick up enough language skills to get by without any problems. But if you really want to be fluent, it takes much longer. It always makes me laugh when I hear people saying: “oh, I spent a month in the U.S.A, I’m fluent in English now”. Yeah, right.
I learned a lot about Canada these last few years. I learned so much about it that I feel I’m more comfortable living in Canada than in France. Indeed, I’m almost lost when I visit my birth country. I can still relate to the education system and a few social values because after all, this is where I grew up. I can find my way around my hometown, even though during the eight years I have been gone for, a lot of businesses changed. But I no longer follow politics, economic or social news. If I had to go back to France tomorrow, I wouldn’t know where to start — hell, I can’t even write a proper French resume! I bet I would use “tu” with everyone as well, instead of the polite “vous”. Yes, French language has two way of saying “you”: a formal one, “vous”, and a familiar one, “tu”. Like “tú” and “usted” in Spanish, or “你” and “您” in Mandarin. And among francophone in Canada, the rule is very flexible and using “tu” most of the timeis common, whereas France has less flexible social rules.
I mostly realized how much I changed when I speak with other French people. I know longer feel an instant common bond and I can’t relate if they are really into French culture. I have difference cultural references now.
Immigrating to Canada wasn’t a life-long dream for me. It wasn’t a strategic or economic choice either. I sort of ended up here, up North, and decided to stay.
I was a challenge at first but I don’t regret it.
Thanks Canada for adopting me.