Only In France...

Nantes, my home town: the castle and the tramway

Nantes, my home town: the cas­tle and the tramway

What are the top 5 French things I can not recre­ate in Canada?

I recently started read­ing Sasha, the author of Yan­kee In A New World. She is a really funny woman who lives in Europe… well, more pre­cisely, in Hun­gary. Yep, seri­ously. I mean, how many Amer­i­cans peo­ple are brave enough to go live in a coun­try where “how are you” is “Hogy vagy?” (and yes, I did look it up online, cause I don’t speak Hun­gar­ian).

Like any other expat/ immi­grants, Sasha occa­sion­ally misses home. Her “5 Amer­i­can things you can not recre­ate in Europe” made me laugh… and I fig­ured I could eas­ily list 5 French things I can not recre­ate in Canada.

Demon­stra­tions and protests:

Let’s start with the obvi­ous: France is a nation of proud demon­stra­tors. Accord­ing to the fam­ily story, I par­tic­i­pated in my first demon­stra­tion at the ten­der age of three months. Appar­ently, I slept through the whole thing, which was no doubt very insen­si­tive of me: we were demon­strat­ing against the mas­sive lay­off in the local ship­yard, a mod­ern Zola tragedy. Not that my par­ents were work­ing there, mind you. We were just show­ing some support.

French love show­ing sup­port. Like when the rail­way work­ers go on strike, the mail work­ers are quite quick to fol­low. It’s also okay to go on strike “on behalf” of the other cat­e­gories of work­ers: in Spring 2003, there were huge trans­port strikes, when the trans­port was not con­cerned by the Government’s project on retire­ment age. The two big demon­stra­tion sea­sons are Spring and Fall — it might have some­thing do to with the nice weather. Of course, sum­mer would be best but then, peo­ple are on holidays.

Any­body can go on strike and demon­strate in France. The “big three” lead­ers of waves of strikes are usu­ally the rail­way work­ers, the students/ teach­ers and the farm­ers. That said, I have seen fish­er­men block­ing har­bors, elec­tric­ity work­ers cut­ting power to gov­ern­ment offi­cials’ homes, cities where garbages were pilling up because garbage col­lec­tors wouldn’t work out an agree­ment with their unions, pig run­ning wild in front of the Elysée thanks to angry farm­ers… even lawyers went on strike last year. Lawyers. Of all people…!

I have seen demon­stra­tions in Canada. Well, some­one had to point them to me, of course, because I just wasn’t sure what the ten peo­ple walk­ing qui­etly in cir­cle with plac­ards were doing. Now I know: when more than ten Cana­di­ans gather in front of the Par­lia­ment, it’s because they are com­plain­ing about some­thing. They do it very nicely, of course, they are Cana­di­ans. Like, I have never seen any of them chased by angry police­men throw­ing tear gas. A dif­fer­ent cul­ture, I’m telling you.

An effi­cient rail­way network:

Now, I’m aware of the con­tra­dic­tion with the above para­graph but trust me: when the rail­way work­ers are not in strike (aim between Novem­ber and Feb­ru­ary), the train is a bless­ing. The French high-speed train (Train à Grande Vitesse, TGV) is extremely effi­cient and com­fort­able. For exam­ple, there are 400 km between my home­town and Paris, and it only takes 2 hours to get there. There are also about 400 km between Ottawa and Toronto, but the over­priced train takes 4:30. Viarail proudly adver­tises 25 trains per week between the two cities. In France, I have one train per hour.

In North Amer­ica, after World War II, improve­ments in auto­mo­biles and air­craft, and gov­ern­ment sub­si­diza­tion of high­ways and air­ports made those means more prac­ti­cal for the peo­ple. Empha­sis was given to build a huge national inter­state high­way sys­tem. In Europe, empha­sis was given to rebuild­ing the rail­ways after the war and urban mass trans­port sys­tems was favored.

As a result, it is often not prac­ti­cal (nor cheap) to travel by train in North Amer­ica. It is com­fort­able and con­ve­nient in Europe but not here. Oh well. It’s not like oil is expen­sive, is it?

Cheap mag­a­zines:

One of my great­est plea­sure in France was to run a really hot bath and to soak myself in bub­bles in my tub, with a mag­a­zine. In Canada, I bor­row them from the library and I stopped read­ing in my bath.

French have one of the largest choices in the world for mag­a­zines and are big read­ers. We can find mag­a­zines almost any­where: train sta­tions, local “bureaux de tabac” (smoke shops), booths in the sub­way… Most mag­a­zines are actu­ally sold by copy and not by subscription.

There are mag­a­zines on every sub­jects but most favor polit­i­cal sub­jects or the lat­est trend. I find French mag­a­zines gen­er­ally more open to the world than North Amer­i­can mag­a­zines. A silly exam­ple: women mag­a­zines. While in Canada, they would invari­ably fea­ture arti­cles about the twenty best sex posi­tions (most of them only doable if you can do cou­ple yoga at a very very high level — not that I tried…), a way to lose a lot of weight fast and how to become a suc­cess­ful and rich per­son, French mag­a­zines are light­hearted and do not take them­selves as seriously.

Mag­a­zines are cheaper in France too. In Canada, they are usu­ally around $5 (plus taxes), but in France, most mag­a­zines were around $3. It adds up…

Blue cheese:

That’s what I called cheese. Smelly, half rot­ten (Amer­i­cans dis­creetly call it “blue cheese”, but between us, the blue part is mold). But­ter some bread, add the cheese and enjoy the sharp and salty taste. How hard is that?

It’s not that I can’t find blue cheese. I can. Thanks God for Lebanese immi­grants who usu­ally sell imported cheese. But the price! I’m not pay­ing $6 for a tiny piece of cheese, tightly wrapped in cel­lo­phane. I feel like I’m buy­ing drug. I am not an addicted. Repeat after me. I am not an addict!

Now, I’m not eat­ing processed cheese either. You know how French trans­late “processed cheese”? “Fro­mage indus­triel”. Enough said.

Liq­uid Soap:

I stopped using soap bars some­where in the nineties. Well, my mum stopped buy­ing them any­way, and we switched to liq­uid soap, which I find doesn’t leave my skin as dry.Oh, and every time I look at soap bars, it reminds me of the Fight Club movie where Brad designer soap out of human fat stolen from lipo­suc­tion clinics.

But for some rea­sons, liq­uid soap is hard to find here in Canada, and it’s expen­sive. There isn’t that much choice either. Most liq­uid soaps are either too thick or too watery, and the scent is… meh. I miss my French liq­uid soap almost as much as I miss French deo (on a whole dif­fer­ent subject).

I’m curi­ous: what do you miss from home? What can’t you recre­ate in your new home?

I’d like to ask the ques­tion to a few of my favorite expats around the world:

  • Aiglee, from Venezuela and now liv­ing in Canada
  • Brenda, from Canada and now liv­ing in Malaysia (and soon to go back to Canada!)
  • Lis, from the UK and liv­ing in France
  • Breigh, from Canada and liv­ing in the Netherlands
  • Diane, from the USA and now liv­ing in Norway
  • Bar­bara, from the USA and now liv­ing in France
  • Guillermo, from Argentina and now liv­ing in Canada
  • The Writer, from Indone­sia and liv­ing in Denmark
  • Blue­fish, who came from Tai­wan to Canada (and going to Den­mark soon?)


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. Great Arti­cle ! I read your blog and want to say that you have pro­vide you excel­lent infor­ma­tion. I am also plan­ning a trip for Paris in this sum­mer and this will be help­ful for me.

  2. This seems to be a very dif­fer­ent kind of arti­cle but I enjoyed it read­ing a lot. At least it gives insight about France and the peo­ple. I have had many French friends and I know what they think about me. They are white, loyal and very hon­est and always ready to help.

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