The Art of Asking (The Right Person, The Right Way)

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“Raised by wolves”, bumper sticker spotted in the neighbourhood, Ottawa, April 2018

I can’t help you immigrate to Canada.

I can’t help you find a job, let alone one in a field I don’t know in a city I’ve never been to.

I can’t review your resume to help you qualify as a skilled worker.

I can’t be your reference considering we’ve exchanged a grand total of one email.

I don’t have insights into the immigration process and no, I don’t know that “special trick” to speed it up.

I don’t want to hear about your complete background and I certainly don’t want you to pick my brain on Skype (admittedly, that’s mostly because I find this idiom pretty disturbing).

I’m not selfish, uncharitable, racist, anti-immigration or useless. Also, if you call me names, you’re an ass and if you make it to Canada, I hope the hockey team you may end up supporting loses for five seasons in a row—alternatively, I hope you lose a glove on a very cold day.

Not only it’s not my goddamn job to help you, but I can’t—I’m not qualified to. It’s as simple as that. You’re asking the wrong person.

Did I ever claim I had a solution for you, random stranger with an immigration project? I don’t think so but I’m constantly baffled by people who think I am. A few are honest, like this guy: “I contacted a Canadian who offers immigration services and he asked me for 3,500.00 CDN as a fee to process my case. I think it’s too expensive, can you help me for free? It won’t take you too much effort.”

Right. So you’re dodging a potential scam—good!—but your second-best option is to ask the first person you found online to help you for free. Totally makes sense.

And most of the time, I won’t even try to help you personally because in the best-case scenario, I’ll spend time finding the information you were looking for and you will never email back, not even to acknowledge the effort or give me an update—I’d rather dedicate my free minutes to my own personal quests or chat with people who do care about the human behind the screen. In the worst-case scenario, you won’t like my answer and call me names. Also, occasionally, helping people backfires.

This week, I received 18 emails from all over the world asking for guidance through the immigration process. It’s fairly typical, although for some reason, I can go days without this kind of email and suddenly get twenty in a row from different people.

“Please tell me what’s the best way to migrate to Canada,” “I am writing to ask you to help me go through the procedure to migrate to Canada” … Look, I get it. Sometime, big decisions, like an immigration project, are scary. Everything feels confusing, there’s a lot at stake. I understand. But Canada is fairly transparent about the process and all the info (yes, the forms as well, stop asking me for copies!) are available online. Honestly, you should have found that before finding me online. Yes, it’s complicated and yes, you have to spend time reading documents and analyzing your situation. Yes, you may not be eligible. Yes, I know, there are fees. Yes, it’s a long process, no, you can’t fly to Canada and figure it out later.

I always answer relevant questions—for instance, those from a person interested in moving to Ottawa or from travellers requiring more info on a place we went to. I’m friendly when the email is a bit personal, when it feels the person did spend time on the blog trying to find the info. No, I’m not “advertising my business” like someone I referred to an article claimed. I don’t have a fucking business. I’m not selling anything here and frankly, I don’t try to be popular because I understood it was never going to happen back in middle school.

This week, I kept track of the way I was dealing with emails. Out of these 18 emails, I deleted 10, sent the two-sentence standard reply with links to relevant articles to 5, found the info needed for 2 and elaborated on the topic in the last email.

And suddenly, the parallel with my own query letter efforts became obvious. In one life, I have something many people want—an immigration status in Canada. In another life, I’m also trying to follow my dream and be one of the lucky few who gets published. In one life, I receive unsolicited emails, most of them completely irrelevant considering my expertise. In another life, I’m trying to convince professionals I don’t know that I have the story their need.

Oh, the irony.

See, there’s something to learn from every experience. I’ll try to be more patient, I promise. And I’ll aim for the most relevant and personalized query letters ever.

Maybe we can all get the answers we want.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

10 Comments

    • One thing that surprises me is that finding me is probably harder than finding the answer with a Google search, most of the time!

  1. They say grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We tend to think that life is better somewhere else, just not where we are. Many friends/family in Australia are envious that i get to live in Europe (but they don’t know life here is not always honky dory), on the other hand, many Dutch people i know want to migrate to Australia. What an irony!
    May your wish to be a published writer come true 🙂

    • Thank you 🙂

      I agree, many North Americans have this very romantic view of Europe, while many Europeans think North America is basically what they see on TV!

  2. Honestly, you are already being incredibly patient in dealing with these kind of emails…

    The way I see it, if someone is selfish enough to expect you to do the hard work for them then you shouldn’t feel bad for telling them off because they are clearly just trying to use you. Personally, I spent MONTHS researching and reading on immigration process, without anyone’s help. We briefly considered hiring an immigration lawyer however after reading up a lot of material and studying the forms (everything is online!!) we decided to do it ourselves. From there on it took about 3 weeks of solid work, filling out all the forms, gathering the necessary documents and supportive evidence etc. Done!

    Here’s another way to look at it.. if you are not able to read and understand the most basic immigration guides online then you really shouldn’t be immigrating to Canada. Now granted there are complicated immigration cases out there that may require some legal help from an immigration lawyer, but overall you should be able to understand your own case and google information on it, rather then email a blogger asking them to do the work for you….

    Juliette, you are anything but selfish remember that.. your blog posts have helped me immensely in the past, mostly in providing general information on life and work in Canada, cultural differences from your own personal experience which I think is priceless information, and much harder to google than the actual immigration paperwork itself!

    So thank you once again.. know that there are people out there that truly appreciate your blog for what it is.. a generous wealth of information and not a business 🙂

    • Well, technically, I *can* be selfish. Like, I put all my Lindt chocolate in a metal box in the fridge. Feng and Mark haven’t found it yet. Shhhhh 😉

      I actually enjoy chatting with people like you who are looking for a human connection, who want to know what living in Canada is like. That, I can share. But technical details… nope, I’m not the right person. I’m sure you feel the same now, two years after landing. Little by little, you forget about the immigration process and all the info you knew so well when you were applying!

  3. Martin Penwald on

    The job of publishers is to publish books. It makes sense to contact them if you want to publish one. It’s pretty different than solliciting a perfect stranger for doing for free something you should do yourself.
    Besides, if I can understand asking about the immigration process to a recent immigrant, the informations from someone who have emigrated more than 5 years ago are probably outdated.

  4. Je n’en reviens pas que tu reçoives tous ces courriels à ce sujet. Je sais que ton blog est orienté immigration mais malgré les courriels que je reçois je n’ai jamais jamais reçu aucun courriel me demandant de l’aide pour un tel projet. On m’a juste référé des gens parfois. D’ailleurs je me souviens comme j’étais enthousiaste quand c’était moi qui essayais de contacter des gens au Canada depuis la France, et comme je trouve ça parfois lassant d’être dans la position inverse

    • Tu reçois quel genre de courriels, toi?

      J’ai pas mal écris sur l’immigration quand j’ai commencé le blog, vers 2006-2007, parce que le processus était vraiment frais dans ma tête. Je pense que depuis le temps, les pages sont archivées et apparaissent pas trop mal dans les moteurs de recherche.

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