After a few months in Canada, I was bored to death. Feng had found a job but I couldn’t work with my visitor visa. As far as Canada was concerned, I didn’t exist : my immigration status – or lack of thereof – prevent me from doing anything. I couldn’t get a library card under my name (no proof of address), I couldn’t open a bank account (no SIN card), I had no health insurance and I was reminding myself every morning that I had to apply for a visa extension or I’d be out of the country by the summer – which of course, I didn’t want. Days were going by with not much to do.
We were broke on top of that.
I eventually found a little job on week-ends : I worked for a flower shop and sold flowers in front of LCBO on Friday evening and Saturday morning. I was paid under the table, which I know is bad but I didn’t really feel like I was stealing a job from honest Canadians : I doubt anybody would have enjoyed sitting in front of a few flowerpots for hours. The fact I was working with a young Afghan kid who didn’t speak a word of English confirmed my impression.
Standing in front of a busy LCBO meant attracting all kind of weirdos. I was known as the “flower girl” and people would stop by and talk to me about their life, their kids, their problems. Without buying flowers, of course. People would first speak to me in all kind of foreign languages : Russian, Lebanese, Italian, Spanish, Greek… I guess I did look like an immigrant !
Eventually, things got better. I got a temporary work visa and meanwhile applied for the permanent residence, which I got a few months later. I got my first job, a bunch of new Canadians ID’s and bitched about winter like everyone else. End of the story ? Not quite.
I’ve been in Canada for about four years now. Even though I never really “moved” to Canada (I came here with a few clothes as I didn’t really own anything in France), gradually shifted from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other. From French to English. From being a student to being a teacher. From Quick to Harvey’s. From a 6-channels TV to 27/7 entertainment. From mild temperature to harsh winters and humid summers. From taking the subway to riding SUV’s.
But where am I ?
Retrospectively, I think I adapted quite well, without thinking too much about it. I left France as a kid : I was just 18. There are a lot of things I can’t really compare between the two countries because I had my very first experience in Canada : full-time jobs, taxes… — basically, the adult life. I never lived as a “French immigrant in Canada” since I arrived as a young adult with basically life to learn.
When I visit France, I’m lost. Despite the fact I speak the language and know the city, I can tell I quite don’t belong there anymore. The way I speak, the way I dress, the way I think isn’t French. Anymore.
Yet, I don’t know who I am in Canada. I could be Canadian after all : I speak both official languages, I have a good job, I know the government probably better than the average Canadian, I shovel the snow in winter and go to the shores of the river in the summer and occasionally treat myself to a Tim Hortons muffin. What’s wrong in this picture ? Nothing. But the odd glitch betrays me. I’m a foreigner.
Anything can trigger it. The old lady who doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Red-faced, very tentatively, I repeat. I get stuck on the words, suddenly embarrassed and apologetic for my English. The odd cultural reference I don’t get and I pretend it doesn’t matter even though in fact, it does and in my head I blame myself for not knowing. The grammar mistake I make and I can’t believe I made, even though my French isn’t always perfect.
I went to a few hockey games and I enjoyed it, except when the national anthem was sang at the beginning of the game. I know the lyrics – which doesn’t mean anything, granted. I also know the International and God Bless America – but I feel bad singing along. I’m not Canadian after all. I feel like it’s written on my face and that any minute, the crowd is gonna turn to me and boo me. On Canada Day, I feel like a fake. Who am I to hold the small paper Canadian flag ? I’m just a foreigner. I should limit myself to admire the fireworks, like the tourists.
Yet I want to belong. I worked hard. I deserve it… don’t it ? Deep down, I know no one is going to say “welcome, you’re Canadian now, you belong here !”. There’s no test to be Canadian, no points given for all the winters I survived, for all the snow I shoveled, for the English I learned and for the love I have for this country.
It must be in my head.