To Be Or Not To Be

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To Be Or Not To Be

To Be Or Not To Be

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.

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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.

30 Comments

  1. Tracy : I under­stand how you feel — I never felt I belonged in France any­way. Funny though, cause from the out­side, the USA seems to be a very patri­otic place. I wouldn’t know even Amer­i­cans have doubts about their cit­i­zen­ship… but I’ve heard that before.

  2. haha!! Awww I always won­dered what life was like, mov­ing to a coun­try where you didn’t speak the lan­guage! I live in Canada to, but unlike you I live in British Colom­bia, which I’m assum­ing is far from you live see­ing as it doesn’t get cold here, it mostly stays the same tem­per­a­ture in Van­cou­ver year round…
    And btw, your eng­lish is per­fect now, very good!
    Are you going to put your kids in Eng­lish or French immer­sion at all? I went into late French Immer­sion which started grade 6, and I just grad­u­ated from High School this year (and also started uni­ver­sity 2 months ago) and through­out it was a dread­ful expe­ri­ence, but now that I have 2 dog­woods (1 eng­lish, 1 french) I don’t regret it.
    Uh… yah lol keep writ­ing!!
    PS. love your take on reli­gion!! Haha it was tres drole.
    Luv yaH!
    Kathleeen :mrgreen:

  3. Hi,

    Came to your site thru Priyank’s blog (10 clues) and your writ­ing caught me the same way I first time went to Priyank’s site. Read­ing your past posts. Very inter­est­ing. Even tho I can;t relate to your expe­ri­ences as I am liv­ing (in India) where I was born but I can surely under­stand all of that.
    Will read few more…
    Cheers
    Raji

    • After read­ing your sec­ond com­ment, I think I under­stand how and why you relate. :-)

      I actu­ally got to meet Priyank (he lives in Toronto and I’m in Ottawa) right before New year, he is a very sweet guy.

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