To Be Or Not To Be

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.


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. 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…

    • 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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