Each time I visit France, my friends all ask me if I miss it, and if I would ever go back there to live. In short, the answer is no. While I like the country, I must admit my life is much easier in Canada. I left right after high school and I never looked back, even though I enjoy visiting every once in a while.
Now, to each his own, and I’m happy to see expats and immigrants from all over the world (notably Barbara, Jennie, Lis, Emily, Sarah, Aimee, Princesse Écossaise and Tanya) having a great time in France!
There are things I miss, but there are also things I don’t miss. Let’s have a look…
First, what do I miss from my home country?
- Not having to drive everywhere, for a start. I grew up in the city center of Nantes, where the movie theater is a two minutes walk, where I had hundreds of restaurants and bars another ten minutes walk from home, as well as two nearby supermarkets and all the shops you can think of. The transit system is also pretty good, with buses and several tramway lines. In Canada, I live in a close suburb (about 10 minutes drive from downtown), but we rely on the car a lot to get around. City planning (or lack of in my opinion) is very different in North America and driving is a must.
- Having my family nearby, obviously. I have really good friends in Canada, but no family except for Feng and my in-laws.
- The art of hanging out in cafés: Canadians are pretty straightforward: if they want caffeine, they grab a venti coffee at Starbucks, Second Cup, Bridgehead, Timothys or Tim Hortons — to go. If they want to get drunk, they go to a bar. French, on the other hand, can linger for ages around a tiny cup of espresso or a beer. Plus, you can still smoke on terraces.
- French care about politics. Maybe a bit too much, considering demonstrating is almost a form of exercise. But I wish more Canadians care about national politics, which after all are important!
- Tip and tax included in the price. In Canada, GST and PST are never included in the price, nor is the tip in restaurants. I can never ever prepare my change at the cashier because I don’t know the final price. And I’m still not natural at calculating tips!
- The lack of political correctness: French are not too politically correct and I somehow like it. I feel that in North Anerica, there is always someone who is going to be offended by something!
- Healthier food: even bad food is somewhat healthier than North American’s bad food. Portions are smaller, food is less salty, less fatty and there is no “triple cheeseburgers with a side of onion ring, bacon, ribs” nonsense, like in the “land of plenty”.
- Historic cities: most cities are old and the heritage is preserved. There are tons of museums and everything is beautiful. Most cities in Canada are quite new and buildings are obviously not as pretty.
Now, what I don’t miss:
- Life is very expensive in France. If I was working (which is not a given considering the high unemployment rate), I would probably make between 1000–1500 € a month. Enough to survive and rent a small place, but I wouldn’t travel or go out much. I don’t make much in Canada, but I feel I can afford more: there are always cheap clothes on sale, entertainment like concert tickets are okay, eating out in ethnic restaurants is cheap enough etc.
- Renting a place can be a real headache: there is a housing crisis in bigger cities and finding a place can be tough. Plus, landlords are very picky and often demand a permanent job with a high salary.
- The bureaucracy. I feel things are relatively more straightforward in Canada: first of all, most of the info we need is often online. Second, there are 1–800 numbers (free) for everything. France is a bit backwards in term of government info on the internet and most contact phone numbers are over-taxed, not free!
- Stupid shop hours: in France, most places close at 7:00 pm (a bit later in Paris) and don’t open at all on Sunday. I never go to these 24 hours stores in Canada (well, I do, but not at 3:00 am!) but I must admit it’s very convenient to be able to go grocery shopping on Sunday and to have pharmacies open late.
- The health system. No, there is nothing wrong with it (other than its deficit). But what a lot of Europeans don’t seem to know is that our health system in Canada is not that bad. My French friends always ask me how we do to pay our health bills: well, we don’t have any. Everything but dental, eye care and medicine is covered by our provincial health system — not bad! Plus, in France, you have to pay first and you are reimbursed later. In Canada, our health card is just swiped and we don’t pay anything! Sure, there is a doctor shortage in Canada, and waiting lists can be long. But France also has waiting list for some specialties after all (see my post about both health systems, Sicko(s)).
- Lack of efficiency and no customer service: French are notorious for jumping queues, and it gets on my nerves. As for customer service… let’s just say it’s inexistent. Most people are very pleasant and polite, but this somehow change when they are serving you. I wanted to buy pens the other day in a store, but they were under lock and key. I asked the shop assistant, who sigh looking at me, and said: “can’t you get some other pens?”. Yep, that’s what I’m talking about…!
- Drunk kids in the streets: call my old-fashioned, but I hate to see young kids (I’m talking early teens) drinking in the streets and happily ordering Vodka in bars. Not to mention when they buy tons of liquor at the supermarket… I’m not stupid, I’m sure kids in Canada get drunk as well. But at least, the state doesn’t make it easy for them! I know, I used to think Canada’s attitude towards alcohol was a bit too much. Well, I changed my mind. I think kids drink too much in France… especially in Brittany, where I’m from
- Dirty cities: I find Canada amazingly clean compare to France. Dodging dog poo isn’t my favorite sports, and I hate seeing puke everywhere after the week end binge drinking!
- Lack of public phone booth: everybody has a cell phone these days in France. Now, when you are visiting, you have to rely on phone booths, but unlike Canada, they don’t work with coins but with phone cards, which you have to buy beforehand. Calling a cell is amazingly expensive (a 3 € phone cards to call cell phones lasted about 5 minutes), and even calling local numbers can be pricey. I like it better in Canada: 50 cents unlimited local calls and local cells! Plus, phone booths in France are heading towards extinction, and they can be hard to find.
So, what do you guys miss from home? What don’t you miss? I tag the French ladies mentioned above, plus:
- Los Zieglers En Canada (an Argentinian family who lives in Ottawa)
- Live From Waterloo (another Argentinian family who lives in Waterloo)
- Expat Travels (a Swiss who moved to Canada)