10 Weird and Funny Questions French Asked Me About Canada

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The Geese Are Going Home, Ottawa, April 2012

Other than my mother and my brother who came to Canada last summer for a visit, no one in my close family or friends has ever been on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

I don’t talk about Canada that much when I’m in France—I’m usually too busy enjoy France in the first place. Besides, I’ve been away for a long time now: although I still enjoy writing about cultural differences, I don’t make a point of commenting on them out loud (it could get pretty annoying!).

One thing you have to know about French, though, is that they have an opinion on everything. And sometimes, it leads to funny comments and questions!

“It must be nice in summer when it’s 5°C!”

When people hear “Canada”, they automatically shiver with cold. All that snow… surely, it doesn’t melt, does it?

Well, it does. Granted, our winters are longer and colder than in Western Europe, but unless you live really north (as in Yukon or Nunavut) chances are you will experience spring and fall. And depending on where you live in Canada, it can get brutally hot in the summer, like over 40°C!

“North American food…tsk-tsk, they are all obese over there!”

I also used to think that French were culinary superior to North Americans. Granted, French food is pretty damn good but most French today don’t spend hours preparing elaborated traditional recipes (not to mention that traditional French food isn’t exactly diet food either!).

This trip, I noticed that a lot of French ate “the American way”, i.e. lots of junk food. Fast food joints like McDonald’s seemed constantly packed, and local franchises were similarly busy.

I’m the first one to sigh with Jay Leno and his catchphrase,  “how fat are we getting that… [insert latest food craziness here]”. But whether you live in France, in Canada or in the U.S., what really matters is the food choices you make every day. You can eat crap in France and healthy stuff in Canada if you choose to, and it’s possible to have a balanced diet in North America!

“So, you can work in the U.S., right?”

Believe it or not, Canada and the U.S.A. are two different countries. And sorry, not Schengen agreement over there.

Besides, why would I want to work in the U.S. right now? The economy is crappy and the gold rush is over!

“How do you pay for your medical bills?”

It’s very complicated. First, I have to open my wallet. Second, I have to pull my health card out—and this is the tricky part, I almost break a nail each time. Then, I hand it to the doctor and put it back into my wallet. Et voilà!

French are so proud of their health care system that they don’t realize that most countries adopted a similar approach. When it comes to health care, the U.S. is actually the exception, not the norm.

From a user’s point of view, the French and the Canadian health care systems are quite similar. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but none will bankrupt you!

“How does it feel to live in a soulless suburb in a city without a centre?”

Most French learned at school that city planning in North America is very different than in France: the downtown core is typically run down and poor and suburbs are more affluent, whereas in France, it’s the opposite.

This view is a bit extreme, though. Ottawa (and many Canadian cities) has a vibrant downtown core and not all suburbs look like what you see on TV!

“Must be tough in the winter when it’s dark 24/7…”

Huh huh. Try again. We do see the sun in Ontario, this ain’t Baffin Island!

“Ah, Canada! Sleigh dogs, Indians, bison, igloos… lucky you!”

Er… I’m sure the Arte (note: the French-German cultural channel) documentary on the Wild West was great but Canada changed quite a lot these last couple of hundred years.

“How often do you go to New York/L.A./Chicago etc.?”

How often do you do to Greece, Turkey or Tunisia? Every weekend? During holidays?

All the American cities that are famous in France because of U.S. TV series look close to Canada on the map. But most are still far enough that we don’t go there all the time. NY is 700 km from Ottawa—that’s almost like crossing France from north to south. As for L.A…. sure, it’s on the same continent but it’s about the same distance as from Paris to Baghdad!

“My cousin/daughter/boss went to Canada for two weeks last summer. He is now completely bilingual!”

Yeah, right. As if you could become bilingual in a couple of weeks. I heard that one so many times it’s not even funny.

In two weeks, you can certainly improve your English and pick up some new vocabulary but you will be nowhere close to bilingual, unless you were already fluent.

But wait—chances are the language-gifted person was in Montreal in the first place. Montreal, a city where most residents speak… French.

“You live in Canada? Oh, Quebec, you mean, right?”

This one annoys me to no end. French always assume that Canada = Quebec. If you are French, it goes without saying that you live in Montreal—you’d be crazy to live anywhere else. I mean, the rest of the country speaks English! And they look like Americans!

There is nothing wrong with visiting Quebec or settling there, it’s just the way French disdainfully claim that there is nothing to see outside of that province that bugs me.

Meh. At least, in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg or Vancouver, we don’t feel like we are living in a “petite France.”

Have you heard any funny comments about Canada? Any weird questions?

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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.

28 Comments

  1. The obese stereotype is pretty funny, particularly if the person is from certain European countries (ie. Britain) where obesity is a major problem.

    I’m curious about the suburbs in France though: Are they all run down/dangerous or just certain ones?

    • “Suburb” for French is often an euphemism for “the projects”. So some suburbs (mots of them, really) are perfectly fine and now tend to look like your average Canadian suburbs, while the older ones around Paris, Marseille, etc. are very ran down. For instance, in Paris, the ‘édpartement 93″ is well-known for its supposedly tough suburbs, while places like Pontoise for instance conjure pictures of cute little houses. It’s really cultural!

  2. “What? Quebec is part of Canada? I thought it was a country on its own!”

    I heard that many times while completing my Master degree in Geopolitics lol!

  3. Oh boy… I am not even Canadian and most of those statements made me go “ouch!”.
    Zhu will probably say this again but, Pauline, not all French suburbs are bad. I live in a fairly decent one about 5km outside Paris.

  4. Haha, I’ve already mentioned this before, but I believe that Canadians are extremely polite but drive very fast. So far it hasn’t been disproven yet.

    That being said, this post enlightened me more on the French side of things; it’s always interesting to know what stereotypes other cultures hold for others!

    • This is funny, you mentioned it before but I never noticed Canadians drove fast. You should get into a car with me, I’m rarely past the speed limit, which is strange for a French as well! 😆

  5. When traveling outside Canada and mentioning I’m from Toronto, I’ll often be asked, “Do you know so-and-so? He/she lives in Ottawa/Vancouver/Montreal…”
    Yeah, for sure I know them… This is a HUGE country!!!

    • This is really funny, and it actually happened to me as well. I mean, even Ottawa is a huge city, chances are I do NOT know your old buddy!

  6. Am too far removed from both continents that no one really talks about Canada (or France) here. But am thoroughly entertained by this entry! Good laugh hah!

  7. dis­dain­fully you think? I think it’s ignorance. Most french doesn’t even know any other towns in Canada than Montréal or Québec. :-/
    I heard the same thing from my parents for the summer cold! Then they came to see us in Montréal. It was 45°C with 90% of humidity. As I didn’t do nothing but say to them “the cold in July? well, you’ll see, that”, they almost killed me. That was pretty funny, though 😀
    The funny thing I was asked is “It’s really easy to immigrate to Canada, right?” Hem… not exactly in my mind and at different levels!

    • I’m split on the “it’s really easy to immigrate to Canada” comment. I heard both, some people think it’s impossible and that I must be illegal, some think it’s super easy. The truth lies in-between (well, not really, I’ve never been illegal in Canada!). People also ask me if I have a green card. Wrong country, again!

  8. This is a really funny post. No doubt the French have similar misconceptions of the US. But to be fair people here in the US think that Canada is just part of the northern US. They have their own money? Really? Although what goes with that is an understanding that Canada is our closest neighbor and not only in terms of geography.

    • I’m sorry but I never really understood some Americans’ ignorance about Canada. How can you NOT know that it’s a bona-fide country, with its own currency and all? And I did meet such Americans. It would be like French not realizing that Spain is a country! I can completely forgive Americans messing European’s geography (between us, I’m always lost localizing precisely all the former USSR countries) or French not knowing where it such and such state. But you are supposed to know your neighbors!

  9. “Must be tough in the win­ter when it’s dark 24×7…”

    Try telling them that Toronto is at the same latitude as Nice… Yes both are at 43.7°N. Even Ottawa is south of Venice and about even with Grenoble. So Paris (and Nantes) get less winter sun than these Canadian cities.

    As for European travellers to Canada… I work in Toronto for a subsidiary of a German firm. We have an office in Calgary, and German managers are forever making plans to come to Toronto and then drop in on Calgary to see the mountains. They figure it’s maybe an extra hour or so. Yeah – an 8 hour flight from Berlin to Toronto, and then another 4.5 hours to Calgary. Oh, and the Rockies are not in downtown Calgary for some strange reason.

    • Seriously, the same latitude? I have to check that, it’s funny! Never realized it, although I think I read somewhere that Nantes was on the same latitude as Seattle (both have the same climate too apparently).

      Lots of Europeans think they can visit the entire country in a week… good luck 😉

  10. Yea, Canadians have no issues working in the states, you could cross every morning to go to work and no-one would care. If you’re going to make an article criticle of a foreigners misunderstandings of Canada, you should at least get the answer right yourself.

    • This is absolutely not true. I’d love to see your facts and sources for your statement. There are a few agreements I believe between US and Canada regarding nurses for instance, but 99% of Canadians need to get a green card, work permit or whatever to work in the US.

      Unless you are talking about working illegally. In this case, I’m not sure why you would advocate it.

      • have to agree with zhu on this.
        a canadian in the states is pretty much like every other foreigner in the states.
        take this advice from a naturalized canadian in the states:
        TN visa is a non immigrant working visa, and the moment the us immigration officer that will issue that visa at the border, senses you have plans settling in the states, kiss your even visitor visa goodbye.

        NAFTA makes things easier to work in the states, but not that easy anyway.just making bureaucracy a bit easier (as compared to mexicans, who have same benefits under NAFTA) doesnt mean anything, as realities are deceptive.

        canadians are subject of any brutal behavior from the US immigration, when it comes to losing their job (hence no valid TN visa) and can be deported massively … Florida being famous for this.

        as for brandon, crossing the border every morning to work in the states I will have to advice few things:
        1. your lie to the inspecting us immi. officer at the border, better fly high, as if you disclose your intention of working ‘just for the day’ without the proper visa, you indeed have jeopardized your ‘free’ movement south for much longer than you think.
        2.no SS card/number with no employment restrictions from DHS, can place you and your employer, under very serious crime charges.
        3.no state ID/permanent US address, to go along with SS card, can draw attention and when inspected by police even by accident near to the border, the next guys they call is border patrol.
        4. speaking the same english language doesnt qualify one automatically for the job.while tending to be favored in a north american environment,canadians have to go through same amount of paperwork and regulations, to work legally in the states, or do an AOS.

        and for zhu since I have seen the dark side of the moon, I can give you an advice (which is a subjective one of course, depending on the businesses we are in): the grass is greener south, believe me 🙂

        • Hi and thank you for your explanation and clarification.

          I’m not a US immigration rules expert (well, come to think of it, I’m not a Canadian immigration expert, it’s just that when you’ve been through the process you understand it a bit more!).

          It’s always possible to work illegally anywhere, but the risks of getting caught isn’t probably worth it these days. I mean, a Canadian banned from going to the US would be a very miserable Canadian, especially when it comes to flying internationally (so many Canadian flights go through the US!).

          Thank you for shedding light on the work visa situation. I don’t know much about the practicalities of the NAFTA agreement!

      • Hi Zhu, what an interesting blog you have. As someone who was born in Ottawa and has lived and worked in many parts of the world, I find your cultural differences posts to be fascinating.

        Brandon is actually partly right, and you are partly right. It is relatively straightforward for Canadians with certain professionals (such status gained simply by the appropriate bachelor’s/graduate degree or even in some cases Community College diploma) to work in the US legally. Informally, we call it a “TN Visa”, though strictly speaking it’s “TN Status”.

        The formal permitted professions permitted range from Accountant to Zoologist, with a great many in between.

        This is thanks to the 1994 NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, US, Mexico) treaty.

        Your dependants (spouse, children) can gain entry under TD status which permits them to pursue education, but not to work. Of course if both spouses qualify for TN status and have jobs offers then they may enter as both having TN status.

        That said, TN Status is critically dependent on your continuing to possess your job; if you are fired/laid off, you have to leave the US immediately, even if you have children in the school system, and/or a lengthy lease on your house/apartment. Immediately can be within 24 hours, leaving no real time to make arrangements for anything other than an immediate very expensive trip home.

        Needless to say this is an unpleasant situation to be in, especially if the economy is weak, and it can create enormous disruption and havoc in people’s lives.

        I emphasize I am not an attorney, and what I list above is simply from my general knowledge of the situation, having worked in the US, and had many friends work there with TN status; it is absolutely not intended to provide formal advice for anyone.

        • Thank you very much for your explanation! I don’t know much about US work visas, I admit it. I was just pretty sure you couldn’t cross the border and start working in the US just like that, the way Schengen-zone countries citizens can in Europe.

          I know a few temporary work visa holders in Canada who lost their status the hard way when the economy crashed, and suddenly had to go home. It sure wasn’t a fun situation to be in.

          I guess working in the States under such visa is good if the money is good too, but it doesn’t feel like a life-long plan considering the status can be revoked.

  11. Hi Zhu,

    I always appreciate this kind of posts: I learn so much from them.

    What can I say? The American health care shocks any European. And you are right: America is an exception (it is the only developed nation not to have a universal health care system). But eventually they will get there.

    LOL…Zhu, j’aime les gens!

    Cheers

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