20 Things Most Immigrants Must Have Experienced

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Ottawa, October 2018

Please, tell me I’m not the only one!

Flying “home” with a child under two. Not because it’s the best age for a long-haul flight, but because babies and toddlers fly for free or for a fraction of a regular ticket price as long as they sit on your lap. Besides, if you’re the one making the trip, you won’t have to host your in-laws who were dangerously close to finalize travel arrangements for a meet-the-baby trip…

Trying to recreate a family recipe with local ingredients. Two hours later, after searching online for tips, converting units of measurement, calling a friend and substituting ten hard-to-find ingredients, you end up with a completely different dish. If you’re lucky, it’s edible and it qualifies as comfort food.

Queuing at the post office (with other immigrants) to pick up or send a package. Not everything can be shared as an attachment or hyperlinked. Food or supplies you once took for granted can be a real treat.

Ordering photo prints, and creating calendars, photo books and other cheesy keepsakes to send home. Personalized photo calendars are a surprisingly popular gift—I noticed it’s the default Christmas present idea for older relatives.

Having stashes of that precious product you can’t find anywhere but “back home.” I have Maggi instant soup mixes, French medicine, French cookies, French sea salt…

Being excited to see a familiar product or brand now sold where you live. Even if 1) it tastes different because it’s made with local ingredients (Danette, anyone?) 2) you never liked it so much at home in the first place.

Taking pictures of very mundane things in your environment just to show relatives and friends back home. I have shots of squirrels, snow and cute Canadian mailboxes because it’s so exotic, right?

Realizing that a few common words you use in your new life can’t be translated. I’m still struggling to find the exact word for “driveway” in French because French either park in a garage or on the street, but few face the typical Canadian issue of a garage full with a SUV, a snowblower and hockey gear. This is also why when two immigrants are chatting in their mother tongue, you’ll often hear words in English (or whatever the local language is) in the conversation.

Feeling briefly very patriotic during big international events. I spent most of July explaining CBC journalists that I really wasn’t knowledgeable enough about football to be the designated French supporter in English Canada, but I was surprised how much I knew about the 2018 FIFA World Cup by then.

Being the designated French- or English-language expert for family members back home. Yes, I’ll proof your resume in English. Sure, I’ll take a look at your school homework. Gee, what do they teach you? Nobody speaks like that!

Making phone calls way too early or way too late to reach someone at the best moment in a specific time zone. Having a shortcut to Skype on your tablet, phone and computer.

Finding local enthusiasm for specific aspects of your culture a little bit strange. French don’t have secret sex tips—and some of us can’t pick a good bottle of wine. Not all Italians make amazing pasta dishes and pizza. Your American friend can’t teach you how to shoot a gun. Your Japanese roommate doesn’t have the latest animes.

Being forever confused with a few holidays. I’m sorry, but Labour Day is on May 1, not the first weekend of September. American people in Canada, can you get used to celebrating Thanksgiving in October? And if you live in the Southern hemisphere but grew up in the north, can you feel Christmas-y without snow?

Having an elevator speech for the “why did you move here?” question you’re bound to be asked often enough at first. It’s usually a simple, drama-free, got-everything-under-control story of your move—bonus when you genuinely praise your new country.

Having bouts of identity crisis. Am I French or am I Canadian? I have two passports but am I 50/50, 40/60, 80/20…? Am I the tooth fairy or a little mouse? Do bunnies bring Easter chocolate or are bells in charge of the job? I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE!

Feeling self-conscious about your language skills and accent, including in your mother tongue. Let’s face it, when you’re bilingual or master more than three languages, you do make weird grammatical mistakes once in a while.

Being an expert at dodging the “when are you coming for a visit?” question. If cornered, don’t mention the lack of vacation time or the price of plane tickets. Just promise you will come… eventually.

Being used to answer to different versions of your first name. I can be “Juliette” or “Juliet.” Those with a hard-to-pronounce first name will get used to correcting people and answering to mispronounced versions.

Knowing where the proper accents and special characters are on any keyboard. Accent marks are not optional!

Feeling like a dangerous criminal on the run when travelling with two passports, some cash and pieces of IDs issued by two countries or more.

What else?

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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.

6 Comments

    • C’est souvent ça, “allée de garage”. Mais ça me fait bizarre de dire “garé dans l’allée”, parce qu’une allée, c’est aussi une grande rue. Bref, c’est traduisible, mais ça n’a pas le côté “je vois ce que tu veux dire” du mot “driveway”.

      • Martin Penwald on

        Chez moi, une allée est une petite rue qui peut éventuellement être restreinte à la circulation automobile. On a habité dans un appartement dont l’adresse était sur une allée interdite aux véhicules.
        Mais c’est qu’il y a des termes intaduisibles, dans les 2 sens.

    • And now I realize that in my head, I do call you “Dee-anne”!

      Thank you for sharing (and I’m not ignoring you on FB, I’m just… not on FB!)

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