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5 Unexpected Little Pleasures Every Immigrant Enjoys

Pim's (French cookies) bought at my local supermarket in Canada
Pim’s (French cookies) bought at my local supermarket in Canada

The immigration process and the subsequent move often send immigrants on a roller-coaster of powerful emotions—frustration, stress, anxiety, hopefulness and relief. Then the famous “honeymoon stage” kicks in after landing, when immigrants experience anticipation and delight at the newness of the country. Life is awesome, people are great and every challenge is met with enthusiasm.

Of course, it doesn’t last. Real life catches up with fantasy. Novelty runs out.

You’ve settled in. Things are more normal, and more predictable. You have a routine.

It’s only natural.

But there are still 5 unexpected little pleasures that every immigrant gets to enjoy every now and then.

Making spontaneous phone calls to home

Does anyone realize how complicated it was to call home before Skype? I remember these days.

Dialling directly from the landline was a costly option, so you had to run to the nearest convenience store to buy a $5 or $10 international prepaid phone card. Sometimes, you’d splurge on a $20 card but it was usually a bad idea because these cards were unreliable and the money left after the initial call tended to magically disappear.

Once you had the card, making the call wasn’t exactly straightforward. First, you had to scratch the code at the back with a penny, then dial a 1-800 number. After going through a menu in ten different languages, you were prompted to enter the code, then other random numbers, then the country code, then the area code, then the phone number. And ta-da! You were connected. Or not. Dropped calls were always an issue and sometimes, the code was illegible. The per-minute rate was obscure and you were rarely getting your money’s worth.

Now, calling home is super easy with Skype or any other VoIP provider. You can have a video call and show your loved ones how awesome you look. You can install the software on your cellphone and chat with someone thousands of kilometres away while doing your grocery shopping or watching the kids at the park. It’s… comforting. I love it.

Finding a familiar brand or product

Once in a while, lost in the sea of thousands of strange foreign products and brands you have yet to adopt or fully enjoy, you find a familiar name or packaging. NO WAY! Is that… Yes, it is—something from home!

The availability of imported goods is one of the perks of globalization. There is nothing like sipping a Starbucks coffee in China when you are really tired of green tea or finding a box of mac and cheese in Paris because you ODed on baguette and la gastronomie.

Canada has at least five or six different brands of jam and they are all just fine, but I get irrationally excited when I spot a jar of Bonne Maman jam at the supermarket and yes, I pay the premium price for it. The same goes with cookies. Some days, I need my French Petits écoliers (usually available at Loblaws, FYI) or other LU brands.

I also find the seemingly random availability of foreign brands and products funny. For instance, Leader Price cookies are displayed as an exotic top choice at IGA supermarkets in Quebec whereas in France, it is a cheap store brand.

Hearing your native language

You’re sitting in a coffee shop or queuing at the cash register and suddenly, you pick up a word, an accent, a familiar speech pattern. Someone is speaking your language! Your brain tunes in to the conversation and you listen avidly, no matter how mundane the exchange is. It all makes sense! And even if you are not actively listening, the familiar sounds are soothing.

No matter how fluent you are in your second (or third, or fourth…) language, your mother tongue brings back memories of the world you left behind. You would love to strike up a conversation with that familiar stranger, just for the pleasure of pronouncing words with confidence and without any accent, for once! And if you do… well, see below.

Meeting someone who knows your city

If to the mundane “Where are you from?” question someone names a familiar place, you may find yourself shouting “ME TOO!” Or even “NO WAY! That’s like… twenty kilometres from where I grew up/went to school/used to hang out!”

Despite what we always say, the world isn’t such a small place and meeting someone from a familiar place feels special.

Note that the level of joy and surprise is proportional to the probability of such an encounter. When I meet French people in Montreal, I think “so what?” Unless they are from Nantes, the city where I grew up, I don’t care. Now I’d probably get excited to meet a French in Nicaragua and I found myself staring at each of the four Westerners I spotted when we were in Wuhan, China. Similarly, if you are from a big city—Paris, New York, Beijing, etc.—the odds are better and the experience isn’t as special unless you narrow it down to a district, a street, a school, etc.

Receiving mail from home

Do you know who queues at the post office? Immigrants. I know, I am one of them. When I go to a postal outlet, I always meet people from all over the world mailing pictures or little pieces of life to their families back home. I do the same—I mail drawings from Mark, pictures, and little gifts.

And of course, we all expect mail in return.

Anyone loves discovering something else than bills and junk mail in the mailbox, but spotting a foreign stamp or a thick envelope is very special. Get an actual parcel and it’s Christmas. Even the packaging looks cool! Stamps, these blue “by air mail” stickers, multiple postmarks, the almost faded custom form… Snail mail is love mail!

Do you experience these little pleasures? Anything else I forgot?

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