Street Art in Ottawa

It’s only when I travel to France that I realize how “Canadian” I’ve become. Indeed, the first few days are not easy as I struggle between my Canadian way of doing things and my innate “Frenchness.”

Years after years, I take the pulse of the population and I can’t help comparing France to Canada. While the former is still a great country in many aspects, there are many reasons why I won’t come back to live in France anytime soon. On the other side, I recently realized that Canada taught me a lot more than I expected.

Canada taught me…

To have a positive attitude towards life

Looking back, I can’t help thinking that the French are slightly neurotic. Sure, the economy sucks, unemployment soared and the cost of living is higher than most can afford. It gets worse every year and while many French predict a revolution will occur sooner or later, they are afraid of change. French are more pessimistic and worried than ever: the consumption of tranquillizers in France is the highest in Europe! Canadians are certainly more down-to-earth and generally have a “can-do” attitude. Sometimes life sucks but you work hard to make it better. I somehow embraced this positive attitude and learned to develop my abilities rather than complaining that I couldn’t do such and such. I’m more open to change and definitely less negative.

To speak both French and English (sometimes simultaneously)

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien famously said “It’s not a problem if you don’t speak English very well… it may sound stupid, but the more mistakes I make in English, the more I feel like your average Canadian.”

The French have extremely high language standards—spelling and grammar are of paramount importance and are used as a general indicator of someone’s education and social status. Similarly, French pick on foreign accents, criticize bad grammar and even dare each other to complete Pivot’s famous “dictée,” a yearly national dictation contest with complicated less-used words. French language is seen as a key element of French identity and a part of French culture.

Although Canada has an ongoing argument about bilingualism, Canadians are much more relaxed when it comes to their official languages. First, a lot of English Canadians have to take French at school and they realize how hard the language is. “Bilingualism” standards are lower than they would be in France: in Canada, you are often considered bilingual if you can communicate in both languages, even if you make mistakes. Second, Canada is an immigrant country and people generally understand that a large part of the population may not speak English as a first language. Making fun of accents and mistakes is very much frowned upon and emphasis is put on actual communication rather than on grammar/spelling.

To see citizenship and immigration differently

In France, you are considered French if you speak the language fluently, if you completed your education in France, if your relatives are French, if you have been living in France for several generations, etc. The checklist is endless. It always annoys me when second- or third-generation French kids are seen as “immigrants” simply because they have a foreign name. Examples of “integrated” immigrants are often examples of second-generation immigrants who are French anyway.

On the other side, Canada welcomes many newcomers, many of them from countries that are culturally far from Canada. Yet, most seem to adapt and embrace the Canadian way of life, even if they keep some of their culture, which is encouraged.

To adapt to change

First, I learned to adapt to a new country, a new language and a new way of life. Second, Canada is the land of change. Weatherwise, you go from harsh and cold winters to hot and humid summers in no time. In this huge country, cities range from European Montreal to business-centred Toronto and you don’t have to drive long to find small towns, a truly different world. The population is multicultural and you can say “hello” in quite a few languages as you explore areas such as Chinatown, Little Italy and other ethnic neighbourhoods.

To treat people well

I always feel that relations with people are generally less conflicted in Canada than they are in France. Canadians are more polite—it’s not a myth. They are also good at chit-chat, are quite civil with each other and value consensus.

Don’t get me wrong, the French are not rude. They are simply taught to respect the people they know well (family, friends) and to distrust strangers. For instance, the relationship between customer/client and employer/employee is totally fucked up in France. It’s a power game rather than a win-win exchange. Similarly, social classes still influence daily relations between people: liberté-égalité-fraternité, maybe, but people are quick to judge you based on your job, your education or your accent.

How about you? Did your country teach you anything?

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  1. Mr. G August 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Hi Zhu!

    Very nice post, congrats!

    I’ve learned lost of things living in Canada these past five years. And when I think about this a little more, I realize that I learn new stuff almost everyday. From words, to small things, to big things… whatever you imagine.

    That’s what makes my immigration process so rich and awesome… the continuous learning curve that makes me reacher every day and I hope never ends…

    Have a great day Zhu!

  2. Kim: kiwi in France August 30, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Wow! everything you’ve said about France is sooo true, I feel that way completely when I compare France to NZ – NZ being the same as Canada of course… apart from the language thing, we only know English and a little Maori, and not much else! I miss the can-do attitude, the welcoming attitude, the friendliness, the openess and the laid-back no stress approach to a lot of life.

    France has taught me to enjoy the weekends, enjoy holidays, and enjoy a Sunday when everything is closed. You don’t need to go shopping on a Sunday. Sunday is a day for family, for rest, for you. I like the French way of life in this sense – work is not life, you must enjoy it too.

    France has also taught me about good food, and that you should enjoy it, and enjoy your company. I will certainly miss this aspect of the French culture. Eating is all about taking the time to enjoy good quality food and not eating some crap food on the run.

    I’m sure there are many other things 🙂

  3. barbara August 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Salut Zhu,

    Bilingual is good whenever you can be undertood. Perfect or unperfect!Language is for communicating.I like having two languages,but on the other hand.It is a part of me,this duality!!

    Bisous 🙂

  4. Max August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Bienvenue au Pays l’ami!

  5. DianeCA August 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Well it seems that Canada has brought you a lot of positive lessons. I certainly agree that Canadians often have a can do attitude, are easy going and treat others well. Speaking english and french simutaniously though…now that is a good trick 😆

  6. Trabajar en canada August 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    I like your post a lot, but I want to bring my 2 cents, I am an immigrant myself, but I most say that the best part of my immigration process was in Montreal, I found people in Toronto (and just there) extremely rude, they do not say hi in the mornings, they do not smile, in general people there are not open, they don’t tend to have a lot of social activities, they are quite lonely guys and the work relationships I found them EXTREMELY stressful, I do not know how they are in France, but I did not fins “everybody”, not even most of the people friendly or polite (at least in Toronto) quite the opposite, nevertheless now that I am in Montreal I truly, for first time in many years I fell like I am home, like welcome, like I have finally find the place where I can “belong” 🙂

  7. Hannah August 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I really liked this post. I am also an immigrant, from East Africa. Having lived in Italy for 1/3rd of my life, I have to say that Canadians are more welcoming and accepting to foreigners compared to Europeans. The difference is like night and day. I wake up every morning feeling grateful that I am a Canadian.

  8. Zhu August 30, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    @Mr. G – Thank you! This is the fun part of immigrating, we get to learn so much…

    @Kim: kiwi in France – Although I complain about it when I go back to France (what?! No shopping on Sunday?!), I must admit it’s quite nice to have a family day in the week. And food… tell me about it. I eat because I like to eat, North Americans tend to eat just to be full.

    @barbara – You are right, this duality is part of us. It’s fun: we can swear in two languages, and although we sometimes get lost in translation, our vocabulary is twice richer!

    @Max – Merci 🙂

    @DianeCA – Speaking both languages simultaneously is a trick only Canadians can master (listen to some of our former PM!).

    @Trabajar en canada – Thank you for your input! This shows that we all different experiences. I agree, TO is a big city and people tend to mind their own business. However, if I compare it to other big cities, such as Paris, I still find people friendlier than usual. That said, I’m glad you feel at home in Montréal!

    @London Caller – It really depends on where you live I think. I’ll read it…

    @Hannah – Hi and thank you for your input! I get this feeling too. I think Europeans are nice people but the immigration policy is not really designed to integrate people and make them feel at home, unlike Canada’s immigration policy. Europe is more conservative…

  9. Soleil August 30, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    I love this post. Very interesting to hear that bilingualism is a different concept in Canada and France. I realize now that my view to bilingualism for myself is French, but for anyone else I would hold a much less harsh standard I think! You’re right – as long as someone can communicate and be understood, who cares if they mess up the gender of a noun? (Btw, also just realized why my French ex always gave me a hard time about messing up genders)

    I agree with all of your points, and I think in the US we learn the same things (well, the niceness only applies to people from the Midwest, hahaha). I think that I would separate the “can do” attitude from the positive outlook though. I agree that they are linked, but I think the fact that both Canada and America are immigrant countries has a lot to do with that attitude. We had to build towns from scratch! If you couldn’t build your barn yourself, you didn’t have any neighbors in a 50 mile radius who could help you!

  10. Sidney August 31, 2010 at 2:03 am

    We have the same bilingualism in the Philippines…the start a sencence in Tagalog and finish it in English… quite funny actually.

    I don’t know Canada… but your remarks on France are spot on !

  11. WereTiger August 31, 2010 at 8:12 am

    I agree with some of your points, but Bilingualism is still a bad thing and is the ruination of Canada.

    I support English unilingualism in Canada.

  12. NightimeVulture August 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    WereTiger is obviously an undergraduate from Buttfuck Alberta.

  13. Zhu August 31, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    @Soleil – I agree with you, the can-do attitude is probably linked to the whole “new country” and “American dream” thing. As for genders in French… I sometimes make mistakes too!

    @Sidney – I noticed it on your blog and other, comments can be a mix of English and Tagalog!

    @WereTiger – That’s just sad. How can you support a narrow-minded view of Canadian culture? French is also part of Canada’s history. I think working towards bilingualism (which I know isn’t always easy, Canada is a huge country!) is better than denying a part of the culture.

    @NightimeVulture – Mmmm… that would make sense. PM Harper, is that you?

  14. Max Coutinho September 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Hi Zhu,

    France is a great country indeed, but so is Canada.

    I get the French and their obsession by their language; I am extremely obsessed about Portuguese (I do not like the Neo-Portuguese, and I do not defend the ortographic agreement with Brazil – the same way many Brazilians are against it). It is not a question of fearing change, it is a question of consistency and accuracy.
    Now, the accents are something else: I love them! It is a proof of diversity (as long as one conjugates the verbs properly, what is the fuss?).

    I didn’t know the French were negative…I thought only the Portuguese were. I thank God I have been travelling since I was born, cause I do not have that feature in me…oh no.

    What has my country taught me? Aaah, so many things: for example, the Portuguese are prone to speak languages…I learned that from them (I speak quite a few); Portugal parties until 7AM…I learned it quite well lol; the Portuguese are quite communicative, so am I.
    What did I learn about my country while living abroad? The Portuguese are negative and envious; they are lazy in their own country (cause when abroad they are the best of workers); they are bloody socialists (and that is why our country does not evolve); but at the same time they are warm and welcoming; they can’t live without the café (bica in Lisbon, cimbalino in Porto) and they can’t dance (it’s a fact – you should see our “So you think you can dance?”….pitiful).
    Nevertheless, I love it!


  15. coffee with julie September 4, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Wow, this is such a refreshing view of Canadians! I love it!

  16. Yasmine September 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Canada thought me the same 5 things and much more of course in the last 12 years. I think I love the way this country changed me…

  17. Vagabonde September 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I enjoy your post a lot. I have not lived in France for so long now, even though I visited so often, that I forgot how it can be negative there. Many things you say about Canada could be applied to the States I believe, but not quite. I find Canada much more open and not so bigoted (I live in the deep South.) I visited Quebec, Montreal, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI, Cape Breton, New Brunswick, whatever state is Galgary, Ontario, British Columbia and loved all of it. If I could I would go to Canada 2 or 3 times a year. I love that they have so much French there. Here in Atlanta I have not spoken one word of French since I went to France last year. No one speaks it, or even care. I think it is important to speak foreign languages, my father spoke 5, my cousins 6 and I feel bad at speaking 3 and understanding some of only a couple more.

  18. Julia September 25, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Je te trouve dure avec la France, mademoiselle… Aurais-tu oublié tous les efforts qui sont faits pour encourager l’accès à la culture à tous, faciliter l’intégration… Le multi-culturalisme nord-américain est aussi une manière d’enferer les gens dans leur identité, et dans leur quartiers “ethniques!”, ça a peut être un petit côté disneyland, mais au fond, cela me semble moins égalitaire.

    1. Zhu September 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm


      Ce n’est pas mademoiselle, c’est madame 🙂

      On a le droit d’avoir des opinion différentes, mais je ne vois franchement pas la France faciliter l’intégration des immigrants. Es-tu déjà venue en Amérique du Nord? C’est un peu cliché ce que tu dis, le côté Disneyland… ce n’est pas comme ça dans la vraie vie. L’accès à la culture se fait ici aussi 😉

  19. Vancouvrdude July 22, 2012 at 2:47 am

    You haven’t lived in Canada Long enough… We have no culture, except consumer culture,virtually no history that relates to us, as everyone here except the Indians are immigrants. Canadians may be polite, but they are very difficult to make friends with. Ppl like their space here. Weve been in Vancouver for 10 years and have no close friends, but many casual acquaintances, and not for lack of trying. There are many races here which do not assimilate because there is nothing to assimilate to, resulting in a separation between everyone,,,mostly noticeable in the few larger cities. Canada is a very lonely place to live if you are not with your extended family. I was raised in southern bc, in a smaller town, and it is much better for quality living, but problems making connections still exist. very few people here understand that the cultural and social emptiness of canadian(and American) life is no accident, but rather the result of American corporate capitalism which has had profound effect on all things, from design of cities, education, health, family values…etc. every holiday here is designed around consumerism, for example. Another example of twisted capitalism is it is illegal to buy raw, unpasturized milk in canada because of the giant dairy lobby here. In France you can buy it in stores and vending machines.
    Canada is glued to the American hip, and shares many ills it’s larger brother has.
    All of the reasons you mentioned are, quite frankly, ridiculous, and I suspect you will see things differently in a few years.

    1. Zhu July 22, 2012 at 10:39 am

      I have been living in Canada for almost ten years now so I think it’s long enough to form an opinion.

      I’m sorry you have such low esteem for your country. Once you get out, travel and see the world you may learn to appreciate it a bit more… or not. To each his own, but saying my reasons to like living here are ridiculous doesn’t make much sense. Oh, and keep in mind that culture in BC may be different than in Ontario as well.

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