Ottawa, June 2015
Ottawa, June 2015

There is “one of these” again in my inbox today. The “object” line reads “help me”. I can guess the content of the email, the suspense factor is minimal. I sigh, double-click on the email, read it and pause. For two seconds, my index finger hovers between “reply” and “delete”.

dear sir.i am verrey poor man i am verry intersting want go caneda but i have no mony way can you hellp?

I click on “delete”. With a twinge of guilt, mind you. The rationale? The “Dear sir” greeting and overall poor English skills led me to believe that whatever I would reply, it would be useless.

I return to my inbox and click on the next one.

May I know the total fee (application & processing fee + yours services charges) to apply a PR for Canada.

I fail to understand why someone would think I offer immigration services—let’s face it, I can barely get Mark to sit at the dinner table, and I doubt I can help anyone cross a border. I reply to this one by sending the link to CIC’s fee list page. You know, the one at the top of the results when you search “immigration fees + Canada”.

I receive dozen of emails every week. Some are quick questions, some are requests, others are so specific that they leave me completely puzzled—why and how would I know the best way to deal with your situation? I receive fewer marriage proposals for a visa, though, maybe the pictures of Mark are a good deterrent.

I sort out emails like I sort out my physical mail. I usually delete anything that starts with “dear sir” or worse, “to whom it may concern’, because if you can’t be bothered to see I’m a woman, well, I’m giving up on you as well. Sometimes, I paste one-sentence emails in the Google search bar. Just as I suspected, the exact same email returns dozen of results, the person asking for information is spamming every single immigration forum. Someone must know, right? I don’t. I don’t follow up.

A few questions catch my eye. I’m a human being, I’m vain and shallow, so I tend to pay attention when people use my name, Zhu or Juliette. It sounds… personable. Bonus if they are introducing themselves, like saying where they are from. If they know anything about me, like the city where I live (which isn’t exactly a secret…), they have my full attention. Why? Because it means that they need something specific, they did a little bit of research and they are reaching out for a purpose. So a “where can I apply for Canadian visa? Please advise” will probably end up in my trash folder. On the other side, a “Hi, Zhu, I’m thinking of visiting Ottawa this summer and I thought you may have some insight since you live there” will be answered within a day. Makes sense?

Sometimes I feel bad about my sorting system. I used to reply to every single email and put a lot of time and effort into finding answers, whatever the request was, whatever the question was. Then I realize that I simply couldn’t always give people what they wanted. I have no power. I can’t help anyone immigrate to Canada—nor do I think I should. This is the harsh truth. As much as I believe in free circulation from a philosophical point of view, it’s naïve to think that anyone who wants to immigrate to Canada (or anywhere on earth) will be granted a visa. Immigration systems just don’t work like this.

What should my role be as a blogger? Recently, a reader who has just been granted permanent residence thanked me for “all the help I provided”. “I didn’t do anything other than talking about myself!” I replied.

To me, blogging is all about sharing experiences, information and insight. I offer what I have, a snapshot of life, to anyone interested to read. Yes, I may be wrong or biased. You may dislike and disagree as much as you want. On the other hand, I welcome comments and feedback, and I learn from you too.

Regarding the specific topic of immigration, I don’t mind giving tips and answering questions about life in Canada. However, I’m not an immigration lawyer and I’m not an expert on every single topic. In fact, I know much less about immigration policies than I did five or seven years ago. I didn’t stay up-to-date with the latest changes.

I don’t want to get too involved in strangers’ stories and journeys. I just can’t, because if I start, it will never end.

Sometimes, when I go to the supermarket or to a food store, bakery or other, and if there is someone asking for change nearby, I offer to buy something to eat. I can certainly spare $2 or $3 and add a bottle of water, a coffee, a muffin or a simple sandwich to my grocery bill. No one has ever turned down the offer and I can see gratitude in the person’s eyes when, fifteen minutes later, I hand out the brown bag. It makes me feel useful and I enjoy the brief connection.

Then I move on.

I won’t solve homelessness, I can’t really help with the many issues the person certainly faces, and I can’t magically make it better. I won’t go any further. I won’t offer a ride, a shower at home or new clothes.

I can only give a little, make someone feel noticed, feed a poor soul on a cold winter day or quench someone’s thirst on a hot summer evening.

I can only do so much.

I adopt the same attitude when it comes to blogging. I connect, briefly, and help if I can. A few people who reached out through this blog became very good friends and it’s great—Incidentally, they were the ones who didn’t much help, just feedback on their project.

But I won’t directly help anyone immigrating to Canada, finding a job or financing the immigration process. This is not my role.

How far would you go to help a stranger? Do you get weird requests through your blog?

Get the latest story, cultural shock and travel pictures right in your inbox

I don't spam, promise.

I literally don't have the time to write ten stories a day.

Visited 1 times, 1 visit(s) today


  1. Lexie June 5, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    La plupart des courriels que tu cites tombes directement dans mes spams. Mais je réponds avec plaisir quand on me pose des questions précises et m’exaspère parfois du manque de préparation des personnes qui disent dans leur courriel vouloir immigrer “dans les prochains mois” mais n’ont encore jeté l’oeil dans aucune procédure 🙂

    1. Zhu June 5, 2015 at 11:44 pm

      Dans les prochains mois? Wow… y’en a qui sont vraiment à côté de la plaque! Ou très optimistes 😆

  2. I Say Oui June 5, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Dozens of emails per week is a lot, even if some of them are “Dear Sir” ones!

    1. Zhu June 5, 2015 at 11:44 pm

      Oh yes. It’s funny, I can go a month with very few blog-related emails, and then bam. I’m flooded. Can’t explain it.

  3. Bianca June 5, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I think you’re being too nice, any email that starts with “Dear Sir” is in my opinion spam and as such should automatically be deleted. Same goes for “help me get to Canada” type of emails, anyone who is too LAZY too research the information needed on immigration by themselves doesn’t deserve a second of your time. Also, if their English language level is clearly below acceptable, then they have no chance anyways.
    Here’s my take on this, I believe you’re far and beyond waaay too generous and selfless already when it comes to helping us prospective immigrants just by having this blog and actively sharing all the information on the subject. I am beyond thankful as you’ve helped me immensely already, for which I cannot thank you enough. Another thing, I greatly appreciate how you “connect” with your readers, I’ve noticed you take a moment to reply to comments which shows your respect for people who leave comments and I believe that in return makes for some pretty loyal followers.
    Now, as for the lazy readers.. people DO THE WORK YOURSELF. Do the research. Yes it’s a painful process it takes time but you are doing it for yourself. This blog contains plenty of useful information on immigration, but YOU have to do the work, don’t expect someone else to do it for you!! If you’re too lazy to research and read on the subject then please don’t bother, just stay where you are.
    Sorry about the rant, I feel so much better now:))
    greetings from Europe!

    1. Zhu June 5, 2015 at 11:48 pm

      Hi Bianca!

      To me, spam is more like all these people who want to give me free money, Viagra and fake handbags. There is someone behind these “dear sir” emails, even though yes, they feel spammy at times.

      Anyway, I don’t feel so generous because I think I learn a lot from readers too. To me, it’s simply amazing that anyone reads what I write and offer insight on top of it! I learned many small facts thanks to readers, trivial or not, and I also gained new perspective. This is precious to me.

  4. petite yaye June 5, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Figure-toi que très peu de gens s’intéressent à émigrer au sénégal ! En revanche, pas sur mon blog, mais dans ma vraie vie on me demande au moins une fois par semaine comment faire pour émigrer au canada !! Nous avons eu la chance d’avoir pu donner un coup de pouce à un jeune qui fait maintenant ses études au canada et pour sûr ça va changer le reste de sa vie…

    1. Zhu June 5, 2015 at 11:49 pm

      Oh cool pour le jeune!

      Pourquoi te demandrait-on comment immigrer au Canada? Pas en France? C’est bizarre!

      1. petite yaye June 6, 2015 at 3:54 am

        Les règles sont plus souples, les opportunités plus nombreuses, le canada a la côte !

        1. Zhu June 6, 2015 at 8:31 pm

          Vrai mais… tu n’as pas de lien avec le Canada, non?

  5. Jeruen June 6, 2015 at 1:40 am

    It’s a different domain, but since you asked how far I would help a stranger, well, I am a relatively active member of Couchsurfing. In fact, we have a guest arriving today, staying with us for 2 nights. You probably have already known how this works, but it’s a trust system, and people leave references to both hosts and guests. I have already surfed and hosted several times in the past, yet this guest that is coming to us today is a beginner, with no references. That being said, he wrote the most interesting couch request which indicated that he read my profile, and knows what staying with us would be like. It is so unlike the numerous requests I get everyday that make it sound like these folks just want a free hostel. Hence, even without references, I decided to accept. One has to begin somewhere, no?

    1. Zhu June 6, 2015 at 8:30 pm

      I think with a personable and genuine request, I would have hosted a “beginner” like this. Let me know how it goes!

  6. Gagan June 8, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Hey Juliette,

    I can’t help but smile 🙂

    I somehow, believe that I understand what you mean, I get it.

    This is “To Whomsoever it may concern”

    If you are planning to immigrate to Canada, and furthermore if your choice of city in Canada is Ottawa, you are lucky to be here. Juliette’s blog is an amazing source of insight into the ways of Canadian life, struggles and joys of an immigrant becoming a citizen. She is witty and we love it. There is knowledge in this blog, the kind of knowledge you will not get elsewhere online, the kind of knowledge which gives you perspective, a ground level perspective on things in Ottawa and Canadian life. And there is fun, the bonus, you get to know about other places, since she is a traveler and go check out her wonderful photo albums which further add to your knowledge about Canada, and many other places. In fact, the posts about Mark, are a great window to ‘What is it to be a parent’.

    She once said, she helps because she believes in Karma, ‘I help you, you help someone else’. It doesn’t really get better than this. My take is, if you go through her blog, most of your questions will be answered straightaway, you will not just learn about Canada, but how to be in Canada, you will learn much more than you would have expected. I did.


    I have been researching and preparing for some time now; your blog, I insist yet again that I cannot thank you enough for your hard work here.

    1. Zhu June 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      You’re too nice, I’m blushing!

      As I was writing this article, I kept on thinking of you and your wife (you two are the soon-to-land-PR I mentioned) and I was hoping you wouldn’t assume you were a nuisance! Quite the opposite, you’re exactly the kind of people I enjoy interacting with because I see a connection and an exchange. Also, you’re smart and funny, it helps 😆

      1. Gagan June 9, 2015 at 11:21 am

        lol 🙂 now I am blushing, you are the nice one here Juliette, no debate.

        I attended that session I was talking about, I have a one-on-one interview lined up with these guys day after tomorrow. It was really good, in fact I met a wonderful lady from Ottawa. At one point someone in our group mentioned about the extreme weather in Canada and she went on with her jolly good tone “guys I am experiencing Indian summer for the first time and you guys cannot explain about extreme weather”, everyone burst into laughter. The session was really good, learnt a lot of new things. I think this comment box is not sufficient so I will share an e-mail after the 1-on-1 session.

        1. Zhu June 9, 2015 at 7:55 pm

          Thank you for following up on the feedback! Best of luck with the one-on-one session 🙂

  7. Holly June 8, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    I get this – I get those ‘Dear sir’ emails too. I do the same thing – press delete. Then I get other requests and some people who email me daily just wanting to chat – some of those emails are quite long. I am having to be quite blunt now as, let’s face it, I can’t be constantly emailing! It is just too much! I get so much guilt over it though!

    1. Zhu June 8, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      Same here, I feel guilty sometime because I know how it feels so be isolated but I don’t want to get too involved either.

  8. Christiane June 10, 2015 at 7:24 am

    First of all, your blog was very helpful (still useful !) to me become i came here. I was soo nervous and i kept looking for expats blogs in Ottawa. You were the only one i could find. Also, reading your blog made all the waiting for my visa a bit bearable. Heck, my husband read your blog and loves it !!

    Secondly, i like helping strangers if i can. We all need help in this world, right. But i try to be careful of requests. I had only had one so far.

    1. Zhu June 10, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      You did really well, so much happened in so little time for you… I’m amazed at how you handled everything, becoming a Canadian, a wife, a mother and so much more! You have a good head on your shoulders 🙂

      1. Christiane June 15, 2015 at 6:30 am

        Thanks ! I had good and bad days, but i try to take it one day at a time 🙂

  9. Pingback: This is Why You Should Be Careful When Recommanding Someone

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *