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The Blogger’s Burden

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 rational? 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, 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 less marriage proposals for 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. Sometime, 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 in (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?

Sometime 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 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, 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.

Sometime, 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, 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 reach 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?

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