Fall Colours in Ottawa
Fall Colours in Ottawa

I became a permanent resident of Canada 10 years ago, in the fall of 2005. Looking back, it happened rather unceremoniously. One morning, I read the note on my e-file: “decision made”. Next thing you know, I was FedExing my passport to my parents in France since I was already in Canada. My mum made the trip to the Canadian embassy in Paris and sent the document back with the visa affixed. A few weeks later, Feng and I drove to the closest US border where I briefly exited Canada only to re-enter minutes later and officially “land” as an immigrant. A permanent resident card followed in the mail—I handed it back in 2009 when I became a Canadian citizen.

I’ve spent almost half of my life away from France, either travelling or in Canada.

So, ten years later, what am I? French or Canadian?


We start the day much later than those living in Ottawa, who seem to enjoy taking yoga classes at 6 a.m. to be at work at 7 a.m. We go to bed late as well.

We don’t have a cottage, we don’t own camping equipment, we don’t have an SUV, a pet or a finished basement. We don’t have debts but we own several credit cards each. We only have one small car but we both have driver’s licenses. We live in a house but it’s a small (by Canadian standards) semi-detached, and we are in a residential neighbourhood but not in far-far-away suburbia. We tend to shop in big-box stores because that’s what we have around, but we don’t collect points on loyalty cards or stock up products in the basement as if the world was going to end.

We both worked in an office environment and hated office politics and the lack of freedom—we had to quit every time we wanted to take unpaid time off. Freelancing suits us better. Like French, I value time off and I think there is nothing wrong with taking holidays—and I don’t feel guilty about it. We work hard and play hard—we can have twelve-hour workdays for a while and just go “fuck it” and jump on a plane to live like hippies for a while.

We celebrate most Canadian holidays and traditions, such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, Canada Day or Boxing Day, but our way of celebrating may not be conventional (for instance, we rarely cook typical holiday food).


I watched TV for the first couple of years because I was still learning English and I had a lot of free time. I used to like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and reruns of Friends, The Simpsons or House MD. These days, I can’t remember the last time I turned it on—too many commercial breaks. When I clean the house or put the laundry away, I stream French TV programs on YouTube, mostly documentaries like Envoyé Spécial or Zone Interdite.

Unless we rent a video, we watch American (or very occasionally Canadian, British or Australian) movies.

I mostly listen to American podcasts, with the exception of the French Affaires Sensibles which I download almost every day. My music folder is a big mix of British, American, French, Chinese and Latino bands—it’s like the United Nations in there.

About 95% of the books I read are in English, written by British, Australian or American authors. I only follow a handful of French writers whenever they publish something new. On the other hand, I tend to like French magazines (when I can find them) better than their US or Canadian counterparts.

I don’t watch sports but if I really have to, I quite enjoy hockey and we went to several games. It’s fast-paced and pretty exciting (unlike, ahem, baseball). Back in Europe, football was king, especially during big events like the League Cup or the World Cup.


The way I eat is very French but what I eat is very North American.

No six-o’clock dinner here, Feng and I both eat very late. I don’t care much for American (or English) breakfast—nothing personal against eggs, pancakes, bacon, toast, etc. but I stick to black coffee (and cigarette). I don’t snack throughout the day, I’ve never been able to get past the voice in my head that says “on ne grignote pas entre les repas!” (“don’t eat between meals!”, something most French kids probably heard). When I eat, I do it seriously, I sit down and enjoy. You will never see me grabbing a bite behind the wheel or standing in a busy food court. If I can’t enjoy the moment, then I eat later or skip the meal altogether.

I rarely eat French food or French products. I gave up on cheese years ago: imported cheese is too expensive, and processed cheese tastes like plastic. I stick to spreadable cheese, like Philadelphia. I don’t drink milk but I probably eat more yogurts than your average Canadian. I don’t cook typical French meals, although I probably could since I can find all kinds of ingredients here. It just doesn’t occur to me.

However, I do eat like a North America in the way that my diet is very international, more than the average French in France. I eat tofu, and Chinese vegetables, use Asian spices, I eat tortillas, spring rolls, Chinese bread, Vietnamese pho, etc. Foreign products are readily available in pretty much any supermarket here and they are a large part of our diet.

Interestingly, I tend to give Mark more “Canadian” food and products than I ever had—maybe I want him to fit in? Or maybe it’s bland, colourful and fun… perfect for a kid.


My friends come from all over the world. Many of them are first- or second-generation Canadians and many have roots in Europe or in France. Some of my older friends are French by birth but most have been in Canada for several years. I met many of my French-speaking friends at work where we were translators or editors, which kind of explains the “French connection”.

However, I am not connected to the French community in Ottawa (is there one?) or in Canada. I don’t hang out at the Alliance Française or the French Embassy and I never participate in any social event, such as Bastille Day parties.

I find it easier to relate to people with an international background, and harder to relate to fresh-off-the-plane French because I feel disconnected from recent French news and culture (and I have no desire to live in a French bubble).


We speak English or Chinese at home, I rarely speak French—maybe once a week with my mum on the phone or if I meet a French-speaking friend (and even then, half of the conversation could be in English). However, because of my work as a translator, I deal with French materials every day.

I don’t miss speaking French and using English no longer requires any special effort. In the past six or seven years, I can’t think of a moment where I wished I could have expressed myself in French rather than in English.

When I work, I translate into Quebec French or international French and it takes me a few weeks in France to get my local slang back. A few Quebec French words creep into my vocabulary—boîte à lunch, courriel instead of email, gestionnaire instead of manager, fin de semaine instead of weekend—but when I speak, unless I pay attention, I still use many “Parisian French” words like ticket instead of billet or pull instead of chandail. I swear in English. Oh, and I don’t have a Quebec accent at all, if you were wondering.


My closet is a mix of European and American brands—Levis, Calvin Klein, Roots, Cougar, Gap vs. Desigual, Kookai or Naf Naf (bought at outlet stores or during les soldes). My style is probably more casual than most French women—I do own several hoodies, a piece of clothing that I rarely see in France. Since I don’t have to follow a dress code, I usually wear jeans and t-shirts, shorts and dresses in the summer. I do love scarves (I must have at least fifteen of them) like French women but I wear sneakers or boots rather than “talons hauts”.

With a few rare exceptions, I use French beauty products—creams, soaps and various remedies that I bring back from France.


I know European history (and related world history, like colonization, wars, etc.) much better than Canadian history. The same goes for most topics taught at school, like literature, philosophy, etc. My references are mostly European. I used to be good at French politics but I lost touch after Chirac, which probably doesn’t matter because the same parties and the same leaders are still around.

I also lost touch with French pop culture, I’m more knowledgeable about North American trends, icons, references and jokes.

I can navigate the Canadian system—healthcare, taxes, etc.—much better than the French system. However, I still don’t know much about the Canadian education system and I always pause to calculate the age of the student when I hear “grade 4” or “grade 7”, I still go by the French system.

So, French or Canadian? Culturally speaking, I’d say I’m really a world citizen. Backpacking around the world, living with Feng and of course living in Canada made me embrace a new way of life. My educational background (and parenting techniques) are definitely French. This is what I grew up with. As for work and practical matters, I tend to be very Canadian—I became an adult in this country and I learned from my environment.

Now, I’m curious to hear from you! How would you define yourself?

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  1. Gagan November 4, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Indian. Sans doute!

    Moreover, three months would never count anyway.

    But then, let me say, a kind of an Indian, but definitely Indian.

    I almost hate Bollywood, but I admire those courageous Indian filmmakers who dare to make movies that are not about love and do not have a good looking cast. I love Indian cuisine, yet I enjoy a meal from another cuisine at least once in two days, I like to cook it and no fusion.

    Nice article Juliette, there are lists of things popping in my head right now 🙂

    1. Zhu November 4, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      Indian for now, yes. But soon, you will adopt new customs, new ways of doing things… you don’t have to and you probably won’t even realize you are doing so, but it happens and it’s fun to look back and notice!

  2. Cynthia November 4, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Funny, I also enjoy more magazine from home … when I really want to treat my-self I go to a special libraby to get my US Glamour !

    I think that I’m not really French and not really a Quebecer (the Province has changed a lot !).

    1. Zhu November 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      I’m the opposite, I always go for Biba and Glamour en français! It’s not a language thing, it’s just that articles speak to me in the French format.

  3. Alan November 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I never see you wearing a scarf. I thought that French women werer born with them.

    1. Zhu November 4, 2015 at 4:53 pm

      No? Mmm… Maybe because most of the pictures with me in it are travel pics, and we are usually some place hot.

  4. Bianca November 4, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    This was such a fun post to read, I always wonder if and how I would change years after moving to another far away country so this article was very insightful!

    I have a question. Do you think, had you not met Feng and decided to stay with him in Canada, that you would still be in France.. or would you end up living somewhere else other than France?

    1. Zhu November 4, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      This is a great question.

      I was determined to travel and/or settle somewhere else than France before meeting Feng. In fact, when I left to Hong Kong right after graduating from high school (Feng wasn’t in the picture as a boyfriend or husband then!), it was the plan. I wanted to live in China. Maybe I would have come back to France after several years abroad, though.

      1. Bianca November 4, 2015 at 6:55 pm

        Goes to show you truly are a world traveler since you weren’t going to stay in France regardless. Still, funny how someone can cross your path and change your life forever isn’t it? I mean you could be living and blogging from China right now! And I can’t help but notice how by combining your love for travel and Asian culture you have found the perfect balance in life, as well as a great country to settle in. Good for you!

        1. Zhu November 4, 2015 at 7:13 pm

          So true! I am sometime amazed to see how life worked out. I had never ever considered living in North America… yet here I am!

  5. Holly November 4, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    I am a weird blend – I have to say that, now that I have settled into a life/routine, my life is no longer too much different to the one I led in England – there is a lot of Canadian around me but I am still very much English I think – we keep up with English tv shows, I cook pretty much a lot of pasta – same as in England really. It is just Luke and I and we are both pretty English!

    1. Zhu November 5, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      That’s funny! Maybe life in this Hamilton is close to life in a UK Hamilton??

  6. I Say Oui November 4, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    Congrats on your anniversary!

    I would love if you did a most on your music tastes, if you haven’t already.

    Where can we find the French Affaires podcast?

    I often describe myself as Chinese American when people ask. I think living in France has changed my taste buds, though—what I consider good food. There are some things I used to like eating in the U.S. that I don’t enjoy as much anymore. I definitely snack. I used to have a French colleague who would make fun of me (in a good natured way) about eating all day. It’s because I would get hungry in between meals and eat a banana or yogurt between meals.

    1. Zhu November 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm

      Affaires sensibles is here: http://www.franceinter.fr/emission-affaires-sensibles I hope you will like it!

      I completely understand people who need to snack. I just… can’t bring myself to. But when I eat, I eat! What kind of food no longer taste the same to you? What do you think of “Chinese food” in France?

      1. I Say Oui November 9, 2015 at 11:38 pm

        Thanks for the link.

        I see your non-snacking instincts are intact. Your parents would be proud.

        In the U.S. I find some desserts too sweet and some food in restaurants too salty, whereas I don’t think I felt this way before.

        The Chinese food (which you put in quotes, ha ha) by the pound in France is not very good– too greasy and out in the air too long– but there are some Chinese restaurants in Paris that I really like, and they aren’t too expensive. A noodle soup place, a restaurant where you order plates to share, handmade noodle places…

        1. Zhu November 10, 2015 at 3:37 pm

          Nantes mostly has “traiteurs asiatiques” where you invariably find riz cantonais, nems, boules de coco and one dish with chicken and another one with noodles. Pretty bland, overall. I’ve never seen real Chinese food (i.e. the kind you’d find in China) in Nantes. It may be more authentic in Paris though, if you know where to go!

          I don’t like to order dessert in restaurants either, especially in North America. Most of the time, they are not homemade at all, they are the frozen kind. Plus they are sweet and expensive. I’d rather find a bakery or equivalent!

  7. Martin Penwald November 4, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    There are very good local cheeses in Québec, you can probably find some in Gatineau.

    1. Zhu November 5, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      But, but… I don’t go there!

  8. Shannon November 5, 2015 at 6:51 am

    We basically watch the same French shows. Besides the news, we only really watch documentary type things on French TV. I do keep up with some American series though. I always preferred TV shows to movies. I like that they’re short but that there’s a continuing story.

    I’m still pretty American but less blatantly so. I don’t really consider myself French but ask me again in a few years!

    1. Zhu November 5, 2015 at 4:41 pm

      Same here! I watch movies at the theater, on TV I like series and documentaries. What series would you recommend? Watched anything good lately?

  9. Jeruen November 5, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I am 33; 14 years spent in several chunks in the Philippines, and 19 years spent in Denver, Honolulu, Osaka, Guam, Buffalo, and now Berlin. I still carry a Filipino passport, yet culturally speaking, I don’t feel Filipino.

    I only eat rice once a week. I don’t play basketball. I speak 4 languages. Tagalog is my first language, but I am more proficient in English, my second. I speak English with an American accent, but nowadays I tend to drop my R sounds. I find the concept of “going home” immensely hard to grasp (heck, my parents aren’t even in Manila). My tea collection would suggest I am Chinese, but my spice collection would suggest I am Indian. I stack Korean buckwheat noodles instead of pasta, and my freezer is full with dimsum.

    I miss snow. I have a full collection of winter clothing. For scarves, I have one I bought from Antigua in Guatemala, and an Arab keffiyeh I bought in Hebron.

    I cannot sing the Filipino national anthem, since I don’t know its entirety. Speaking of music, my playlist consists of very diverse artists, including Soap Kills (Lebanon), Peter Fox (Germany), Natasja (Denmark), Benny Benassi (Italy), and others.

    I’ve been to 42 countries so far, and by the end of 2015, it’ll increase to 45. Like you, I think I’d really say I am a world citizen as well, as there is no single country that makes me feel like I belong there. I’ve been a foreigner for a majority of my life, and so I have been used to feeling different everywhere I go.

    1. Zhu November 5, 2015 at 9:35 pm

      Your upbringing and your life are so unique…! It’s a strength, for sure, it made you who you are. But it must have been tough as well, especially growing up.

      On a lighter note, I bought a scarf in Antigua too 😉

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