I feel safer in France.
I know, I know, pandemic times or not, it just doesn’t make sense. Canada is a very safe country in general and even right now, as the whole world is fighting against COVID-19, counting cases and outbreaks, we’re doing relatively fine North of the (closed) US border. So far, we haven’t seen hundreds of thousands of deaths, overwhelmed hospitals and other major COVID explosions that make headlines around the globe.
Like in France, for instance—188,000 confirmed cases, over 30,000 deaths so far, most of them during the March-April first-wave peak. France where a second wave may or may not be underway, who knows. France where suggested physical distancing rule is one metre versus two metres in Canada and where there’s a shitload of people per square metres compared to your average True North Strong and Free city.
Told you, it doesn’t make sense but I’ve always felt safer in France despite having spent half of my life in Canada, despite all the social and political turmoil in Europe (remember the terrorist attacks?), despite an arguably lower quality of life.
Hell, there’s a reason why Canada is seen as one of the most popular immigration destinations—it’s big, clean, friendly, safe, steady and other positive adjectives you’ll find in every email newcomer send home when discovering life up North (fine print, as long as they don’t settle in Canada in the middle of winter…).
But deep down, I still feel safer in France.
I’m an immigrant and I will always be an immigrant. I understand and embraced Canadian culture but every now and then, I have to pause and decide whether I do things the “Canadian way,” the “French way” or create some kind of hybrid version (often the preferred option in a multicultural household). This is purely anecdotal when it comes to everyday life matters, for instance eating dinner at 5 p.m. like a true Canadian or considering food options around 10 p.m. like a French. But for important decisions or when crisis arises, it becomes downright confusing. Should I trust the Canadian education system I have no personal experience with or should we be French and Chinese parents when explaining maths, languages and appropriate behaviour? Can I trust the Canadian health system when recommendations contradict French commonsense and medical advice (this was a big one when I was pregnant!)? And even now, with COVID, who’s right—super cautious Canada or pragmatic and resilient France?
You could also argue I feel safer in France because this is where I’m a granddaughter, a daughter, a sister instead of just being “Juliette” who tries to be a mother, a professional and a decent person in general. Sure, having relatives around means more arguments and gossip, but it’s also comforting to be close to people who saw you grow up and love you unconditionally. I know I’m a grown-up and I don’t expect anyone to take care of me—if anything, I always end up trying to solve everyone’s problem in my family—but just the thought of being “alone” in Canada still scares me once in a while. I mean, most of the time, my relatives can’t even offer advice because first, I have to give cultural context and they can’t relate.
I’m done arguing over whether it’s best to live in France, in Canada, close to the Arctic Circle or in the Gobi Desert. Turns out I don’t care that much because I’m a traveller and while I do need a home base somewhere, I’d rather keep on exploring the world than committing to one place only for the rest of my life.
I don’t play the “what if I had stayed in France” game either because I left at 18 years old, almost twenty years ago now. I have no idea what my life would have looked like if I hadn’t bought my first plane ticket but I wouldn’t have Feng and Mark and that alone is unthinkable. Chances are I would have been less tempted to take risks—freelancing, travelling the world, living a multicultural life are not “skills” I developed in France but rather acquired soaking up the “anything-is-possible” North American culture.
But France is still the place where I feel the safest, even in pandemic times.