Four Years, Already…

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Canadian Flag

Canadian Flag

Exactly four years ago, I got up very early. Feng and I got in the car still half asleep. It was a big day for me: I was crossing the border to the U.S.A only to come back to Canada a few minutes later, to validate my permanent resident visa and to become a landed immigrant.

It all went very smoothly. We drove to Prescott, an hour from Ottawa. We exited Canada, stepped into the U.S.A, and then showed up again at the Canadian customs. I had nothing to declare but a box of Tim Hortons donuts, my papers were in order and I already had an address in Canada to receive my permanent resident card.

The immigration officer tore my one year working holiday visa from my passport, saying I wouldn’t need it anymore. He wished me luck and informed me that three years from now, I would be eligible to apply for citizenship. It had seemed like a long time back then, and it was pretty much the last of my worries — becoming a landing immigrant was already a huge accomplishment for me. We drove away, back to Ottawa.

Four years ago already.

A lot happened during the last four years. After gaining some work experience here and there, I found a job as a French teacher and taught government workers for a few years. I started a new job that I love last October in a whole different environment: it’s challenging and pretty rewarding. For the first time since I’m in Canada, I feel that I found a “normal” job, not one immigrants take because they don’t really have the choice.

My English got better too. When I first arrived in Canada, I could speak some English but I was far from being fluent. First, I had trouble understanding North American accent: in France, French teachers teach British English. I could understand written English fine, but writing was a painfully long process. And I was missing a lot of cultural clues to understand what was going on around me. English is not a difficult language but it does rely a lot on pop culture, slang and idiomatic expressions. Learning from a book isn’t very helpful but for the basics. If you want to speak like a Canadian (or an American for that matters), you have to be familiar with the culture.

I remember that when I first met Feng, I asked him once how long it took him to be fluent in English. I was impressed because he didn’t have any accent. He replied something like ten years. “You gotta be kidding”, I thought. But I can see what he meant now. Communicating in English isn’t difficult: after a few months in an English-speaking country, anybody can pick up enough language skills to get by without any problems. But if you really want to be fluent, it takes much longer. It always makes me laugh when I hear people saying: “oh, I spent a month in the U.S.A, I’m fluent in English now”. Yeah, right.

I learned a lot about Canada these last few years. I learned so much about it that I feel I’m more comfortable living in Canada than in France. Indeed, I’m almost lost when I visit my birth country. I can still relate to the education system and a few social values because after all, this is where I grew up. I can find my way around my hometown, even though during the eight years I have been gone for, a lot of businesses changed. But I no longer follow politics, economic or social news. If I had to go back to France tomorrow, I wouldn’t know where to start — hell, I can’t even write a proper French resume! I bet I would use “tu” with everyone as well, instead of the polite “vous”. Yes, French language has two way of saying “you”: a formal one, “vous”, and a familiar one, “tu”. Like “tú” and “usted” in Spanish, or “你” and “您” in Mandarin. And among francophone in Canada, the rule is very flexible and using “tu” most of the timeis common, whereas France has less flexible social rules.

I mostly realized how much I changed when I speak with other French people. I know longer feel an instant common bond and I can’t relate if they are really into French culture. I have difference cultural references now.

Immigrating to Canada wasn’t a life-long dream for me. It wasn’t a strategic or economic choice either. I sort of ended up here, up North, and decided to stay.

I was a challenge at first but I don’t regret it.

Thanks Canada for adopting me.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Strange you were able to adapt so easily… in my opinion…France is one of the best countries in the world to live in. Not sure I would trade France for Canada 😉
    .-= Sidney´s last blog .. =-.

  2. First, congrats !
    You have come a long way and still to go miles….
    Very true when you say, it’s difficult to become fluent (meaning the way locals speak) in a few months.

    Do you know in Hindi also we have 2 words for ‘you’ just like French ‘tu’ & ‘vous’ and used in similar manner as these 2 words.
    When I was a kid, I used to wonder… don’t English people respect the elders? Why do they call them ‘you’ then. 🙂

  3. Congrats! You’re right. 4 years seems a lot of time but not really! I will be 4 years in Ireland this January and it doesn’t seem so long sometimes.

    In January I hope to have everything ready for my canadian permanent resident application and I wish I got it!

    .-= Cornflakegirl´s last blog ..Just a loaded gun =-.

  4. Congratulations! It is indeed easier to get a Canadian citizenship than an European one. 🙂 I’m glad you’re making Canada your home and feel comfortable in it. I don’t know how I will feel like when I visit Montreal next year…whether I’ll still feel like a Montrealer or a pseudo-European :p

    I really miss home though even though I’m starting to get used to listening to Danish every day. Anyway, I’m so happy for you that you love Canada as much as I do.

  5. I haven’t commented in a while, but I’m glad too see upon my return to your page that it’s as full of interesting observations (and beautiful photographs) as ever. It’s good to have a real home, even for those of us who are travelers at heart. Canada’s a great pick – I’d love to live there myself someday.

  6. My goodnes, 4 years? Well congratulations my friend! You should be really proud of everything you have achieved since arriving. I have enjoyed following your footsteps through your writing and photography (although I have a bit of catching up to do ~ sorry!!!). I have missed you so much (and promise that I haven’t forgotten about the photobook). I will drop you a mail soon to explain what has been happening. Looking forward to getting back to the good ‘Ole times 🙂 Hope you are well 🙂 Graham xxx
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..….hello? Is anybody there? =-.

  7. @Nigel Babu – Am I? I usually post three times a week — could never post more! I know you are looking forward to seeing pics of snow, but I can’t say I am 😆

    @Tulsa Gentleman – Thank you!

    @Sidney – France is a very nice country, especially to visit. I’m not sure it’s the best place to live right now. But thousands of expats disagree!

    @Nisha – I must admit I don’t know anything about Hindi. But I’m not surprised: cultures with a lot of respect towards traditions and which had or have some kind of social hierarchy often have these two forms.

    @Cornflakegirl – I have been in Canada longer actually, more like 6 years. But I wasn’t an immigrant before, I had other status.

    @Bluefish – It takes a while to feel different about home I guess. It took me several years… as the times goes by, you realize that you built something elsewhere.

    @Abi – Same here, and I have yet to be amazed by these people’s “so-called” fluency! 😆

    @Gail at Large – Thank you! I’m happy I’m here too, Canada is a great place.

    @kyh – Yes, I have dual citizenship, so two passports. Lucky me!

    @Soleil – Thank you! I have actually been there a bit longer, although not as a permanent resident.

    @zerosignal747 – Thank you! I often tell my friends that Canada is an awesome place to belong, and an easy place to go back to after months of traveling. The standard of living is pretty steady, Canadians are welcoming and accepting of new cultures… it’s a great place to call home.

    @Graham – Glad to see you back! Where have you been? Kidnapped by the Queen of England?? 😆

    It’s been actually more like 6 years but I wasn’t a permanent resident the first two years. Yep, time goes by fast…

  8. Hey many many good years Zhu in Canada 😀 I can see that you are very happy here and I’ve enjoyed all that you’ve shared about your life here in Canada 😀

  9. Thats awesome Zhu, Congratulations!! I am only 1.1 years old that way… LOL 🙂 I remember at the border the officer gave me permanent residence form and tore my student ID – I was almost in tears… That was the one document I used all the time in Canada and she was simply ripping it off. I asked if I can keep it for memories and she said “sure”. 🙂

    Oh in Marathi (my native language), we have “tu” and “tumhi” (informal and formal) too! Transition to English is also tricky because most Indian languages do not often use polite words (sorry, thankyou, please, etc) in informal speak, we simply change the verb to formal to make it polite.

    I hope you don’t lose your French accent, I find it very sexy. LOL.
    .-= Priyank´s last blog ..Gajar Halva: Carrot dessert =-.

    • Actually, make it 6 years. And I’m extremely proud of being a Canadian loser, as you said.

      Believe it or not, I like this country. It is very easy to hate a place, but to question oneself… not so much. Go ahead and hate Canada if it can solve your problems!

      Good luck buddy!

  10. Hello! I came across your blog on Reddit… and I keep seeing you throw different languages around. So what all languages do you know, and to what extent?

    You studied Mandarin for 12 years.. you are native in French, and I assume nearly so in English. And you make references to Spanish sometime. Is that all? I am just curious!

    I am enjoying reading your story. Thanks for sharing!

    • So… I speak French fluently (well, I’m a native speaker), I’m also fluent in English although I’m pretty sure I have an accent. My Mandarin is still pretty good, I can read, write and speak (it was my major at university) although I don’t get to practice as much as I want to. And I picked up Spanish when traveling in Latin America. I have no problem understand Spanish speakers and I can speak without too much trouble but my grammar isn’t great. I did an interview in Spanish not long ago, if you want to laugh you’ll find it on the “fame!” page in the menu bar. I also understand basic Portuguese, same, I picked it up when traveling in Brazil.

      And that’s it! 😆

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