Mural on Preston Street, Little Italy, Ottawa, May 2017

In April, I bumped into a friend at the Rideau Centre. She was on her lunch break and I was running errands. We had a coffee date, a quicker unscheduled version of the one we had been trying to plan for a while.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I ran into my former director at the Byward Market. We did that awkward North American hug greeting, then the traditional sixty-second life summary before hugging again and parting ways, hypocritically promising to “have a drink and catch up soon.” I hadn’t seen him since my last day on the job but I remembered him well for two reasons. First, he headhunted me and seemed convinced he had the skill set required to save a Crowd Corporation—hint, I did not—,second, the day I resigned to go freelance he blurted out, “ME TOO!” and quit a month after me.

Last week, when Mark came back with green Ninja Turtles rain boots size 9 with “TJ” instead of “Mark P.” printed on the sole, I knew exactly what to do. We walked two streets down and one street up to TJ’s house and traded one pair of Walmart boots for another pair of Walmart boots. Mark was amazed I knew where TJ lives. I was lucky with that one—Mark and him are both October 2012 babies, I met his mom a few times at the park when she was on mat’ leave and no, Mark, I have no idea where Lucas, Zaïd or Molly live.

These days, it feels like Ottawa got a hell of a lot smaller.

Don’t get me wrong, bumping into friends and walking to someone’s house are still rare treats. The city is very spread out with distinct suburbs and neighbourhoods linked by highways and I can’t think of a single gathering point where you’re bound to meet someone you know. Half of the year, people don’t even hang out outdoors much—they drive to work and then back home because yes, fucking cold.

But for years, Ottawa to me was a sea of strangers with one island—Feng. It took me time to meet people, mostly through work at first—some became friends and so I began to build a social circle. In the outer circle are all my former co-workers, current clients and some parents I saw circling the block pushing a stroller between 2012 and 2014 when I was also circling the block pushing Mark’s stroller, neighbours, etc.

I guess it’s not surprising I’m running into friends or acquaintances once in a while. I’ve been living at the same address in Ottawa for fifteen years now. That’s almost half of my life.

Yet, while these “what a small world!” moments could bring out a homey feeling, I still don’t consider Ottawa my “hometown” even though use of this word is appropriate here since it is my fixed residence.

Canada is part of my identity—exact percentage of Canadianess varies depending on situations and mood, like most immigrants—but I find it hard to relate to Ottawa. I don’t work for the government, I didn’t go to school here, I never became a morning person, we don’t have a cottage nor feel the need to go camping in Gatineau Park and I couldn’t care less about most local issues making the headlines in the Ottawa Citizen, starting with rush-hour traffic patterns and the pathetic attempts to develop a 21st-century public transportation system.

I have a cordial, yet passive relationship with Ottawa. I know my way around and I understand local quirks—hell, I’m pretty sure I adopted some of them. Ottawa has good work opportunities for me, it’s picturesque, safe, friendly and I’d argue it’s less boring than the rest of Canada believes. Yet I don’t volunteer, I don’t attend many local events, I don’t get into city politics, I don’t do garage sales, music festivals or “clean up the neighbourhood park” events. The level of NIMBYism drives me crazy and I find many residents are so sheltered they don’t appreciate what they have or how Ottawa could change for the better.

I fell in love with a country but no matter how much I tried, I never developed strong feelings for Ottawa. It’s still my home, as in “the place where I live” but it doesn’t define me. I’m okay with that. In fact, maybe I’m secretly relieved that I don’t have strong roots here because it’s a convenient excuse to occasionally give in to wanderlust and escape without any guilt.

How about you? Are you in love with your city? Do you feel the need to put down roots in a place?


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 3 times, 1 visit(s) today
Liked it? Share it!


  1. Martin Penwald May 18, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    A 20th-century public transportation system would already be an improvement.

    I have a small cab, but I have a big yard.

    1. Zhu May 19, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      … even 19th-century.

      1. Martin Penwald May 21, 2017 at 7:23 pm

        Have you seen “Who framed Roger Rabbit?”. The subject is in filigran, the railcars in San Fransisco for example were pretty efficient at the time, but the coming of individual cars and then the suburb expansions have killed public transit in North America in the middle of the XXth century.
        Plus there seem to be a classist issue in the U.S.A :

        1. Zhu May 21, 2017 at 9:23 pm

          No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve heard about, which isn’t quite the same thing, I realize it 😆

  2. MC May 19, 2017 at 4:27 am

    Chez moi, c’est là où je vis “sur le moment”. J’ai quitté la maison des parents et leur région il y a plus de 10 ans. J’y vivais encore les WEs mais très vite, mon logement étudiant est devenu « chez moi » et j’ai oublié où trouver ceci ou cela par chez eux. Maintenant, nous sommes fixés dans un nouveau « chez nous» que j’aime beaucoup. C’est la campagne avec son côté sympa des voisins qui se connaissent, des chemins de balades sans prendre la voiture, des champs autour,… mais on profite également de l’autoroute à 5 km, la gare à 10 km, les supermarchés, boulangerie, pharmacie accessibles à pieds de la maison. Vraiment, j’ai retrouvé « ma place ». Je n’oublie pas que je viens d’ailleurs (en Belgique, 100 km et tu changes complètement de région, langage, mentalité,…), que j’ai des traditions différentes, des expressions différentes aussi, … mais chez mes parents, ce n’est plus chez moi. Je ne sais pas si je changeais de pays, si « la notion du chez moi » viendrait avec moi. Mais j’imagine que oui, car « chez moi » est une expression du présent. Côté racines, je trouve ça bien d’avoir des racines « ailleurs », ça permet d’ouvrir un peu sa façon de voir les choses car il n’en n’a pas toujours été comme maintenant. Je pense que ça me permet de profiter pleinement de ce que mon « chez moi » actuel m’offre.

    1. Zhu May 19, 2017 at 11:26 pm

      Est-ce que tu as trouvé ta place du premier coup? Qu’est-ce qui t’a attiré dans cet endroit précis? En gros, qu’est-ce qui est venu en premier, l’amour de ton nouveau coin de pays, ou est-ce que tu as appris à l’aimer?

      C’est intéressant cette notion de distance, comme tu le dis, à 100 près, une culture complètement différente!

      1. MC May 22, 2017 at 2:39 am

        Je suis arrivée par là pour les études et la thèse. Mais Louvain-la-Neuve est une ville un peu particulière (, construite autour d’une université. Et du coup, rester vivre là ne me tentait pas. En tant qu’étudiant cette ville est top, mais après ça devient un peu artificiel. Donc, je me suis écartée un peu dans la campagne environnante. Les amours et les possibilités d’emploi dans ma branche ont achevé de me convaincre de rester là. Le coin me plaisait a priori et depuis 3 ans que j’y vis, j’aime beaucoup. Le fait d’avoir changé de place me permet sans doute de plus apprécier ce que j’ai que si j’y avais toujours vécu.

        (Sinon j’avais déjà répondu ce WE, mais on dirait que j’ai foiré un truc et que mon com’ était pas passé…c’est pas la première fois, va falloir que je m’améliore.)

        1. Zhu May 22, 2017 at 10:15 pm

          Flûte, désolée pour le commentaire perdu :-/ Pas de ta faute, sûrement un souci technique. Va falloir que je me penche dessus, mais forcément, je ne suis pas au courant des commentaires qui n’apparaissent pas :-/

          C’est drôle comment la vue nous mène dans des endroit inattendus! Aimais-tu la campagne avant?

          1. MC May 24, 2017 at 4:12 am

            Chez mes parents c’était déjà la campagne, donc les petits chemins à vélo, le chemin de halage le long du canal, les vaches et tout ça, c’était du connu. Clairement, je ne suis pas de la ville. Mais j’aime bien la “campagne avec des facilités” pcq la rase campagne au milieu de nulle part, c’est pas pratico-pratique… La campagne pour moi c’est un peu obligatoire aussi vu que je ne tiens pas en place, je trouve ça plus difficile de se promener en ville (j’ai vécu 3 ans à Bruxelles et j’ai eu un peu de mal avec ça).

          2. Zhu May 24, 2017 at 6:50 pm

            C’est marrant, dans ma tête, je n’associe pas la campagne à la Belgique. Je sais, ça n’a aucun sens! Y’a pas tant de grandes villes dans ce pays assez petit 🙂

  3. Frenchie au Canada May 19, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    J’aime la petite ville ou nous sommes, et c’est “chez moi’, mais ca ne veut pas dire que je ne me vois pas aller ailleurs a un moment ou un autre. D’autant que je travaille dans une autre ville!
    C’est marrant parce qu’ici c’est petit donc les gens nous connaissent au moins de vue. Et moi qui detestais cette idee, finalement je m’y fais et c’est meme apreciable parfois (souvent)

    1. Zhu May 19, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      Le côté “on se connait tous” des petites villes me fascine complètement. Je n’ai jamais vécu dans un endroit comme ça, même le centre de Nantes qui peut paraître petit reste une grande ville! Je vois les village français avec un bar-tabac et une boulangerie, et je me dis que ça doit être soit le paradis (sentiment de communauté, entraide), soit l’enfer (gossip, etc.)

      1. Frenchie au Canada May 23, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        Oui c’est ca (enfer / paradis). On n’en est pas encore la ici, et ce qui je pense fais pencher mon coin vers paradis (au dela des montagnes) c’est le fait que bcp de gens viennent d’ailleurs et reste pour une saison, 1 an ou 10 ans mais c’est rare de rencontrer des gens qui ont ete ici toute leur vie et de voir plusieurs generations d’une meme famille (adulte). Donc ca limite le cote “tout le monde sais tout sur tout le monde depuis la maternelle”

        1. Zhu May 23, 2017 at 10:42 pm

          Ah, c’est l’idéal ça, une petite communauté mais qui change au fil des allers et venues!

  4. Kiky May 19, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Despite the traffic, the bad air, the rude people….it is never a dull moment in where I live

    1. Zhu May 19, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      I believe you! I find many Asian cities absolutely fascinating, so many people, so many lives meet!

  5. Holly Nelson May 21, 2017 at 7:10 am

    Yes! I am starting to get to know my neighbours and it is lovely to have a chat when out dog walking (although Ida may not agree as she spends so long in her pushchair waiting for us to finish gassing!)

    1. Zhu May 21, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Oh, that’s cool! So you’d say you made yourself at home?

  6. Isa May 22, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Well, I don’t understand why my comments are being squizzed by your blog lately, it might think I’m spamming! Oops!

    1. Zhu May 22, 2017 at 10:17 pm

      Obviously, there’s something wrong with some comments not getting through but I’m not sure what. Je vais mettre les types des Chiffres et des Lettres dessus 😉

      (more seriously, I opened a ticket with my host because I was also getting a 403 error. Some changes were made last night, let me know if you’re having trouble again!)

  7. Isa May 23, 2017 at 2:55 am

    I will!
    I wanted to post something like this:

    I find your relationship with Ottawa very interesting. As you know, I love the city I’ve been living in for hem… 12 years now, eventhough I wouldn’t say to Lyonnais asking me the question that I’m from here.
    I couldn’t see myself living so long in a city where I feel “passive”! I really need to feel like I belong. I kind of envy your hability of having a “light yet happy” relationship with your own city!
    I’d still love for you to live in another canadian city (but that’s only selfish, I’d just love to read about it)

    1. Zhu May 23, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      Yay, your comment got through!

      I have to admit you partially inspired this article. Yes, whatever I translate make me pause and reflect 😉

      I guess I don’t really *need* to feel in love with the city I live in. I was the same with Nantes, mind you. It’s a nice city, changed a lot over the past twenty years and I enjoy going back as a tourist both to enjoy activities and historical sights and because this is where I grew up. But frankly, I don’t care much about it. Here or there… whatever. I feel the same about most material possessions. I have stuff, I’m not living in a monastery, but I don’t feel the need to upgrade my life. We’ve been driving the same car for 15 years, live in the same house (small by Canadian standards) and even if I go through phases where I nag Feng to take a trip to IKEA and change furniture we rarely follow through because… we don’t care. The more I owe, the more I settle, the less I’d travel I think.

      As for Ottawa, to be honest I can’t see myself living anywhere else in Canada. I love big cities and… ahem, Canada doesn’t have that many of them. Quebec is out (we don’t fit in) so Toronto or Vancouver. I feel that Vancouver is too far from Europe and even though I absolutely love Toronto, living there wouldn’t be practical because 1) it’s super expensive and we probably would end up in a faraway suburb (which defies the purpose) 2) the downtown core I love isn’t that big and I’ll probably get sick of it after a while.

      If I ever live somewhere else, it would be in another country. And I doubt I will because I don’t feel like going through another formal immigration process!


Leave A Comment

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