Only In France…

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Nantes, my home town: the castle and the tramway

Nantes, my home town: the castle and the tramway

What are the top 5 French things I can not recreate in Canada?

I recently started reading Sasha, the author of Yankee In A New World. She is a really funny woman who lives in Europe… well, more precisely, in Hungary. Yep, seriously. I mean, how many Americans people are brave enough to go live in a country where “how are you” is “Hogy vagy?” (and yes, I did look it up online, cause I don’t speak Hungarian).

Like any other expat/ immigrants, Sasha occasionally misses home. Her “5 American things you can not recreate in Europe” made me laugh… and I figured I could easily list 5 French things I can not recreate in Canada.

Demonstrations and protests:

Let’s start with the obvious: France is a nation of proud demonstrators. According to the family story, I participated in my first demonstration at the tender age of three months. Apparently, I slept through the whole thing, which was no doubt very insensitive of me: we were demonstrating against the massive layoff in the local shipyard, a modern Zola tragedy. Not that my parents were working there, mind you. We were just showing some support.

French love showing support. Like when the railway workers go on strike, the mail workers are quite quick to follow. It’s also okay to go on strike “on behalf” of the other categories of workers: in Spring 2003, there were huge transport strikes, when the transport was not concerned by the Government’s project on retirement age. The two big demonstration seasons are Spring and Fall — it might have something do to with the nice weather. Of course, summer would be best but then, people are on holidays.

Anybody can go on strike and demonstrate in France. The “big three” leaders of waves of strikes are usually the railway workers, the students/ teachers and the farmers. That said, I have seen fishermen blocking harbors, electricity workers cutting power to government officials’ homes, cities where garbages were pilling up because garbage collectors wouldn’t work out an agreement with their unions, pig running wild in front of the Elysée thanks to angry farmers… even lawyers went on strike last year. Lawyers. Of all people…!

I have seen demonstrations in Canada. Well, someone had to point them to me, of course, because I just wasn’t sure what the ten people walking quietly in circle with placards were doing. Now I know: when more than ten Canadians gather in front of the Parliament, it’s because they are complaining about something. They do it very nicely, of course, they are Canadians. Like, I have never seen any of them chased by angry policemen throwing tear gas. A different culture, I’m telling you.

An efficient railway network:

Now, I’m aware of the contradiction with the above paragraph but trust me: when the railway workers are not in strike (aim between November and February), the train is a blessing. The French high-speed train (Train à Grande Vitesse, TGV) is extremely efficient and comfortable. For example, there are 400 km between my hometown and Paris, and it only takes 2 hours to get there. There are also about 400 km between Ottawa and Toronto, but the overpriced train takes 4:30. Viarail proudly advertises 25 trains per week between the two cities. In France, I have one train per hour.

In North America, after World War II, improvements in automobiles and aircraft, and government subsidization of highways and airports made those means more practical for the people. Emphasis was given to build a huge national interstate highway system. In Europe, emphasis was given to rebuilding the railways after the war and urban mass transport systems was favored.

As a result, it is often not practical (nor cheap) to travel by train in North America. It is comfortable and convenient in Europe but not here. Oh well. It’s not like oil is expensive, is it?

Cheap magazines:

One of my greatest pleasure in France was to run a really hot bath and to soak myself in bubbles in my tub, with a magazine. In Canada, I borrow them from the library and I stopped reading in my bath.

French have one of the largest choices in the world for magazines and are big readers. We can find magazines almost anywhere: train stations, local “bureaux de tabac” (smoke shops), booths in the subway… Most magazines are actually sold by copy and not by subscription.

There are magazines on every subjects but most favor political subjects or the latest trend. I find French magazines generally more open to the world than North American magazines. A silly example: women magazines. While in Canada, they would invariably feature articles about the twenty best sex positions (most of them only doable if you can do couple yoga at a very very high level — not that I tried…), a way to lose a lot of weight fast and how to become a successful and rich person, French magazines are lighthearted and do not take themselves as seriously.

Magazines are cheaper in France too. In Canada, they are usually around $5 (plus taxes), but in France, most magazines were around $3. It adds up…

Blue cheese:

That’s what I called cheese. Smelly, half rotten (Americans discreetly call it “blue cheese”, but between us, the blue part is mold). Butter some bread, add the cheese and enjoy the sharp and salty taste. How hard is that?

It’s not that I can’t find blue cheese. I can. Thanks God for Lebanese immigrants who usually sell imported cheese. But the price! I’m not paying $6 for a tiny piece of cheese, tightly wrapped in cellophane. I feel like I’m buying drug. I am not an addicted. Repeat after me. I am not an addict!

Now, I’m not eating processed cheese either. You know how French translate “processed cheese”? “Fromage industriel”. Enough said.

Liquid Soap:

I stopped using soap bars somewhere in the nineties. Well, my mum stopped buying them anyway, and we switched to liquid soap, which I find doesn’t leave my skin as dry.Oh, and every time I look at soap bars, it reminds me of the Fight Club movie where Brad designer soap out of human fat stolen from liposuction clinics.

But for some reasons, liquid soap is hard to find here in Canada, and it’s expensive. There isn’t that much choice either. Most liquid soaps are either too thick or too watery, and the scent is… meh. I miss my French liquid soap almost as much as I miss French deo (on a whole different subject).

I’m curious: what do you miss from home? What can’t you recreate in your new home?

I’d like to ask the question to a few of my favorite expats around the world:

  • Aiglee, from Venezuela and now living in Canada
  • Brenda, from Canada and now living in Malaysia (and soon to go back to Canada!)
  • Lis, from the UK and living in France
  • Breigh, from Canada and living in the Netherlands
  • Diane, from the USA and now living in Norway
  • Barbara, from the USA and now living in France
  • Guillermo, from Argentina and now living in Canada
  • The Writer, from Indonesia and living in Denmark
  • Bluefish, who came from Taiwan to Canada (and going to Denmark soon?)


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. This seems to be a very different kind of article but I enjoyed it reading a lot. At least it gives insight about France and the people. I have had many French friends and I know what they think about me. They are white, loyal and very honest and always ready to help.

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