The Toughest Part of Coming Back? Not the Weather…

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"Be realistic: demand the impossible" (Graffiti in Santiago)

“Be realistic: demand the impossible” (Graffiti in Santiago)

Anyone who knows we were away usually comments on the brutal weather change. “Oh my… from Rio to Ottawa, that must be tough! Leaving summer for winter temperatures, eh!”

The day we landed in Ottawa, we were greeted by snow, rain and ice pellets. Then we had a major snowstorm, blizzard, more snow, extreme cold weather (labelled as such by Environment Canada—so yeah, fucking cold). And this is just a snapshot of the past ten days.

Yet, experiencing winter isn’t the toughest part of coming back. I like tropical heat best, of course, but we took the from-summer-to-winter trip so often that I know what to expect and I know my body eventually adjusts to local weather.

No, seeing the thermometer stuck at -25°C isn’t what made me want to jump back on a plane.

The breaking point had been reached earlier anyway, at Toronto Pearson’s security checkpoint, the morning we arrived.

The final leg of the trip back home, the Toronto-Ottawa flight, was delayed and then delayed some more—we ended up flying six hour after scheduled time. After clearing immigration, we sat around in the empty airport and we used the $10 breakfast vouchers Air Canada “generously” gave us. Since you can’t buy much for that amount in an airport, we got coffee, a cake pop for Mark at Starbucks and a bottle of Sprite—bottle that we promptly forgot in a bag as we went through security before finally boarding the Ottawa flight.

It showed up on the X-ray machine. “Oh, sorry,” Feng said, half asleep after the long trip and the long wait. “You can throw it away…”

“Wait,” I added. “Mark, wanna finish it?”

I wasn’t going to buy another drink before boarding and who knew, we could be bumped off that flight again.

The woman behind the X-ray machine stared at me. “You are giving your son Sprite?” she said disapprovingly. “Come on!”

Welcome back to Canada, the country were complete strangers feel compelled to tell you how to raise your kid and comment on your parenting skills.

This fucking woman was scolding me.

Mark drank the bottle, I handed it to security and I walked away. Oh, and fuck you, airport security/parenting expert woman. It’s Sprite, no cocaine.

Feng would claim I’m overreacting, that it was just one woman making a comment—and after all, who cares?

Well, I do, because these attitudes are part of a bigger pattern, one that bothers me more and more.

Yes, over the past few years, a certain North American mindset has started to annoy me. Most parenting theories, for a start—I don’t believe kids are precious snowflakes that should be sheltered from a dangerous world with dangerous people. I am sick and tired of extreme consumerism—as if happiness could be bought! I don’t believe our lives should be constantly improved, upgraded and supersized just because major retailers decided it would be damn convenient for their bottom line if we could just hand over our credit cards at the cash register—making a choice is easy when someone has already made it for you. Structured merriment isn’t fun—non-offensive PG humour isn’t either. I’m sick of this puritan hypocrisy where sex, alcohol, tobacco, swearing and nudity are banned or strongly frown upon. I’m annoyed with the fear-mongering media circus. I can’t stand hearing a constant litany of advice, warnings and best practices—just let me live my life, already! Individualism bothers me. Perfection as well—“having it all” is a myth because we are not rational beings but rationalizing beings and we all do the best we can, knowing it’s never good enough.


Yes, I have issues, I know. Or do I? Maybe I’m just realizing that even though I trained myself to behave like a Canadian and fit in this society, there are many North American values I don’t truly believe in.

In other words, sometime, I’m faking it. And like the proverb says, “what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.”

It’s a bit of my fault. I changed. I know it. When I first came, at twenty, I was naive and impressionable. I was looking for my tribe, I wanted to belong, I wanted to absorb a new culture and become someone else. I loved Canada because it accepted me. At 32—almost 33…—I’m more confident, more experienced. There are many aspects of Canadian culture I truly appreciate and adopted but I’m also more discerning. I know who I am. I’m still a Latin, a French hedonist, an eternal rebel. I’m instinctive and not always rational or efficient. I will never be a WASP. These are not my values.

I also think the world changed these past fifteen years, many countries in North America and Europe became more conservative.

Am I unhappy in Canada? No, not really. If I look at the “metrics”, I’m doing fine. Life isn’t too bad. It’s just that I feel I’m swimming against the tide here. I hate being hypocritical and meet social expectations without actually believing in these values.

Would I be happier somewhere else? Would I fit better? Hard to say. In any event, Feng and Mark aren’t going anywhere, they are both happy in Canada.

This is such as first-world problem. The day we landed in Toronto, minutes before Mark finished that damn bottle of Sprite, we saw the Syrian refugees being dispatched to different Canadian cities. I can’t even imagine what they are going through… this is tough, having to run away from your country and starting your life again halfway across the globe.

Maybe I should just focus on reinventing my life in Canada. I have to live somewhere anyway, right?


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. You described exactly why it is hard for me to live in North America, long term. Oh there’re so many things I miss there (for example the fact of feeling that I could walk and enjoy the streets freely as a woman) but there’s too much I can’t really handle. The lack of public spaces to gather, too many private ones. The consumerism. I’m a bon vivant, and I don’t think a bon vivant can live happily ever after in Canada.
    That said, you won’t live Canada. Even living Ottawa isn’t negociable?
    What about discovering your own country alone from time to time, just travelling for 3-4 days.
    What about moving and find a neighborood you like even better
    What about a new art project
    …?!?! 🙂

    • For many reasons, leaving Ottawa isn’t on the table. And I don’t have a plan B anyway 😆 The thing is, Ottawa has been a good place for me to work so far as well, that’s one big asset I didn’t mention. And when it comes to work… I’m 90% North American. I’m used to the work culture here, I actually fit in, mostly I guess because this is where I started my “career”. I’m going to focus on practical projects and enjoy what’s best here.

  2. It’s very judgemental here. I find Ottawa a difficult city to live in. Have you considered moving cities, even provinces? Alberta or BC aren’t as bad. BC in particular has a nice hippy vibe to it- especially the island. I’d probably avoid Vancouver. it’s terribly expensive. The weather is also much milder on the West coast. No -25 days or feet of snow that Ottawa gets.

    • Judgmental in what way? I’m voicing an opinion, my own, but I’m not attacking Canadians or Canada. I’m just expressing how I feel about a certain global mainstream mindset, but it doesn’t mean that every Canadian behave this way or adopt that way of life… and there isn’t anything wrong with that mindset anyway, I just see things differently for many reasons. One, I wasn’t raised in Canada, second, we traveled a lot and were exposed to so many cultures that maybe we see through the BS better, i.e. the “fear-mongering circus” as I called it.

      Ottawa is often seen as a conservative city by Canadian standards, it’s true. Moving isn’t a realistic options for many reasons, most of them practical and I won’t detailed them here because they are boringly practical 🙂 I guess I can be seen as whiny, complaining about Canada yet not wanting to move. Like I said, I’m not terribly unhappy here, Canada has been kind to me (like I mentioned many times before on this blog), especially professionally. And there are aspects of the culture I truly embrace. It’s just that… it’s hard to fit completely, and I’m starting to realize that no matter how long I will stay here, there is a mindset I will never adopt.

  3. Martin Penwald on

    Sometimes, I have the feeling it would be easier to cross the border with cocaine than with some legal stuff.

    Besides that, I know I will never blend here (fortunately, I am comfortable being alone). But it t=raises a difficult question : how do you define the identity of a country? Remember the debate on “l’immigration et l’identité nationale” from Sarko? The goal was clearly to appeal the FN vote, because in reality it is very hard to define someone from their country.
    That’s why I consider the notion of citizenship irrelevant. But it is convenient for the day to day administrative life.

    • I agree with you, defining someone simply based on citizenship is very flawed. The question of a country’s identity is impossible to answer, you can see broad trends and facts that unite a nation, but there are multiple cultures blending in, even in a small country like France. Brittany is very different from Corsica, which is very different from Lyon, which is different from Guyana…

  4. This may be strange, but something I hated about growing up in Canada was the fear-mongering about teeth. It seemed to me that everyone “needed” braces and that if you didn’t let your kids have braces then you were a bad parent. Seriously, I had people ask me why my parents wouldn’t get me braces, implying that my parents were depriving me of a life or death necessity. Thank goodness my parents didn’t give in to that crap. Sure, some people really do need braces, but people went way overboard. At least among my group of friends, I am the only one who didn’t have braces growing up.

    • YES, that! Anything health-related, to be honest. There is so much pressure… trendy pressure, because every decade (every year?) focuses on something, early screening for this, preventing that… so much fear around… we spend way too much time worrying.

  5. Well, she was clearly out of line!

    Although, it’s fun to see how people are impressionable. I’m still, very impressionable, yeah but not by media houses, at least thanks for that.

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