“You May Say I’m a Dreamer” – Tourist vs. Resident

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Canadiana, Ottawa, July 2012

As much as I enjoy immigration topics, I have never been able to find a good forum on the subject. Some boast thousands of members, but most are one-time visitors looking for a quick answer to their immigration question—there is no social interaction. Other forums are a hunting ground for scammers and immigration lawyers promoting their services, and have little to offer.

I used to be a member of a large French-speaking immigration forum, but I was banned back in 2006 or 2007. Just as well: I didn’t exactly fit in.

Most members of that forum were prospective immigrants from France heading to Quebec, the large majority to Montreal, a few to Quebec, and even fewer to remote regions of Quebec. I was the token “French living in Ontario”, a role I didn’t mind. After all, to each his own, and as I said many times, I’m much more comfortable living in English Canada.

What drove me crazy were the stereotypes a lot of prospective immigrants chose to believe in.

French citizens are lucky: they do not need a visa to visit Canada, and they can make the trip relatively easily—they are richer and face less bureaucratic hassle than citizens from, let’s say, China, Mexico, India, etc. So it’s common for French families interested in immigrating to Quebec to organise “scouting trips” and to report on them later on.

And most—if not all—families came back ranting about France and spreading stereotypes.

First, I found their whining about France a little bit over the top. Granted, most prospective immigrants aren’t happy with their life at home—this is what they want out. That doesn’t mean the country they live in is completely rotten, and that doesn’t mean, in my humble opinion, that they are entitled to become far-right pricks. I got tired of reading endless rants about “immigrants invading France and destroying our values”, “lazy unemployed bums who sit around collecting unemployment and social benefits”, and “hard-working French who pay too much taxes”.

You are French. Get over it. Immigrating with such a negative attitude towards your home country is never a good idea, and can backfire later on.

Usually, these rants against France are immediately followed by what the family observed during the week- or two-week long Canadian holiday.

“People are so polite in Montreal!” “Everybody was smiling and saying ‘allô’!” “The bed & breakfast owner was friendly and welcoming!” “We made a lot of friends who will help us when we settle there!”

Well, gee. Not to be cynical, but as tourists, you were there to spend money. Of course, the tourism industry is going to welcome you with open arms—that’s the least it can do! As for the friends you made… Just remember that Canadians are friendly and helpful (that much is true!) but don’t expect a friendship to blossom in a week-long trip.

“The weather was great!” (if the tourists were there during fall) “It was much warmer than we expected!” (during a summer trip) “Meh, it’s not that cold and snow is so pretty!” (during a winter trip)

Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between “surviving” two weeks of cold weather, and spending an entire winter in Canada…  or two, or three, or four. Just saying.

“According to the locals, there is a lot of work in the region. So and so is hiring. And we could easily start our own business. Lots of local do, doesn’t look that hard and they make a lot.”

Again, ahem. I’m not saying locals lie to tourists on purpose, but few realize how hard it is to find a first job in Canada, especially for newcomers. Some declining regions are desperate to attract new blood (ever seen the Quebec movie “Seducing Doctor Lewis”?) and will promise the moon, so don’t believe everything the local commerce chambers or industries will tell you.

“We stayed in a log home by the lake, went dog sledding, ate some maple syrup pancakes by the bonfire and rode a snowmobile. We loved Quebec’s wide open spaces and clean natural wilderness. That’s the life we want, we can’t stand Paris anymore!”

Glad to see you had fun and enjoyed the tourist activities! And I’m stressing on “tourist” because let’s face it, unless you become a musher (aka driver of a dogsled), you will likely live in an urban environment and drive a car to work—not a snowmobile. Oh, and log homes are fairly uncommon downtown Montreal. Sorry about that.

You may think I’m a bit cynical, but I’m so tired of hearing prospective immigrants spreading this twisted fictional vision of Quebec! Mind you, the tourism office loves the propaganda, but I don’t think it help immigrants on the long run.

There is a huge gap between being a tourist and a resident, and of all people, prospective immigrants should be aware of it.

What do you think? Ever heard prospective immigrants spreading stereotypes? How do you react to that?

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About Author

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

22 Comments

  1. BEST. POST. EVER.
    I do agree with absolutely everything you said. As for French emigrant here being “far right prick” this is truly a mystery to me. Why do you immigrate if you spit on immigrants? I just don’t get it….

  2. Great post ! I’ve been following your blog recently and I have to say I really like your views in general and this one in particular 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time to say “hi”! And don’t hesitate to share your point of view in the comments as well. I promise, no dictatorship here 😉

  3. I completely agree. I don’t know about it in Canada specifically, but I think this is a general problem a lot of people have. They once (or twice) go to a place on holidays and immediately are convinced they could live there.

    I used to date a guy who kept on telling me that he didn’t understand why I would ever leave Switzerland – I could be living there in the mountains and go skiing every day (he was a ski fanatic). I used to tell him a kazillion times that Switzerland is very pretty, but it’s also expensive – and if it was that easy to just “buy a chalet in the mountains and ski all day” there would be a lot more people doing exactly that.

    The same with Spain. How often did I hear people saying “I could SO live in Spain and get an hour siesta every afternoon” – cool, try to do that… and whatever job you used to have, you won’t have it anymore after one nap 😉

    • I see we share the same experience!

      I’m not surprised of the stereotypes that exist for cities/countries (hey, I get surprised all the time when I travel!) but I am surprised to see people don’t adjust and keep on spreading these weird stereotypes even after settling down. That’s my biggest issue actually. Residents should be honest and see the good and bad, not spread propaganda!

  4. What a great post. (it prompted my first comment here!)
    I’ve on that forum and am often shocked by what people say. I wish people realized that integration doesn’t require you to reject everything that has made you until then, in fact that makes you a rather ungrateful and rootless person.
    We all have our reasons to leave, but I still miss France like crazy and enjoy my trips back there, yet am very happy with my life in Quebec (and for the record, Quebec isn’t all franco – I went to McGill and met a lot of anglo-Canadians). I also think my immigration was successful because I didn’t know much about Montreal and expected very little. People arrive with completely unrealistic expectations and quickly realize that immigrating will not magically solve all your problems. Your blog (and a few others) should be mandatory reading for prospective immigrants)

    • Hi and nice to meet you! Thank you for taking the time to write about your experience as well.

      I still miss France too, at least some aspects of life in Europe, and I am not ashamed to say it. It doesn’t make me less Canadian to admit that I have roots somewhere else!

      I agree with you, when you have low expectations, you are more likely to be successful. People who are sold the Quebec dream can be disappointed more easily.

  5. Very good article here Zhu. It really is different to be a tourist and to be a resident. Tourists are inherently temporary; there’s always the End or Reset button at the end where things will be over and stop. It’s not in the context of immigration, but I’ve experienced this first-hand as well.

    When we were living in Japan, we had Japanese friends who went on vacation to Guam (Guam being a tropical island that is just 3 hours away from Tokyo) and came back with all these wonderful stories about how awesome their trip was. They enjoyed this, that, and so on. Now after 4 years of living in Japan, it turned out that my dad was being re-assigned to the Philippine Consulate in Guam, so we moved and lived there for a year.

    Of all the places I have lived in, it was the one I liked the least. The island was too small for me, and there was nothing to do. If you’re in Guam just for a week, that’s fine, but if you’re a teenager there and you’re there for a year, that bores the hell out of you. There’s only 2 malls, every time I went I bumped into someone I know, it’s that small. One can drive around the island within half a day. The wonderful stories of our Japanese friends about their vacation didn’t apply to us. One can only go to the beach and swim for so long before one gets bored.

    • I can relate to your Guam/island living experience to a certain extend, because even though islands typically make people dream, you can easily get trapped and paradise doesn’t look like paradise when you live there!

      Of all the places we traveled too, I think I experience the most “wow” in islands (the scenery is often lovely, let’s face it, plus I love the ocean!) but I don’t usually mind leaving after a few days because I feel that if I stay, I would spoil the paradise.

      Great comment, spot on!

  6. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”

    I really don’t see which forum you’re talking about 🙂

    Most of integrated french I’ve met (hopefully there are some and you prove it well) usually don’t even know this website, they just live on their own and stop keep on spreading this unfortunate stereotype you’re talking about.

    Even if we can share a lot of technical answers about immigration (but official website does exist too), it’s impossible to write a “How to” about integration. And these short-term residents or tourist give me a job.

    “Ever heard prospec­tive immi­grants spread­ing stereo­types?”
    If you’re talking about french prospective immigrants, pretty much everyday.

    “How do you react to that?”
    My previous strategy was to strongly tie them up to a tree far in the bush and cover them with berry jam. How desperate (and a bit jealous) I was when I saw bears just licking them. Finally for the moment I simply skip french but still thinking what to do with them.

    You may be “a bit cynical”, but your words are no doubt a timeless truth.

    • I love your strategy! May I borrow it? 😆

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I am not surprised to see you recognized the infamous forum I was talking about. You are right though, a lot of French (or Francophone immigrants) don’t use it at all because all the info is online… and there a few English-speaking forums that may be more honest too when you need help from a practical point of view.

      Now, if only I could write an article in L’Express and kill these stereotypes… referring to the yearly “OMG Quebec is a paradise” special feature (er, piece of propaganda?), of course 😉

  7. Hi Zhu, I’ve just discovered your blog and have been enjoying browsing through the archives, so I wanted to say hello. Most of the blogs I read are by foreigners living in France so it’s interesting to read about the issues from a different perspective. I think a lot of the issues you raise here are true for some immigrants in France as well : they expect it to be like a holiday and then get frustrated when it’s not quite like the dream. I also agree that it’s not good to completely reject your homeland because that’s not very balanced either.

    Looking forward to reading more soon!

    • Hello and nice to meet you! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment as well. I am usually quicker to reply but I just got back from a short trip 😉 I got both of your comments too, sorry again, new commenters have to be approved once to get through the system. Now it’s done!

      I read quite a few blogs written by foreigners in France and you are right, some immigrants also expect to be eating croissants all day long 😉

  8. Another refreshing post! I think that in many ways, immigrating is about falling in love with a place , and as we know, people in love are annoying 😀

    It certainly was love at first sight for me. I fell head over heels for the frozen plains of Saskatchewan back in 1999, when I spent 9 months (September to April, the best months! :)) in Regina for a teaching exchange. And I’m afraid all the clichés applied: I fell in love with the people, their positive, easy-going attitude, I fell in love with Liberal policies, Multiculturalism in particular (in fact, I was so enthused by that particular aspect of Canadian life that I had to go and write a thesis about it), I fell in love with winter (it reminded me of my childhood in the Alps), i tutti quanti. I just felt for the first time that I could breathe, and that there was a freedom here that did not exist in France.

    Now, it had been a whole 9 months, during which I had to file taxes, pay rent, buy groceries, visit health clinics, and work for a living, not just two weeks of dogsledding vacation, but still, I’m sure I spent my summer of 2010 putting my poor family through a list of annoying, half-digested clichés about why everything was right about Canada and everything was wrong about France. I was in love, what can I say 🙂

    And I still am. My love for this country has withstood the test of mortgage payments, taxes, failed love and friendship, career disappointments, and even six years of conservative government. Everything that I dislike about France exists also in Canada. Everything that I love about Canada, one can also find in France. There are many things I miss about France, and many things that I have trouble with in Canada. And yet, after three weeks in my beloved, beautiful, delicious France, I feel the itch to come back home where, for some reason, mortgage and all, I still feel free.

    • Yes, but you are smart and left-wing so you are forgiven for all the “Canada love” you may have spread! 😉

      What annoys me the most I guess are the immigrants who have nothing but negative things to say about France, and for each negative point, they balance it with a “but in Canada, it’s so much better”. That just doesn’t work for everything, I mean both countries are different!

      I don’t see you denying your French roots either, something some immigrants like to indulge into.

  9. Hi Zhu, I tried to post a comment earlier, so sorry if you get this twice. I’ve just discovered your blog and have really enjoyed browsing through the archives, so I thought I’d say hi. As a foreigner in France, it’s really interesting to find out about the perspective of a French person abroad, Many of the things you say in this post are true of immigrants to other countries too, and often their idealism is shattered.

    Keep writing!

  10. Hahaha, I loved reading this post! I’m going to share it with the next person who travels to India and comes back with stories of “how warm and spiritual it is! I can totally live there!” mehh

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