We’re Not Strangers, After All

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Fall scarecrow, Preston Street, Ottawa

It was around 1 p.m. on a weekday and I was walking down Merivale Road towards Carling Avenue, earbuds in and podcast on, the sun in my eyes.

I had the sidewalk to myself. This is Canada, after all, most people drive to places they can walk to.

To be fair, taking a leisurely walk down this stretch of Merivale Road never occurs to anyone. Most people walking up or down the street just missed the #80 OCTranspo bus or got tired of waiting for it and assume they will have a better chance to catch an express on Carling Avenue—incidentally, it was what I was hoping for that day.

The only exception is the dude who lives in the Carlington residential neighborhood and spends his days pacing the street, looking for cigarette butts and loose change. I think he missed the bus a long time ago.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with this part of Merivale Road but it feels old and slightly shady. There’s a pawn shop, two pizza joints, a coin laundry, the old-fashioned “House of Lasagna,” two convenience stores, a gas station, a few auto repair shops, and a legit “Capital Drugs” pharmacy across the questionably legal “Hemp Company” cannabis dispensary. The tattoo shop, “Blue Blood Custom Tattoos,” is strategically located close to Amigo’s sports bar where you can pick up a fight or some drugs. To balance things out, for all your redemption needs, you can choose between the Church of God of Prophecy, St Elizabeth Church (with mass in Hungarian) and the very lively St. Teklehaimanot Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

I had almost reached the end of the road when I saw two people walking towards me. I mentally prepared myself for that awkward little sidewalk dance because most Canadians have never read the Guide to sidewalk etiquette. Parallel parking in a tight spot or backing out in a busy parking lot? No problem. Following the rhythm of pedestrian traffic, making room for others or simply looking where you’re going? Oh boy. No situational awareness whatsoever, I’m telling you.

Many Canadians behave like kids when they walk to places. They stroll four or five in a row and seem annoyed when you’re trying to pass them—worst offenders are government employees and their informal lunch break walking club. People walking their dog are surprised when you don’t feel like petting the man’s best friend. People ride their fucking bike at full speed on the sidewalk.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who make a point of stepping on the road so that you won’t pass them too close, as if two people couldn’t fit on the sidewalk, as if they could catch an STD—a sidewalkally transmittable disease.

The couple, a man and a woman, were sidewalk experts. I moved two steps to the right, they moved two steps to the left and we passed each other like normal people.

That alone was noteworthy.

But then, something strange happened.

And as we passed each other, the woman kind of waved at me and smiled.

I smiled because hey, why not. Besides, they looked friendly.

She slowed down and for some reason, I did too and turned around.

“Hi,” she said, as if she knew me.

“I’m sorry, I…—”

“—You don’t know me but I know you,” she explained. “I’ve been reading your blog for… like, years.”

I’ll spare you my predictable reply—no way, what the chances are, on Merivale of all places, etc.

Once she gave me some background, I actually remembered her too although I don’t think she ever posted pictures of her. She used to blog. She is Canadian and she lived in France for a long time with her French husband. They had just moved back to Canada.

We chatted for a few minutes and parted ways.

And by the way, they weren’t taking a leisurely stroll up Merivale Road—they were meeting someone to buy a car.

Believe it or not, this is the second time someone recognizes me on the street. The first time was in Nantes, two years ago—Bee Ean spotted me in the crowd with Mark on the Île de Nantes, watching the giant spider. My mother was very impressed.

It’s funny to realize that there are plenty of people who read these articles and I have no idea they do.

Over the years, I’ve met a few bloggers. Gail in 2009, Stephanie in Ottawa (… and we are once again overdue for coffee…) and Lynn at Blog Out Loud. I called Hélène a few times in the spring when she went through a major life change. Mel is a friend in real life. I met readers who don’t blog as well, like Gagan and his wife when they settled in Ottawa, Clothilde with whom I’m still in touch even though they didn’t pursue their immigration project and Martin who often comments here and one day stopped in Ottawa with his giant truck.

This is why I chose not to be anonymous online. I’m glad I had the chance to meet cool people along the way.

If you ever see me somewhere, say hi. Apparently, I look the same in person and in pictures!

 

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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.

20 Comments

  1. That’s such a lovely encounter and it’s always interesting to hear your “behind the scenes” blog stories. It’s always been intensely fascinating to me, and I’ve mentioned this to you many times, just how many people’s lives you’ve greatly impacted. For example for me personally, I struggled with the idea of moving to a new culture, but your blog really helped me not only embrace the idea but make that whole life transition so much easier. Your blog posts of Do’s and Donts of life in Canada, often light and funny but also very helpful, helped me face the massive change of moving across the world. And even as I actually flew here I felt a strange comfort in knowing I already “know” someone in Canada despite the fact we’ve never met in real life..

    Slightly off topic, but I have a question for you. Long time ago you used to post about blog statistics stuff such as where most of your readers are from and then strange requests you receive occasionally.. I loved those posts, would you consider bringing them back? Also, I remember you wrote about hating to drive and I kind of wonder about the follow-up I guess.. Did you end up embracing the drive everywhere culture?

    Well, I would just love to be able to meet you one day and talk about life over a cup of coffee. If you’re ever in my neighborhood please let me know and I’ll do the same

    Till then, a warm hug

    • I think we (i.e. immigrants and travelers) are more open to these random connections because we have to recreate a new community somewhere 🙂 It’s always amazingly gratifying when someone let me know I helped them or comforted them in some ways, and I must admit it feels comforting for me as well. Writing helps me consider different perspectives. It allows me to step back and see the big picture. And of course, I wouldn’t be able to do that without occasional input… so thank you for being there 🙂

      For the weird blog questions, I haven’t gotten any lately! I used to be somewhat active on various immigration forums, but the immigration process changed and I’m not up to date with the latest requirements so I moved towards a more “cultural” approach to life in Canada as an immigrant. As a result, fewer people contact me with their random questions. Which is… good in a way, I guess? Still, sometimes I miss them too 😆 Promise, as soon as I have enough, I’ll post something. As for general blog updates, I’ve been toying with an article idea for a few weeks. I noticed that blogs are less and less popular, my feed is now mostly empty. Blogs I used to follow are no longer updated. I think it’s part of a bigger trend but I have yet to understand which one. Is everybody on social media instead? Maybe. I may talk about it and ask for popular wisdom on that one!

      And as for driving… I’m a hopeless case! Feng bought a new car this year, his first brand-new car actually. I came with him as an advisor but I refused to test drive it 😆 Eventually, I drove it once and it was enjoyable but I’m terrified I could damage it in some ways. I think I’ll never be a natural driver and frankly, that’s just me. If I have to, I can drive. But if I don’t have to, I’d rather walk! How about you? Do you drive to places? I guess you probably don’t have the choice…

    • Immediately checked picture. Phew. Not a picture I hate.

      Pictures are weird. I used to hate every single picture of me until I started to take pictures about 15 years ago. I got used to seeing myself in picture and it no longer feels weird, although there are a few pictures I hate (maybe 1%?). The rest of the time, I accept that yes, I can look goofy/weird/tired/old etc. on picture because, well, that’s how I look in real life as well. I don’t pose for pictures and I never wear makeup so they are as natural as they get.

      (As a married woman, no innuendo, I found you were definitely very cute!)

      • Martin Penwald on

        Thanks you. I appreciate the compliment. But, indeed, that’s it.
        I’ve always found strange this idea that if a woman just even makes eye contact with a man, the man is then entitled to invade her private space. I’m often on atheists/ex-religious blogs, and the subject often pops out, especially since the beginning of the #MeToo movement and the subsequent obnoxious hate that comes from the patriarchs, inbecels, MRA who promote toxic masculinity.
        Like last week, a business teacher has been caught writing on his blog that to be a Real Man™, you have to have raped a woman when you were teenager. Since then he wrote he was joking, but it is a display of this disgusting mentality.

        • I don’t know what to think about the #MeToo movement. Obviously, I can’t stand patriarchal attitudes and I can’t even understand (from an intellectual perspective) all these toxic so-called “real men” claims and movements. But on the other hand, I can’t help finding some recent counter-movements toxic as well. Occasionally, it feels that if you don’t have a #MeToo story to tell, then you’re not a real woman. Not all men are bastard, not all women are pure angels… there are NO excuse for rape or inappropriate behaviour, don’t get me wrong, but there are toxic people on both sides these days. I would hate it if the legit and necessary fight against patriarchy turned into a witch hunt or a fad. I don’t even know where I’m going with that, I just feel super uneasy with the way things are turning–assholes arguing for their right to be assholes, regular guys wondering if they can even look at a woman these days, everything being sexualized but sexuality being taboo.. I don’t understand this world.

          • Martin Penwald on

            That’s not really how I get it. Moreover, the main point of the movement is basically to acknowledge the fact that, when a woman claims she has been sexually assaulted or worse, we just believe her.
            Look at what happen to Dr. Ford (and i made the mistake to read the comment under the Figaro’s article mentionning the confirmation of Brêle Kavanaugh, a weakness moment…) : When someone claims they have been robbed, we believe them, beaten, we believe them, mugged, we believe them, BUT when a woman claims she has been rapped or sexually assulted, too many people claim that it is somewhat her fault and/or it’s false the majority of the time.
            It has to change, the few studies we have on the subject point that false denonciations of rape are at the same level than robbery, assault, etc.

          • You know what, I like the way you phrased it and summarized it better than some of the stuff I read about the movement.

            I absolutely support this. Sexual assault should be taken seriously and enough with victim blaming, already.

            So why my occasional annoyance with the movement… I can’t explain it myself. Maybe I’m afraid of possible witch hunts, maybe because it’s turning into a polarizing issue and it really shouldn’t because I can’t see how rape/sexual assault can be defended (but clearly, it can :-/)

  2. That was amazing yet unsurprising to meet you in Nantes personally. It felt natural, as if I have known you for a long time, since I have been following your blog for a well. Me too got spotted by someone twice, once in Malaysia, once in KLIA (Airport), and I was like, I can’t believe people actually read my blog.

    I blog less and less these days because I’m using more and more Whatsapp and Wechat to keep in touch with family and friends. Things I want to share, it is so easy to just take a photo and send to these apps. With my kids, I’m less and less comfortable to share their photos in an open space. Yet, with blog, I can always come back and read what I wrote. It was nice to sometimes go back and read some scene of my life.

    • Meeting you was a very good experience! It’s funny, once I realized who you were (let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have recognized you because I can never spot anyone in the street!), I noticed how familiar you daughter looked 🙂 Being spotted in Malaysia is simply amazing given how crowded it can be! Especially in an airport. Crazy!

      I noticed you blogged less lately and I do miss your stories. I understand, though, writing is time consuming.

  3. Haha! Funny you have blogged about our encounter. Were you surprised that I spoke to you in French? Lol. Anyways you and Bee Ean were the few people that read and commented on my blog. I wish I could meet the Malaysian girl in Nantes and you there. I think we would have a lot to share. Yes you are right, people blog less and less. I will still be an avid blog reader, but I’m too lazy to keep minw alive. Keep on going, you have stories to tell. Merci.

    • I was! Especially because you speak French like, well, a French person! Once you gave me the name of your blog, it clicked, I did remember you very well but at the same time, you didn’t say that much about you online so I didn’t have all the info 😉

      I’m still so glad you did say “hi”! It made my week 🙂

  4. I’m glad we were able to meet in person in Ottawa, because currently the next best chance would be to meet in Nantes these days!

    You’re also probably the most consistently prolific personal blogger I know, bar none. I still prefer personal blogs to any other kind, but the blogging world has become increasingly commercial and all the so-called “travel blogs” look the same to me. Basically web versions of Instagram accounts, except with advertising. I get fed up with blogs that call themselves “guides to X” when clearly they were on a press trip or a 2-day city-break, where they wrap up the SEO post with “you only need 2 days in…” I’ve had to stop myself from correcting blogs about Portugal that got their facts wrong because they don’t edit the text — they really don’t care. It’s as futile as trying to bail a leaky boat with cupped hands. The appeal of Instagram has taken over, where it’s less about the caption and more about the image.

    This is a total rant, but that’s why I’m all in favour of blogs written by people who actually live and work in the place they’re blogging about, not just those passing through. Very few of those passing through are actually admitting the dates of their trip, disclosing who paid for it, and pre-empting their words with “I’m not an expert on this destination, this is just what I did.” And obviously, living and working in a place is a far cry from giving a tourist report with Wikipedia as the source. More and more people are choosing to live in other countries, and for this reason alone, it’s important that information be accurate and experiences shared.

    As for me, I’m guilty for not contributing more to the personal experience side of blogging. I’ve been blogging less and less because I’ve been working more and more, after the first few years of being free to blog about tourism. I barely have enough time to read other blogs, and I don’t have a kid! Also, unlike you, I’m the Slowest Writer In The World™. I made a living with data, not words, for a reason… I’d starve. Even my invoices are slow because there’s a description field! If it were a drop-down menu (it will never be), I’d issue them faster.

    They say learning another language staves off dementia but I don’t know, I’m feeling slower and slower by the year. It won’t stop me from blogging but my drafts pile just keeps growing and it feels harder to hit the Publish button these days.

    • I’m glad we met, you’re one of the most interesting person I “know” (quote marks because I’m fully aware I don’t know you that much, other than what you shared online). You were quite inspiring too 🙂

      I guess I write like you take pictures. I need to write, it makes me happy. Taking pictures too but I need a purpose, a goal, which is why I mostly take pictures when I’m traveling. But I always have something to write about… or so it seems.

      Writing, photography or any other type of art isn’t so much about having time (although these activities *are* time consuming) to do it. For me, it’s mostly about having the time to be inspired. Even if you have an hour of free time, you may not be able to write something good because it doesn’t come like that. Especially when you’re tired or if you feel pressured to produce something…

      Like you, I’m tired of travel blogs where bloggers don’t actually travel. I’m always disappointed… reports are shallow, often full of factual mistakes and uninspiring.

      • I’m always taking pictures, every single day, but I only publish a fraction and recognize what you describe — the satisfaction comes from that process, not so much the publishing side. The motivation is much more internal than external.

        That said, maybe I should indulge a Vivian Maier-type fantasy. She was the nanny who was moonlighting as a street photographer and never shared her work with anyone. Thousands of her photographs were found by chance and exhibited posthumously. OK, is that super-lazy of me or what??

        • Few people realize how much work is involved with photography. It’s not *just* pressing a button. You have to import pictures, sort them, delete bad shots (I do, anyway), process them if needed if only to straighten them or adjust colour levels, export them, etc.

          Sam goes with writing, actually. First draft, then editing… and editing some more.

  5. I can be socially awkward, i’m not sure I would enjoy someone recognizing me in real life 🙂 One day, I met a friend’s friend, who had read my blog for a long time. We had a nice chat and she eventually told me « could I call you Lexie ? I don’t feel like calling you by your real name, doesn’t seem like the same person to me ». It’s actually the first reason I don’t want to go publicly, as I don’t even use my real name on the blog.

      • Si ma mémoire est bonne, on a parlé en français (elle a une voix… mon dieu… elle aurait dû faire de la radio!) avec des bouts en anglais 🙂

    • I saw pictures of you and I wouldn’t recognize you in real life because let’s face it, I can barely recognize Mark among other kids… that’s how bad I am! 😆

      I don’t feel like I *know* your dirty secrets or anything, I “know” a side of you, as a mum mostly, and your blog is nothing to be embarrassed about 😉 Do you find it strange that your dad reads it, by the way? Does it make you uncomfortable sometimes?

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