Moving from France to Canada: A virtuous circle of rainbows and unicorns

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Nya
Audrey_Etienne_Ceremonie-5
Audrey and Etienne on their wedding day in France. Photo by Blanc Coco

In 2012, as my fiance and I were about to get married, we decided to take the biggest leap of our entire existence: make our life-long dream of permanently living abroad come true, and move from France to Canada. Time forward two years (i.e. the time needed to obtain our permanent residences, put our furniture in a container and fly to Canada with our terrified kitty), and here we are, living, working and loving every second of it in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Though moving abroad was not a novelty for me as I lived one year in New Zealand as a student, each country has its special charm and quirks. A couple of months in, from my still-French perspective (you can’t erase 30 years of European upbringing in a blink, right ?), here’s what I love in my new country, and what I miss from home.

I LUUUUVE

How nice and relaxed people are

Maybe this is because we live in a relatively small town (170,000 inh.), but people are so calm and relaxed. We experienced that attitude as tourists in our previous visits to Canada, but had no idea it was not just a show for foreigners. It’s for REAL.

A couple of times when things went kind of wrong (internet router not working, immigration glitch preventing us from getting a Social Insurance Number), I was prepared to go all French on the clerk or attendant, only to find that unlike home, you don’t have to shout to get what you want, and people will apologize, do their best to fix your problem, AND smile at that. And to my great surprise, it's contagious: They smile, you smile. They say they’re sorry, you say you’re sorry too. It’s like a virtuous circle of rainbows and unicorns.

Amazing snowshoeing in Moncton.
Amazing snowshoeing in Moncton.

Real winter

The dreaded winter, with temperatures going down to minus 40 Celsius, the constant cold and snow… Everyone has been warning us against it, on both sides of the Atlantic. Turns out with the proper gear, it’s really not that cold, and that there are so many things so you actually do outdoors (cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating, you name it) that it’s actually a very fun season. I’m learning ice skating at the free ice rink two blocks from our flat, and the city even gives us free chocolate and marshmallows and concerts on Friday nights. Plus, I've seen more snow in the past two months than in the past 10 years.

Vegetarian meals galore

Pretty much every joint, restaurant or eatery has several vegetarian options, even burger joints. On behalf of all vegetarians, thank you, Canada.

The fact that people actually love their country

Canadians seem to express different feelings than what I’m used to — proudly displaying their love and respect for their country, flying flags, and singing the anthem every chance they get. This is very new to me, coming from a country where patriotism is a bad word. Obviously France and I have a conflictual relationship since I left, but this really makes me rethink the way I see my former AND my new country.

Security

Now I get Justin Hammer’s quote in IronMan 2: "I'd love to leave my door unlocked at night, but this ain't Canada." We do leave our door unlocked at night, for the first time of our lives.

Halloween

Virtually doesn't exist in France. How crazy did I get when it came to celebrating one of my favorite holidays for the first time last October!?

I MISS

The food

All French are foodies, it’s a cultural fact. Food is our greatest social lubricant, we have business lunch, after-work snacks with coworkers, brunch with relatives, and if there’s no food then it’s wrong. Here people seem less obsessed about food and do not use it as a socializing means (not that I’ve seen in my circles anyway). Which baffles me sometimes… why would my coworkers want to have lunch alone in their cubicles instead of sharing a meal?

We can find great cheese at the local farmer’s market, but we’d have to cough up cost 50 bucks.

On the bright sides, I had never seen so many different frozen pizza varieties.

Cheapo air travel

EasyJEt and RyanAir, how I miss you. Getting around was so much cheaper and easier back then. I know there’s a good reason why low-cost travel doesn’t make it to Canada, but my wanderlust heart bleeds everytime I see friends casually going on a short trip to Portugal, or Scotland, or Hungary, for the price of a good cheese at the farmers market.

Reasonable internet prices

80 bucks for Internet? Seriously, this is twice what we used to pay for a plan which included fiber, TV, residential phone and cellphone. But since the rents and real estate prices are so outrageously cheap, it’s okay after all.

The love list far exceeds the miss list

We learn to live without what we miss (or find a substitute). I can’t make the internet prices go down, but I can certainly make my mom send cheese from home, or save up to fly on vacation. The language barrier is not such a problem since our city is the most bilingual in the bilingual province.

So far our Canadian experience has been bliss. I can’t vouch we’ll stay in Moncton our all lives, but Canada certainly makes newcomers feel welcome.

  1. Yeah, being a vegetarian in France is HARD. At least it was when I went … damn, has it been ten years? Anyway, I made a lot of compromises while there just because I was hungry, dammit.

    • Things haven't changed so much. Unless you're into world food and don't mind eating Italian, Chinese or Japanese, but "traditional" French food is all about meat.
      Now we can dine out wherever we want, this is wonderful.

  2. Welcome to Canada! Bievenue au Canada!
    It sure is different in the small towns and cities though, that's for sure!
    While we're still more or less relaxed and friendly, it does lessen in the big cities. And safety is certainly a bigger issue… I lock my doors during the day, not just at night. 🙁
    But I swear, ours is the most beautiful country on the planet, from sea to sea, there's everything from quaint ocean side villages and eons-old rainforests, prairies that stretch for miles, and even a desert thrown in for fun!
    I hope life here is as wonderful as you've dreamed it to be, and that it continues to make you welcome and loved!

    • Thank you! I'm sure life in the bigger cities is somehow similar throughout the Western world, and that's exactly what we wanted to avoid (we used to live in Lyon, second largest city in France, after Paris).
      Canada is a gorgeous and welcoming country. We love it so much here 🙂

  3. Welcome to Canada.
    My family moved here from the US in the 1970's and I love it, I can not imagine living any place else.
    As a Canadian that lives on the West Coast, you are very brave to tough out East Coast winters, I am not that brave, Vancouver Island is cold enough for me, (we haven't had any snow this winter). I am a West Coast weather wimp.

    • Thank you! Winter doesn't feel so terrible after all. European winter is a long stretch of grey skies and sad rain. Here it's mind-boggingly colder, but there's a lot of sun, too, so we can actually go out and be active 🙂

  4. Welcome to Canada!!

    I have lived here my whole life and couldn't imagine leaving. (You nailed the pride part) I personally have not seen the east coast, but look forward to seeing it someday. I moved to Victoria BC a few years ago from Calgary AB and will admit I miss real winters. It really can be a fun season.

    Glad you are mostly happy in this Country of ours! 🙂

    • Your country is definitely warm and welcoming, not to mention beautiful. Right now it's a winter wonderland 🙂 If we feel homesick at times (who doesn't in this situation?), we certainly do not regret our decision to come and live here.

  5. Yay Moncton! I went to school at Mount Allison University in Sackville, and we would always drive into Moncton whenever we wanted city life. If you're looking for amazing vegetarian sandwiches, then I highly suggest you make the trip to Sackville and visit Pickles Deli. So good. I miss Maritime friendliness and hospitality.

    • I'll definitely try Pickles Deli next time I feel like having awesomesauce vegetarian food! Thanks for the tip!
      I'm glad you mentioned Moncton city life since this place can de underrated: there's a lot more in Moncton than meets the eye. It's a small city, sure, but there's always something going on.

    • Thank you! We haven't seen so many beavers yet but a lot of cutie-pie raccoons!

      Here the funny thing is people aren't surprised we moved to Canada, but… Moncton?!! We get a lot of "Why… What… on Earth… I don't even…" 🙂
      For now we're staying in the Maritimes "permanently" (as permanently as I can envision, i.e. a couple of years from now). Though I'm pretty sure we'll live in some other places in Canada to experience something else.

  6. Well, if you miss the food and the cheeses, come and see us in Montréal. 😉 We've got more options for cheese (and it is less pricy in this province I believe), and cheaper alcohol too. It's just a 10 h train/car ride away. And there is all the French food love here too (complete with great restaurants).
    It is a bit closer than France for a quick visit. 😉

    • Haha "10-hour ride away" still seem like the end of the world 😉 French people are not used to driving so much, and a 4 hour drive is the most I can muster over a weekend. But we'll absolutely come and visit Montréal any chance we get!

        • I get it, 989 km (615 miles) is not exactly next door. 😉 I think the most I did was going from Montréal to Bouctouche and then back again over Labour Day week-end (4 days), but that was a long time ago and a long time to spend in a car! There is definitely enough in Montréal to keep you busy for a week if you feel like it on your next vacation. Don't miss the Marché Jean-Talon for produce, cheeses and produits du terroir (a visit to Marché des saveurs is a must). In a pinch, Marché Atwater will do too, but it's much smaller.

          • I have to say, growing up in small town Alberta, a 6-8 hour round trip to the nearest big city was considered a day trip, and would generally be done when we felt like going shopping on the weekend, and when I moved out for university I fairly regularly drove the 6-9 hours to go back home for a couple days before doing it all again to get back. (The time variation in the drives being a seasonal thing). Though I will admit, the older I get, that 6-9 hour drive gets less fun, and I'd rather have a full week at home before making that drive, rather than 3 days as the threshold used to be.

          • Yes, one of the best things I remember from my summer studying in Montréal were all the markets! I hope someday to take my family–my foodie husband would go crazy! 🙂

  7. Awe! You're making me very home sick. I'm from Alberta and moved to Sweden 7 months ago. While there is lots I love about Sweden, I miss the infectious kindness of Canadians. Do you get to speak much French in New Brunswick? How are you finding Quebecois french?

    • We get to speak French a lot, most of all because we live in the largest French-speaking city outside of Québec. I'd say the default language in shops is English, but Acadian people spot quite quickly we're French-speaking and start speaking French (and learn pretty quick by our accent that we're definitely not from here) 😉 My husband works in a bilingual place and as free time is concerned, I'd say we speak 50/50 English/French.

      Acadian French is slightly different than Québécois French, and more different still than European French. Sometimes things are tricky because we don't get what people are saying in French because they're using a different vocabulary with a different accent. Of course the problem is that WE don't understand, not that they don't speak a "right" variety of French. All varieties of a same language are right, we just need to learn what is correct in a particular place. It does lead to walking on eggshelves trying not to ruffle feathers but we're learning fast (I don't think we'll change accents, though, we're too old for that).

      • Awh, your point on accents is right on 🙂 You'll fit in just right over here (or rather, you already do!)
        And as for losing your own accents, empirical evidence (I've known quite a few expats, from different regions) goes to show very few people actually lose all the accent, not even if they got here while they were still teens, even if it IS the same language. But you will gain a lot of expressions and some inflections though, and that's fun 🙂 Plus, you're adding to the expressions and vocabulary pool yourselves for the people around you!

      • "All varieties of a same language are right"!!! As a franco-ontarian, I have to say, thank you for saying that. I am so tired of our much we francophones criticize each other's accents… It is exhausting and saddening.

        • I get that. I hated my Swedish teacher here telling me my Canadian English was wrong because it wasn't British English. I was like "Really lady, REALLY!"

  8. Oh I'm happy to read from you again! Sorry if that sounds weird but I read about your wedding on OBB with a lot of interest, being French too, and I feel like I know you a tiny bit.

    I've read several articles and blog posts about living in Canada these last few months and it always seems so nice!

    • That's nice, thank you! If you're French you can follow my blog to see more of New-Brunswick life!
      Living in Canada is definitely wondeful. Apart from the francophonie, there's a reason why so many European French people want to live here. It's a whole new level of laid-backness, politeness and warmth here.

  9. Yaay! I'm so happy you love Canada! I live in Edmonton, Alberta so I can definitely say you are brave to venture through East Coast winters. I mean, I get bad winters here (it's so dry, temperatures below -20 to -30 on average…one time it was -60 with wind chill!) but we don't get the crazy blizzards the east coast gets (we get our share but not like the east coast…those things are bananas!). I also know them feelz when it comes to our expensive internet and cell phone costs, and the expensive air travel. We're so massive and spread out (and so far north) that it takes so long to get anywhere!

    However, I will say how proud Canadians are of their country is kind of a relatively new thing. I mean, yes we were always super proud to be Canadian, but that was mostly kept to ourselves. Like, you could be out at a pub and we'd all sing Newfie tunes, and go bonkers over our hockey team, and proudly wear the flag when travelling…but we would never tell someone from another country that "HEY I'M FROM CANADA AND MY COUNTRY ROOOCKS"…because it was impolite and bragging. But ever since the Vancouver Olympics, I think Canadians have found it's okay to be proud about your country and love it publicly. Which is awesome.

    And the security thing…totally. I mean, I lock my door at night…but I don't always lock it when I'm home during the day. My parents were the worst for this. Their front door would be unlocked and open, car unlocked and windows rolled down, all the side doors would be unlocked and they wouldn't even be home! Although when I used to live in my condo I wouldn't lock my door in the winter…but that was mostly because the lock would stick in the winter. Hahaha!

    • The colder we got so far was -37C with wind chill. It was cold, sure. But as long as we're not cold inside our flat, I don't really mind since I don't actually have to go out if I don't choose to (I'm self-employed, working from home), just as snow doesn't bother me since I don't have to shovel every day 😉

      I really love how Canadians love their country. The French love themselves, we're so proud to be lovers, foodies, philosophers, fashionable, whatever… But we're not proud of our country, of what it does, what it symbolizes. It's a shame (I'm working on that now that I'm away).

  10. I've been living in Canada for almost ten years now, and I really enjoy it. I will say, as someone who came from Brooklyn, I've also learned that sometimes Canadians use "sorry" as a way to avoid having to do something they don't want to or is too much of a bother. So don't be afraid to press. But yes, people are nice.

    You're in Moncton, so you're getting lots of winter. Yes! It's a viable outdoor season to be enjoyed. I join in the chorus of "Welcome to Canada." (But I still lock my doors.)

    • Canadian "sorry" can also be a way to simply acknowledge another person-it's not necessarily always an apology, or an avoidance strategy.

    • So far I've gotten what I wanted without having to press. But I'll keep that in mind if sometimes goes very wrong at some point. But it seems nothing goes wrong here 🙂

  11. I enjoyed this post! I'm an American, but I lived in France for seven months a few years back. When I was in France, the thing I missed the most about the US was being able to get an iced coffee. Really. Sometimes I just really wanted an iced coffee with a bunch of milk and sugar on a warm day. No can do in (a small town in southern) France, unless you make your own. I also like doing work in coffee shops, which, again, is not something that happens in small towns in southern France. I'd attempt it and get weird looks from the middle aged men who were inevitably sitting around talking. But I really miss France in a bunch of ways that I can't quite put my finger on, beyond the bread, cheese & pastries, which I do also miss (I'm a vegetarian, but I can still enjoy some French stuff!)

    • Haha my husband really misses the European-style coffee, but we got a Nespresso coffee machine so he can indulges in extra-strong coffee at home. Coffee is definitely different from country to country, and North American coffee isn't out cup of tea (see what I did there?). But I hear on the iced coffee. We spent holidays in Italy and Greece where this is very popular and couldn't get any cafe to prepare it for us upon returning. How sad.
      Working in cafés certainly isn't happening in small towns, but is getting popular in cities, espcially in new cafés (not the old men-only joints whch only sells beer and cigarettes). I do appreciate that here, I can flip open my laptop everywhere and there's free wifi, accessible power outlets and friendly bartenders who refill our latte every now and then.

  12. Bievenue au Canada! Greetings from Ontario, Nya! Do you plan to travel to "nearby" St Pierre and Miquelon at all, while you are living in New Brunswick? I would love to go there! As others have said here, yes, do try Montreal for some great food. It's true that even in larger cities we don't always lock our doors. Polite customer service is very much a 'thing' everywhere here, but unfortunately, so is expensive air travel. I think I can answer your question as to why so many of your co-workers might each lunch alone at their desks, though – we do tend to value the idea of the 'individual' as opposed to that of 'the group', and that can extend to the need for regular physical & mental personal space. And sometimes, I know, I need to catch up on some online personal errands or just need some solitude. I appreciate your kind comments about my fellow Canucks being personable & relaxed – and I wish you many more circles of rainbows & unicorns!

    • Travelling to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon will need at least a couple of days off but it's on our (long) list of sights to see (along with Newfounland's Viking Trail, which seems awesome). Maybe when we'll feel so homesick the only solution will be to drown ourselves in smelly cheese and croissants.
      Thank you for the insight about personal space, I'll remember that!

  13. That was a lovely read. I'm from Cape Breton (which you should visit if you get the chance, it's beautiful) but currently living abroad and it made me a little homesick, but in a nice way. Does that make sense?

    • Thank you! I really want to explore Cape Breton! Generally, Nova Scotia seems to have a lot to offer, and I'm positive it's gong to be a favourite destination of ours 🙂
      I totally get te bittersweet homesickness. I get it when I see pictures of my hometown (on Lake Geneva, near the highest mountains in Europe). I guess a part of us still cries a little bit at having gone, but not enough to disturb us from being happy to have found a new home.

  14. … Am I the only one who picked up on your AWESOME saying "I was prepared to go all French on the clerk or attendant.." ?

    I love all the things. And yes, that being 'stuck at home in the cold' just means you don't have the proper transportation or clothes. 🙂

  15. Well said about Canada! I've been there on a vacation and I agree on all you said, such a peaceful people! Greetings, Man With Van Kennington Ltd.

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