Ask any Frenchman what country he would most like to visit and chances are Canada will be at the top of the list. He will likely even tell you that Canada is his dream country. Its pristine lakes, its snow-capped mountains, its flora and fauna, and most of all, its friendly, French-speaking people…
I have heard this homily so many times I can recite it by heart.
Usually it comes right before the question, the one that begs to be asked as soon as they find out mon pays natal: whatever possessed me to leave Canada and move to France?
I used to explain that living in France – especially in Paris – is also a dream for many North Americans. Now I don’t bother. It only evoked mild disbelief – raised eyebrows, shrugged shoulders and finally, an admission that, ouf, oui, Paris has many beautiful monuments but you don’t really want to live there…unless you have la chance to be rich and live in a hotel particulier in the 16th arrondissement.
So I cut to the chase. My husband is French, I’ll say. Their expression changes to relief. Ah, bon! That explains it!
The fact is my husband felt no great need to return to la patrie. We had begun our married life in Canada and, of the two of us, I was the one who was rather keen on moving to la belle France. Two things helped me convince him. One: the skiing in Toronto sucked. Lots of snow but a complete lack of mountains. He voted we move to Vancouver but then I reminded him of argument number two: raw-milk cheese and fine Bordeaux abundantly available at a fraction of the price in France. We were on the next plane to Paris.
I exaggerate. But it was definitely a factor.
None of which is of any interest to my French friend, who is absolutely right about Canada being a wonderful country – but for all the wrong reasons.
I take a sick pleasure in dispelling the myths about my native land whenever I get the chance. The air-pollution alerts in Toronto, the dead fish in Lake Ontario, the unbearable humidity in the summer – and that’s just my warm up act.
I go on to describe the crumbling highways in Montreal, the historic tensions between Québec and the rest of Canada. I then regale them with trivial-pursuit specials about how most Canadians live in cities and fewer than 25% of the population actually speaks French. And how the French Canadian version of their language is quite different from that spoken in France.
At this point in the conversation, my Canada-loving confrère will come out with an imitation of Céline Dion, our most famous Canadian in these parts, straight from their popular puppet show, “Les Guignols de l’info.” Calice de Christ!
I will take this opportunity to mention a few other famous Canadians, most of whom our French friends will not have heard of: Marshall McCluhan, William Shatner, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Michael Bublé, Justin Bieber. (Okay, they probably know the Biebs.)
For act two, I will tell them about all that is truly wonderful about Canada. Starting with the fact that it is not the U.S. (but offers many of its features). That we like our beer, and even have some decent homegrown wines (this will take some convincing).
I will tell them that Canada is a land not only of lakes but of cottage country. I explain that many companies offer their employees summer hours, a chance to put in a longer day during the week in order to get Friday afternoons off. That whenever a statutory holiday falls on the weekend, we get a comp day! (Now our Frenchman’s eyes are lighting up!)
I will share my love of Canada’s multicultural immigration policy, as it means you can get amazing foods from all over the world in any major Canadian city.
I will tell that we have a wonderful thing in the winter called snow days, when schools close and people stay home and snuggle up by the fireplace channel. That we barbecue in the winter and cannot live without A/C in the summer. That we are a modern people who often live in high-rise buildings called condos. That we are not all fans of knotty pine.
I will not mention Tim Horton’s, Second Cup, Roots, Chapters or any other great Canadian brands as their eyes will already have glazed over.
The French may be forgiven for their misguided views about Canada. They’re based on limited media exposure (Canada rarely makes the international news) or a ten-day tour from Niagara Falls to Montreal.
And don’t we have just as many stereotypes about France? Every movie set in Paris has a backdrop of the Eiffel tower, romantic accordion music and baguette-bearing people riding bicycles. The French are portrayed as humourless, vain or intensely romantic. Which is only true about 90% of the time.
In the end, I will tell my French friend that he must go to Canada because it is indeed a wonderful place to visit. And because we Canucks don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Happy Canada Day!