I left my native France at the age of 18. Italy, England and then Thailand became my new homes. Every step was a breath of fresh air, a culture to adopt, a language to learn and each time I had that feeling of freedom where I could be who I wanted because I was different, I was “a stranger.” Despite the excitement of each adventure, I always felt that even if I stayed, I would never really fit in.
But when I arrived in Vancouver almost three years ago, I had a revelation: here, almost everyone is from somewhere else. Whether they come from another Canadian province or from the other side of the world, whether they are passing through or second generation Canadians, the majority of Vancouverites have a story to tell of their origins. I knew immediately that this would have a profound effect on my own adaptation. Here I am like everyone else: different. Like many, I have been influenced by several cultures, and I speak more than one language, my parents live far away, my partner is of another nationality and my friends come from all over the world. If, one day, I have the chance to have children, they will speak several languages and have classmates of English, Mexican, Chinese or German origin. Surprisingly, 90% of my friends have similar characteristics. We are all immigrants or children of immigrants, without feeling stigmatized as we would in Europe, for example.
What has always disturbed me in my country of origin is the way of judging and commenting on all that surrounds us. In Vancouver I discovered an open-minded and non-judgmental culture that warmed my heart. Mistrust is almost non-existent. One simply assumes that people are good. Once, when the adjoining parking meter was down to two minutes, my friend inserted money so that its owner would avoid a fine. Another time, a young man gave me twenty dollars at the supermarket checkout when I realized that I had forgotten my wallet. This never would have happened in my native country.
Here, one can be what one wants and no one judges or is surprised. Bilingual? Not really impressive. Blue hair? No problem! Actor by day and waiter by night? Totally normal! Divorced, two children and remarried with a person of the same sex? No reason to be offended either. Everyone lives their life without feeling the need to explain their professional choices, sexual preferences or cultural habits. This does not mean that everyone agrees with everyone, but rather that we understand, and especially, that we accept that others live differently. Professionally speaking, in my country, a picture is mandatory on a CV. As if the employer could judge an individual’s skills by gender or ethnicity. Here, job discrimination is prohibited. Women, people with disabilities and visible and aboriginal minorities are encouraged to apply and sometimes even have an advantage in the hiring process. Experience, personal values and motivation seem to be as important as diplomas.
However, in my dark days, I cannot help but see the other side of the coin. I sometimes think that this openness is hypocritical, just a facade built on the easy use of the politically correct in order to save face. Vancouverites are friendly, open and helpful, yet the major problem faced by newcomers is the difficulty of integrating and creating friendships. In a city where everyone is “a stranger,” why is it so hard to feel at home?
Translation by Barry Brisebois