For a European, immigration to Canada, whether well prepared or not, is a great adventure. When one is a francophone and chooses to go to Vancouver, it is first and foremost to be in an anglophone environment. One comes to learn, to discover, to be challenged. In other words, to leave one’s comfort zone.
The book that has accompanied me since my departure from France is a travel story written by Nicolas Bouvier in the 1950s entitled The Way of the World. Having left Switzerland with a friend, their journey lasted almost two years and took them from the Balkans to Afghanistan, by way of Turkey or Iran. Leaving with little money, they faced several unforeseen events but kept intact their thirst for travel: “On the road, the best is to get lost. When one goes astray, plans give way to surprises and it is then, and only then, that the journey begins.”
To a lesser extent, it was this feeling that animated me during my first week in Vancouver. I decided to leave an interesting job in France, well paid, with responsibilities and job security for a 150 square foot room, a few hours of work in catering and a lot of volunteering. From the comfort of my loft in the heart of the Alps to the frugality of an isolated room in West Point Grey, this is an adventure in itself. But is that not also what I came for?
After the first few days, one logically begins to want to integrate and meet people. Professional meetings (the sacrosanct “networking”), but also personal encounters. There are those who have been contacted beforehand (friends of friends, nephews and nieces of colleagues, colleagues of nephews of friends, etc.) and fortuitous encounters. The miracle of these meetings is that they are, consciously or not, between francophones! What a surprise for me to find here a francophone community so important and so alive! We help each other, we advise each other, we invite each other to dinner and we speak French.
The most curious thing about all this is that, for a Frenchman, the notion of the “Francophonie” remains a rather broad and vague concept. We are sometimes told of the holding of a “Francophonie Summit,” but I challenge anyone to tell me what steps or decisions have been taken during one of these summits. Also, before coming here, I had no idea of the existence of a francophone community in Vancouver, let alone one so dynamic!
I am willing to bet that almost all the “working holidayers” like me live the same adventure and make the same assessment after three weeks in Vancouver. We come here to experiment, to discover, to put ourselves in danger. We want to get out of our comfort zone, but we soon find ourselves in the cozy situation of a conversation between francophones. Peculiar paradox!
I have no desire to be critical, and my arrival is too recent to be able to closely analyze this process of integration. I simply note with interest the international reach of the Francophonie and how this language brings us closer and makes us a community, even on the other side of the world.
My first month in Vancouver ends soon. The next meetings will be with anglophones, francophones or allophones, whatever. The most important is that they be beautiful and rewarding. I appreciate both my “new francophone comfort zone” and my meetings and exchanges in a still hesitant English. I am still in the moment where everything is new and beautiful, just in a hurry to be surprised and amazed by the unexpected.
“We travel for things to happen and change; otherwise we would stay at home.” Nicolas Bouvier (The Way of the World).
Translation by Barry Brisebois