How to be a foreigner

This week I had planned on writing a post titled, “How to be foreign and exotic,” in which I wanted to talk about what it’s like to find myself as the cool and interesting foreigner, a strange feeling when I always considered Canada to be Wonder Bread level of plain and boring. I was going to make witty comments about how people here ogle at my accent and bow in my maple syrup covered presence because I’m just très exotique.

That was, however, until today when I witnessed a Syrian woman cry in front of my French class as we applauded her for immigrating to France.

On Thursdays I attend a French class in my small city, which is offered for free by a church and designed for recent immigrants to France. I take this class to improve my French, but also as a way to get out of the house and do something with my absurd amount of free time. Moving by myself to a country that has different customs and a different language from what I’m familiar with has been difficult, but today I was reminded just how privileged my experience has been.

Normally our French class is divided into multiple groups so I don’t often interact with other students, but as today was our last class before the holidays, we had a Christmas party, at which some of the volunteers presented a map of where all of the students were from and recognized each country. As I watched this sweet Syrian lady pull tissues from her purse, I felt incredibly moved and incredibly guilty because my biggest struggle of the day was that the instant coffee at the party was not up to par with the Nespresso creation I drink in my 5-bedroom French home, which I moved to not because my country is at war, but because I really had nothing better to do.

France is fun and scary and crazy and challenging and beautiful. It’s difficult being away from my Canadian friends and family, especially at Christmas, but I need to remind myself that moving to France was my choice, and there are many immigrants who were never given a choice. As I watched each student stand up and be applauded for the country they came from, I reflected on just how stupid xenophobia is. People in France welcome me with open arms because I’m Canadian, which apparently means I’m cool and harmless. I just wish that all foreigners here were welcomed with such appreciation, because their need to be here is much greater than mine.