Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Flophouse in Canada: A Third Place?

Over the years, late at night over a glass of wine and after a long hard day at work, the denizens of the Flophouse have had many conversations about Canada as a potential Third Place.

What is a "Third Place?" It's a country or community where the Flophouse feels at home and where none of us are citizens. Our last Third Place was Japan and while we were very happy there we knew that we would always remain "gaijin" which is both a good and a bad thing depending on the day.

Canada in general and Quebec in particular are more promising. For one thing it is the only country we've experienced where we can do in public what we do at home - start a conversation in French and finish it in English (or vice versa). Since we are all fluent in both languages it has never bothered us to switch back and forth but we have noticed that this perturbs people in our home countries. And then there is the little matter of our accents. The Frenchlings have native accents, my spouse and I do not which means that we are pegged as "foreign" the moment we open our mouths. Here in Montreal there is such a diversity of accents in both languages (our Lebanese cab driver on the way in had a very elegant French accent)no one raises an eyebrow or bats an eye when we start to speak.

This is also very clearly a "country of immigration" and that means diversity everywhere you look (at least in the big cities). A person from a more homogenous culture might find this disturbing - we find it delightful. Last night we found a Japanese/Korean delicatessen right next door to our hotel. The Frenchlings were in heaven because they found the same candy and instant curry that we used to love to eat in Tokyo.

These two things (and the quality of the welcome) make us feel like we've entered a world where a family like ours is not particularly strange or exotic. The added bonus is the lack of what I call the "home court advantage". Living in France or the US we are always aware that one of us is NOT a citizen and is, therefore, a person with fewer rights. This inequality is a source of tension that disappears when we arrive in a place where we are all foreigners and are equally disadvantaged.

So what has stopped us over the years from attempting to move here? Uncertainty mostly. There is so much we do not know. What is the job market like, for example? Could we survive the winters? Are my spouse and I too old to be allowed to migrate? What about our aging parents on both sides of the Atlantic? And so on.

All we know right now is that we are thrilled that the elder Frenchling chose Quebec, Canada as her Third Place. I was asked the other day if I would mind my daughter staying here after her studies are completed. The immigration officer at the airport made a similar suggestion when he saw her French and American passports saying that she might like Canada enough to become a Canadian citizen too.

I hope she does like it here. I'll go even farther and say that I hope she falls in love with this country. If we can manage friends and family across multiple countries right now then I don't see why we couldn't add another country to the mix. Canada is a beautiful country and, from what we have seen, the elder Frenchling just might fit in very well. If one day Canada agrees, well, that would just be the cat's pajamas. :-)

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