This is our life. No dress rehearsal.

Jeff: Embrace the diversity, flourish with the country

Jeff’s passion for friends and community has allowed me to vividly experience his immigrant journey in Canada: sometimes as a bystander, sometimes as a participant.

My Canada Project

Duleepa Wijayawardhana

June 14, 2017

True story: I’ve known Jeff for over a decade, if not more, and until he sent in this entry, it never occurred to me that “Jeff” was a made up name short for Jean-François! Jeff’s passion for friends and community has allowed me to vividly experience his immigrant journey in Canada: sometimes as a bystander, sometimes as a participant. But let “Jeff” tell you his story in his own words as part of This is My Canada.

Q. Tell me bit about yourself and your life in Canada?

Ingrid (my wife, featured earlier on in this project) and I are born in France and lived in England for a number of years, we became Canadian citizens two years ago. We were Permanent Residents for a long time, giving us almost the same rights as those of a citizen (beside some voting restrictions, and the PR renewal), but we fell in love with this country and its inhabitants and decided that we wanted to become an integral part of the nation. We have been here for 12 years now, and our passion for Canada has not faded. If anything it is growing stronger.

Q. When you think about being Canadian what does it mean for you?

I think the most relevant episode of our Canadian story relating to this question is in fact our citizenship ceremony itself. If I recall the numbers correctly, I believe we had over a hundred people from at least forty different countries taking the Oath that day. The judge proceeded in sharing some of her own family’s immigration stories, and got us through what it means to become Canadian. I will never forget how emotional we were, listening to her citing key points along the lines of “Support your local community and charities”, “Learn to accept and help each others”, “Contribute to the development of the nation in your own ways, be engaged” etc.

These are values that we genuinely hold very close to our hearts.

I would argue that these citizenship ceremonies are probably the best reminder of what being a Canadian means. I encourage everyone to attend one, even if you are born and raised here. This is an eye opener on the progress this country has made, and will likely serve as a reaffirmation of your values.

Q. What makes you happy about Canada? Where do you feel the happiest in Canada?

Many things spring to mind.

First, the diversity. Never have I had so many friends from so many different backgrounds. We are very active and very social, which got us to form many circles of friends around our long list of personal interests. In those, origins, religions, ethnicities, skin colors, personal orientations are never seen as discriminatory, but as an opportunity to learn and discover.

One of my group of friends revolves around the “Meat Night Club”, a handful of us meet monthly with the sole purpose to get together and try out different restaurants. Very simple and low key. When Dups suggested I participate in this project, these friends sprung to mind right away. This eclectic group is made of a couple of Canadians (as in born here), a Metis, a South African, a Rwandan, an Austrian, and myself. This might sound irrelevant, but I can assure you that this is not a common occurrence in France. We all come from very different horizons and upbringings, sharing anecdotes relating to our respective cultures is always entertaining and enriching. Over the years, this unlikely bunch of silly dudes got to discover each others which fuelled strong friendships.

My parents who hardly ever left France, came to visit last year. They were shocked by how many of our friends wanted to meet them and invite them to the many summer parties. I remember my mum commenting on the level of diversity she is not accustomed to. I know they flew back home full of great Canadian memories, but more importantly, I think the few weeks they spent here provided them with a different perspective on their daily lives.

I cannot refer to diversity without mentioning culinary diversity! Both of us love food, and cooking. In light of the previous paragraphs, it is very easy to imagine how much we have been exposed to over our years in Canada. All our friends are aware of our love for cooking and have exchanged and experimented with so many styles and influences. My waistline is there to prove it!

Random fact: Believe it or not, I had my first ever sushi in Edmonton!

Second, the space.

There is plenty of room for everyone. Take your car, drive for 30 min in any direction, and you will probably end up in the middle of nowhere. I am convinced that this vast amount of space reinforces everyone’s sense of freedom, and also helps getting everyone some room to be alone when needed.

Third, the adaptability and the evolution.

The amount of changes we have witnessed in the country, province and city over the last 12 years is baffling. The country is young, and is full of energy for change and progress.

My happy place?

Paddling on any large body of water or spending some time in the breathtaking Rockies!

Q. What frustrates you about Canada?

Although I have been originally nicknamed “Jeff” when I was still in France, it becomes rather handy here since hardly anyone in Western Canada can pronounce my legal name (Jean-François) . For the anecdote, I missed my first appointment with the doctor at the medi-center, I sat down and waited after writing my name on the waiting list. Later on, the receptionist repeatedly called out for “gin”, and moved on as no one replied. I think I spent two hours there as a result..,

This might be specific to Edmonton or maybe Alberta, but I have to call out the poor driving skills of my fellow compatriots. I can talk at length about how nice Canadians generally are, but something mysterious happens as soon as the driver’s door slams shut. Those nice, reasonable people become unexpectedly impatient, lose all sense of logic and the genuine care for others that they profusely display when not strapped inside their vehicles.

Q. Where would you like Canada to be in 25 years when we celebrate 175?

I would love to see the country taking a leading position on the topics of technology, alternative energies and peace. I was talking about how quickly the nation evolves and adapts, I am confident that everyone’s contribution will get us there. Frankly, we are pretty much there already!

Q. If you have one piece of advice to give someone being born in Canada today, what would it be?

You are born in a country that most nations envy.

You are free to become whoever you want to be.

Embrace the diversity, flourish with the country.

This is part of the “This is my Canada Project”. Throughout 2017, to mark Canada’s 150th, I posted answers to questions about Canada from all sorts of people. This is now a time capsule of our 150th year and how we have progressed since then.

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