Exchange Diaries: The Canadian reputation

The French love Canada. I knew we had a fairly respectable reputation abroad, but I seem to have underestimated how positively Canadians are perceived.

Take this encounter, for instance:

While strolling down the Champs-Élysées in Paris this weekend, I stopped by a crêpe vendor for lunch. The vendor casually asked where I was from and I told him Canada (clearly my camera and backpack were an obvious indication that I was a tourist). I don’t think I’d ever seen a reaction as enthusiastic as his. “Canada? That’s amazing!” I could see from his huge grin that he was genuinely excited. “I love that country! That’s so interesting!” Each time I see such a positive reaction, I’m filled with Canadian pride. Yet it also sparks a tinge of homesickness. Even though I’m enjoying my time here, there are things I miss about Canada. Family, friends, Thanksgiving, Homecoming and poutine, to name a few. By no means am I trying to replicate my life at home, however – feeling out my element is expected while living abroad.

One of the whole purposes of exchange is to expose yourself to completely different, unusual experiences whether they are culinary, cultural or social. At home, I’m too much of an introvert to introduce myself to strangers, too comfortable ordering foods I’m already familiar with and too overwhelmed with school to travel. Here, on the other hand, it’s the complete opposite. Why not introduce myself to that international student I keep seeing around? It’s the same way when trying foods with unpronounceable French names or booking last-minute tickets to unknown cities.

Blood sausage, for example, sounds disgusting in English. But boudin noir doesn’t sound quite so bad. It’s exactly what the name suggests – a type of sausage made of boiled pig blood. The blood congeals and is mixed with fillers like apples, onions, egg and cream. As a result, the taste is nothing like blood – instead it’s creamy, rich and dense.

On a side note, I did discover a poutinerie in Lyon last week that serves my all-time favourite – pulled pork poutine smothered in BBQ sauce. But that was an experience I shared with new friends who had never heard of this Canadian delicacy. Needless to say, French poutine is just as good as Smoke’s.

Poutine actually isn’t well-known in France. Canada’s reputation lies in plaid shirts, bagged milk, maple syrup, hockey and snowstorms. There’s an assumption that because I speak French, I must be Quebecois and that we’re known as “America’s hat.” There’s also a strong admiration for Canadian people though. I realized this after hearing “I’ve never met a Canadian I didn’t like” from several people. It’s those moments that give me something to look forward to returning home to.

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