From France to Winnipeg

Last year, I was part of Quartier Magazine, a magazine that me and a few classmates developed for the infamous CreComm magazine project.  Quartier, (meaning neighbourhood) was French themed, focusing on St. Boniface and Francophone culture within Winnipeg.  I had the opportunity to interview a French immigrant who moved here for work, and since we couldn’t distribute our magazine, not many people besides my instructors had a chance to read our articles.  I wanted to share his story, as he had some very interesting things to say about our city. Without furthier adieu.

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When Thierry Keller walks into a French café in Winnipeg, he is greeted in English.

“Canada claims to be multicultural but I think that’s a myth,” said Keller, an immigrant from France who lives in Winnipeg.

“The culture changes because time changes. Canada doesn’t want to be a big melting pot, but that’s what it is,” he said. “Sooner or later everyone is going to mix.”

Keller has a PhD in Environmental Science and immigrated to Canada after he could not find work in Marseilles, France.

I decided to come because the economic situation in Europe is not very good,” said Keller.  “With my PhD, I was unable to find a suitable job according to my skills.”

We met at Léo’s Gelato and Café in St. Boniface, and he ordered a decaf coffee in his strong French accent.  He had a European flare about him, and wore a fashionable scarf and dark tweed coat.

Keller learned of job opportunities in Canada after he attended an information seminar in France.

“They pretty much said ‘Hey come to Canada, the streets are paved with gold’,” he said. “I don’t think that it was a trap. There were no bad intentions, but I don’t think they realized what it is to move from one continent to another.”

Keller decided to move to Winnipeg because because of its size, and low unemployment rates.

He also wanted to learn English.

“A lot of people in France think to move to Quebec because of the language,” said Keller. “But I didn’t want to move to Quebec, I wanted to learn English.”

According to recent immigration statistics, Manitoba welcomed 15,962 permanent residents in 2011.

Only 484 were French speakers.

Keller avoided St. Boniface when he arrived because he wanted to focus on English, and discover the city for himself.

Ironically, he rarely speaks French while in St. Boniface.

“I don’t think it would be possible to survive in the community speaking only French,” said Keller.

He remains in Winnipeg as a permanent resident and enjoys the cultural life in the city.

“People here love to hate Winnipeg. They don’t think it’s a cool city – it’s not New York, we all know that,” he said. “But I was really surprised to see that the cultural life is so vibrant, so active.”

Keller frequently goes out and attends events that go on in the city.

“I go to the Jazz Festival in June usually. I often go see live performances in the city and I think that Winnipeg is a really good city for that,” he said. “I also like the exhibits and concerts.”

His family in France is concerned about him, and often asks how he is doing.

“When my parents in France ask me about Winnipeg, I like to describe it as an island,” said Keller. “Instead of being surrounded by an ocean of water, it is an ocean of crop fields.”

It is an island with everything that he needs.

“When you think about it, the closest cities are 700km to the west, 800km on the South, almost 2000km on the east and there is nothing up north,” he said. “Because we are an island we need to have everything that we need locally.”

He has now lived in Canada for two years, but the move hasn’t always been easy.

“You don’t have a job when you arrive,” said Keller. “How do you find a place to live when you don’t have a job?”

With the help of another immigrant from France who he met in Winnipeg, Keller was able to find an apartment to rent until he found employment.

“The bank doesn’t work the same way, we almost never use credit in France.” said Keller. “So when I learned that I had to build my credit rating and then find a place to live, it was difficult.”

Keller says he did not receive much help from the Canadian government.

“You realize that when you arrive in Canada, you are just a foreigner.”

Keller now has a stable job at Advance Electronics and often misses France, but has no desire to return.

“I miss some aspects of France,” said Keller. “But if you’re doing good where you are, then you don’t miss your country.”

Although Keller views the two countries as more similar, than different.

“France and Canada are both western countries, the social rules here are quite the same,” he said. “The differences are only in the details.”

Despite his initial struggles, Keller remains positive.

“Although I’m not working in my field, at least I’m experiencing something new.”

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Nuit Blanche

If you haven’t heard of Nuit Blanche,  I urge you to keep reading.

Before I go off on a tangent about this amazing event, book off September 28th.

Seriously. Do it now.

This event happens only once a year, and trust me, it is worth checking out.

Nuit Blanche is French for “White Night” and refers to an all night art celebration that originated in France. Many cities around the world host a Nuit Blanche event, and Winnipeg began participating a few years ago.

According to the events official website (www.nuitblanchewinnipeg.ca), it is described as this:

“A Nuit Blanche will typically have museums, private and public art galleries, and other cultural institutions open and free of charge, with the centre of the city itself being turned into a de facto art gallery, providing space for art installations, performances (music, film, dance, performance art), themed social gatherings, and other activities.”

The event occurs in 3 areas of the city: The Exchange, St. Boniface and Downtown.

I went two years ago for the first time, and was blown away. Me and a few friends started off at The Manitoba Museum where they held a 60’s themed cocktail party, along with free entry into the museum. (Obviously I couldn’t resist checking out the ship, or the old town!)  After that we headed to the Cinematheque, where Guy Maddin’s short films he called “Hauntings” were projected on the walls in black and white, underneath white billowy sheets – which I assume were used to pump up the artsy feel. (There was also delicious wine from what I recall. Mega plus.)  On our way out we heard music outside, and went into an alleyway where DJ’s were set up and art pieces that resembled jelly fish hung from the roof. It was really fun, and afterwards we decided to check out the WAG where there was a rooftop party with live bands, projections and music playing loudly inside the gallery. Definitely gave the WAG a different feel than it normally has, somewhat on par with how I imagine a New York artspace to be.

It was great.

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Simple Svenska!

I’m definitely not an expert, I might not be qualified to give lessons but hopefully I can explain the basics in a way that makes sense to English speakers.

When I first began, I was overwhelmed by how the letters looked. Here is a passage of Swedish:

“Sitter med en kaffe och kom precis in från en morgonpromenad…Det regnade snöslask på mig! Uhh! Kan nog inte beskriva hur glad jag är att jag har min resa bokad och idag är det exakt en månad kvar tills jag åker!”

I know what you you’re thinking… what the heck does that say!

The only thing that is different about that than the English alphabet is that they have 3 extra letters:

1) å       (pronounced “Ohhaa” but keep your lips rounded when you say it)

2) ä      (pronounced like “eeh” as in bed)

3) ö     (pronounced like “urr”)

Next, another main thing that is different from English is that all the J’s sound like English Y’s. And the Y sounds like Y so an English J sound doesn’t exist.

For example, the name Johan is  pronounced Yohan.

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Winnipeg, Ontario?

It was an embarrassing moment for CBS this past week when they interviewed Kris Doubledee as the inspirational man from… Winnipeg, Ontario?

Oops.

Winnipeg may not be the most well-known city, it is guilty of making their mention on television show The Office a newsworthy event – but c’mon, this city bred Neil Young. Do your homework CBS.

Like all relationships, I have a complex love/hate dynamic with Winnipeg. I love the smoldering summers, quaint big city vibe. I am also fully versed in the Manitoba way of going to socials, eating ‘nips’ at Sals, wearing Jets attire whenever (and wherever) I feel like, Folk- Festing in the summer, and of course… drinking slurpees.

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Montréal: Piknic Electronik

After spending a month in Montreal this June, I have decided that I am hopelessly in love with this city. Out of anywhere I have been, this place stands out. It is alive and full of culture; with their unbelievable arts scene, festivals, huge selection of lounges, clubs, and restaurants, beautiful parks, wicked fashion, “French-ness”… I could go on all day.

I was lucky enough to live at the UQÀM residences (I was studying French with Explore), located right at Place Des Arts, the forefront for festivals, perfectly located just minutes from well known streets, St. Laurent and St. Catherine.  Throughout June I got to experience: Grand Prix, The International Jazz Festival, Les FrancoFolies, St. Jean Baptiste, Fringe, Mutek, their annual Beer Festival, and I’m sure there were multiple other things going on that I wasn’t aware of. It was common to wake up and notice stages freshly set up, new posters scattered about – it was never a dull moment.  Sometimes it was hard to believe that I was still in Canada. I have been to almost every province and major capital city (besides the Maritimes unfortunately) but Montreal is remarkably different, and reminded me more of Europe than any other Canadian city.  The whole look, especially Old Montreal, is quite European; with cobblestone streets, and narrow buildings brimming with history.  Also, the city’s more lax approach to things was a refreshing change. Lounges and clubs were open later (typically until 3 or 4 am, and there were also many after-hours choices), the common “apportez votre bière ou vin” (bring your own beer or wine) option at restaurants, multiple 24 hour poutineries, law where you can drink alcohol in any park as long as you have food with you … where was I? These were concepts that Winnipeg has definitely not acquired.

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