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Regine Frankel

 
Regine Frankel: Memories of our Arrival in Canada from France

By Regine Frankel, posted June 3, 2011

More than fifty years ago my parents, my sister Rachel and I, left France where we were born, to come and settle in Winnipeg.  There was no reason for us to leave France. We had our lives, my parents were in business, my sister and i were studying at university and life was good.  The only reason we came, was to join my brother George who had come on a visit to Winnipeg. he had gotten married and had a son, so Canada was going to be his new country.

My brother had been continually urging us to join him, singing the praises of Winnipeg and Canada in general. We were a close knit family and we missed each other. now he had a son so that was the ultimate reason for my parents to come. The first grand child !!!! A future genius!!! My brother had described how nice Winnipeg was and how friendly the people were. he also described the vastness of the country.

For the benefit of my sister and I, he wrote about the drive inn movies. " imagine", he said, " you could sit in your car in an open space, watch movies and eat popcorn".

We landed in Winnipeg on a glorious July day. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the flowers were blooming. I remember that day as though it were yesterday. Fifty years ago there was no tv, and travel was not widespread, so whatever information we had about the new world was by hearsay, books or newspapers. We knew of New York of course. We also knew about Chicago. I remember my father reading about Al Capone and Dillinger in the forwards. We also knew about Hollywood, and Shirley Temple had been our idol when we were young. However we knew very little about Canada, practically nothing in fact. The only thing we knew was a song made popular by a french singer called Line Renault. It was called "ma cabine au Canada", my cabin in Canada.

Interesting fact is that not long ago I was watching french tv and here again was the same french singer with the same song. Fifty years later. It was very nostalgic. I also remember that before we left Canada we saw the movie: High Noon. It was in French. To us it represented the west; romantic and brave. We had a very shaky crossing on the sea. Nausea and dizziness enveloped us for days, (There was no Air Canada yet)

And when we arrived we had to board a train which was even more shaky and uncomfortable.  We spent three days and two nights in the train. You can
cross all of Europe in twelve hours. Imagine!

Looking out the windows of the train, all we saw were endless fields and trees, practically no habitation and a shack here and there. It was so depressing and it dampened our spirits. We began to have second thoughts about Canada, and wondered why we had left Paris. We tried to cheer ourselves with the thought of seeing our brother, his wife and new son. Finally we arrived in Winnipeg. I can still picture my brother looking quite well and already acclimatized.
There were also a couple of cousins who had come to welcome us as well. My first impression of my cousins was odd. They greeted us very warmly but also laughingly.

At the time we did not understand that they were laughing at the clothes we were wearing. Little did they know...
since we had come from France, of course our clothing was different. To my cousins they were old fashioned, even though we knew that they were the latest fashion in Paris.

Imagine laughing at fashions from Paris, the city of light of the greatest painters, musicians and actors. City of the Louvre, the opera, the city of Voltaire and Rousseau!! Other Winnipegers also commented on our different clothing. In retrospect it is very amusing. Twenty years later the clothing we had been wearing then, had become fashionable here, but by that time we had discarded ours.

The new world was completely different from what we were accustomed to. In France and in Europe, people are very formal. There is no back slapping, no calling people by their first name and no dropping in informally on your neighbours. My parents had friends they had known for thirty years, yet they would never address them by their first name, nor did their children.

When we visited friends and were offered refreshments, we had to be asked twice and sometimes three times until it was officially polite to partake of what was offered. I remember our first party here. It was buffet style. We were waiting for the host to ask us to serve ourselves. We were waiting and waiting but no one invited us to go to the table and we watched people going back and forth to the table and serving themselves. We could not believe how rude they were! As for us, we stood by, and ate nothing. It happened a couple of times until we learned that, this was the Canadian way. It took us a while to adapt to some of
these customs.  People were very open and did not stand on ceremony here. In the beginning we took that as rudeness. The worse was yet to come ....winter. Our dear brother had failed to mention the little fact that the temperature in winter often goes down to 40o below. Even if we had known it, I doubt whether we could have imagined what 40o feels like.

We came in July when the weather was gorgeous but then came October..November.. December. The cold, the snow, the wind; we were appalled. But we had to adapt and adapt we did. We had studied English at the university in Paris but sometimes our French accent led to ambiguity.. For example, I had trouble with cabbage and garbage. It sounded almost the same to me. We had made friends and they had invited us for supper. As it happened the hostess served ..cabbage.
At the end of the evening we all thanked our new friends for a lovely dinner. I wanted to put in my two cents and told the hostess that i love her ....garbage.
Well in spite of all my apologies and explanations we lost these particular friends. (No sense of humour?!) In retrospect it is funny but at the time it was very frustrating. Well it was a long time ago but it is nice to reminisce. Now we laugh at all our adventures.

I still have problems with cabbage and garbage and I avoid any invitation where gar...excuse me cabbage is served. now when i go back to Europe, I am once again plunged into the different atmosphere and sometimes I find it stifling. I got used to the openness and laissez -faire way of North  America and I find it quite refreshing. I am happy to be here in such a wonderful country as Canada. I just read a while ago that there was a study by the Wall Street Journal which sought to determine which countries were considered to having the happiest citizens. Well the Scandinavian countries were the first but surprise, surprise, Canada and Israel were the two  other countries with the happiest citizens. need I say more.

Vive le Canada..

 
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