The experience of being multicultural in a small vs. a big city

As a foreigner, traveler and global citizen, I have the tendency to notice others who “stand out” or are not according to the “norm”. This could be due to their appearance, the languages they speak, the accent they carry… They are easy to notice. Next, you have the manner of speaking ( I call it “à la française” when a French person is speaking French) and the way they do things. Lastly, it is the way they think and view the world. They bring richness to a society when properly understood and accepted.

1. multicultural in a big city

Now muticulturalism should be nothing of a shock when one lives in a big city. The bigger the city, the bigger the chances some people come from another culture or background. However, even though you have more cultures in one place that doesn’t necessarily mean the people are able to express themselves. Being part of a different culture sometimes feels like being an outsider. Whether it is the colour of your skin, your strong foreign accent, the way you dress or just the way you think, people can make you feel like you don’t belong.

a word cloud of multicultural and associated words 2

Take Paris for example. Would you blink an eye is someone said Paris is full of different cultures? I don’t think so. Paris IS very multicultural and being from a different culture, background or country doesn’t seem like a big deal. People won’t flinch if you appear different. This is awesome and your difference can be seen as trendy, you are “unique”. But of course judgemental people exist in all shapes and sizes and live in small AND big cities.  It’s just that in big cities, people tend to not care much about others. You can go on living your life without much interference by others.

In a similar way, I feel that as soon as we talk about multiculturalism, we are talking about being ourselves. If culture is a part of your identity (which it mostly is), being you and expressing your own self could be easier when you live in a big city. In a big city, no one cares how you live your life. At the same time, no one cares.

2. a multicultural living in a small city

An Indian opening an Indian restaurant in the little city of La Roche-sur-Yon, Japanese opening a sushi shop, Vietnamese offering an Asian restaurant. Especially with a little sized city, it feels more like the village where everyone knows everything and gossip is the number one priority. A little bit like Maeve Binchy’s books (which I wholeheartedly recommend). Consequently, I’d say being different in a small city can be harder. First of all, you get noticed right away. People remember. Then they gossip. This is inevitable in a smaller city.

So, then it’s really your choice on how to run the situation. Do you want to be “the foreigner”, the label someone may have put on you and you hate? Or do you want to change it, and be known as let’s say the guy with the best coffee in the city? Who is it that you ultimately want to be? I feel like this is the real question. When you live in a small city, you definitely enter into the gossip world of people who have free time. Some grandmothers, people from the older generation still believe unfounded truths. You know such as “live where you come from”, don’t intrudethe routine of my life with you being different. Because of course when things are simple and when 1+1 always makes 2, life is easier. Doesn’t mean it’s better or more fun.

a word cloud of multicultural and associated words 3

So I do believe multiculturalism can be a challenge for smaller cities and their people simply because they don’t know. They haven’t seen someone do a certain thing in a certain way and they get scared. It is a completely natural feeling though, being scared of the unknown. It is how the human mind protects itself. New could be dangerous.

On the other hand, I’ve seen an extremely opposite approach as well. People in smaller cities tend to be much more welcoming and helpful as they don’t see so many different things all the time. They are warm and celebrate difference. So it’s really up to who you meet.


It’s as if living in a small and big city are two parallel worlds where time passes differently, values are different and multiculturalism can offer this extra richness when people take the time to notice it, understand it and appreciate it. If you are “the new one”, I just suggest you to meet new people until you find good ones that meet your standards.

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