G. C. Gigi George
2002 by G. C. Gigi George
This story is about
my going back after a long while to my home town, Montreal. I describe
different experiences that I encounter, especially when I am confronted by two French Canadians.
I am an English Canadian or an Anglo so perhaps you can understand the dilemma when cultures
collide with one another. I also include a description of the city itself. Personally I had a lot of fun writing the story and hope you enjoy it too.
One word of note,
I would suggest that you have an English/French dictionary handy when you
are reviewing my piece because I have included some dialogue written in
French although the balance of
the story is in English.
"Bienvenue au Canada" It said. Could you tell I was at the airport in Toronto?
The International Airport
Of course translations were in place.
Well, I'm here. I park my car somewhere deep inside the designated parking area for overnight stays. Having completed this task I come to a sign that reads: REMEMBER YOUR LEVEL. "Hmm," I think. I wouldn't want to have to start looking for my car once I got back from my trip because I couldn't remember what level I parked it on. I could just imagine the authorities at the airport having a field day if I admitted to such a feat. "Oh, madame. Vous pouvez pas trouver votre voiture? Quelle horrreur! They would laugh and snicker behind my back because of my stupidity. Well. I would make the effort to remember my level. This was definitely good advice, I decided.
The trouble with airports: They have magic doors that open and close without you touching them and once inside the instant coffee dissolve to nervous and expectant. Why do they call these places terminals when they are a combination of modular plastic with rootless plants growing everywhere in sunless confusion.
The Arrivals Level is the stage for a thousand reunions as the credits scroll by on overhead monitors. Let me not forget to mention the disembodied voices that have displaced most staff on this same level. The only other staff that remain are Car Rental and Lottery Ticket Sellers stuck in little tiny booths at your service, ma'am.
The Departures Level is different: There you see ticketing clerks puffed up looking important to Reservation Counter Attendants with this overbearing air of superiority. How snooty can you get?
Friends and relatives no longer stay to witness the actual takeoff because the beginning of a flight has been extended to the boarding gate. Finally, I find myself walking down the aisle of a plane that will fly me directly to where my heart's desire.
No sooner have I found my seat, I am greeted by two older gentlemen who serenade me both in French. "Bonjour. Je m'appelle Jean Piere." "Et moi, Henri. Bonjour" We exchange handshakes all around as I smile to myself and think, who are these clowns? "Vous parler francais, oui?" They ask. "Oui." And continue their investigation on where I'm from, what's my background, and why I'm going to Montreal. Inquiring minds want to know. Finally the seat belt sign comes on: PLEASE FASTEN SEAT BELTS OBEY NO SMOKING SIGNS The captain's voice also can be heard over the loud speaker informing us that we are about to take-off into a clear blue sky and will arrive in Montreal at this designated point in time. Lastly he wishes everyone a pleasant flight.
I lean my head back against my seat and try to relax but not before I hear an outburst from Jean Pierre, sitting immediately besides me. "Mondit anglais!" He's upset because the English signs come on before the French ones and le capitaine announces his message in English first. Everything should be in French first he insists. Then he quickly looks at me and asks; "Vous ette franchophone, bien sur?" I look him directly in his baby blues and say, "Je suis canadienne anglaise, madame." And they both look at me in disbelief. "Mais vous parler francais si bien. C'est pas possible?" Henri insists. Jean Pierre is too overcome with shock to respond. By this time I'm a little more than just annoyed and utter these words: "I'm an English Canadian and proud of it. So if you can't stand sitting besides one, I suggest you find yourselves alternative seating arrangements." There was no where else to sit and I knew it because the flight was jam packed. "Tampis" for them I thought but I didn't really give a damn anyway.
Soon I would land in a city where I grew up in, a city where you could buy the best bagels, and listen to the best music at the yearly Jazz Festival. Unfortunately, Montreal is a thing of my past. I would never move back there simply because the winters are too damn cold. The thought of moving back makes me shiver not that Toronto is that much warmer you understand. But this would be the least of my problems. Quebec's Language Law and being forced to work in French is a nuisance, and my French is not what it used to be despite what Jean Pierre and Henri may think. I suppose with practice and time I could get by but then I'm not a francophone or even a Franco-Ontarian. Not that this would make much of a difference because I hear that now Montreal is populated with various types of Ethnic groups. This would suit me just fine.
The captain's voice comes on over the loud speaker again informing everyone that we should be arriving in Montreal in about twenty minutes time. He hopes that we have had a pleasant journey and goes on to inform us about the day's weather.
Not having heard any great noise from the Peanut Gallery besides me, I wonder what Jean Pierre and Henri are up to. Finally, Henri clears his voice as if he is going to make a speech. "Madame." He begins. "My friend and I hold no hard feelings toward you, but feel we were perhaps mislead by you?" "Mislead how?" I said. "We understood that you indicated you were one of us?" "One of you?" I decided to play dumb, but I knew very well what he was getting at. "A French Canadian." Henri said sounding a little exasperated now. I took a few minutes before I responded to them both if for no other reason to make them wait, then I proceeded, "I never pretended that I was anything but as I stated to you earlier quite clearly that I am an English Canadian. If you are accusing me of lying or misleading you, you are sadly mistaken because I am not guilty of this charge." There is what seems like a long pause before I hear anything more from Henri, then he says: "Oh, then perhaps it is us who are in the wrong?" "Yes, you and your friend are definitely mistaken because I never intimated that I was a French Canadian. The only thing that I am guilty of is that I speak French, apparently well by your standards."
Jean Pierre at this point was upset because he didn't understand everything that was being said and tugged at Henri to translate for him. "Qu'est ce qui'il dit Henri? But Henri ignored him. "Then can I say that I am sincerely sorry and wish you a nice visit in Montreal?" "Why, thank you." I said.
The plane having already landed by now, I collected what carry-on luggage that I had with me. Soon I would experience the sights and sounds of a city that was so familiar to me at one time. Like; Old Montreal with its shops and cafés that my friends and I used to frequent whenever there was nothing else to do, with shop keepers always asking, "Vous désirez quelle que choses?" And the answer was always, "Non madame." Because we never had any money to throw away on frivolous knick knacks, although they were nice to look at. Or the caléshe rides we paid for to usher in each New Year. This would be a ride by horse and buggy on Mount Royal. And if you didn't have your own supply of champagne, you were out of luck if you thought the driver would supply it for you. And who could forget Notre Dame Basilica with its lovely stained glass windows. We would always flock to the church to hear our friends and colleagues perform, be it an organ recital or classical guitar. You could be sure that the room in the church although plentiful would fill up quickly depending on how wildly renowned the musician was. Then there was the question of where to eat? There was always fast food but if this didn't appeal to your delicate palette well, you could always ready the big bucks for something more appealing like steak or seafood. There were lots of good restaurants located in various parts of the city. Knowing them and their location as well as reputation was something of an art form. Being as we never had much money we had to settle for une baguette or un croissant which to us back then was just as good. Thus, you couldn't possibly leave Montreal without sampling un café au lait. I used to order several while I studied at McGill University late at night. I favored a particular bookstore and café across from the downtown campus, and would just pour over my notes while sipping on coffee until I was too tired and a tiny voice deep down inside of me would say, "Time to head home sleepy head." I knew the voice was probably right because I was yawning too much and kept loosing my place in whatever I was studying.
Now everything about
the city was new mixed in with some of the old venues because I hadn't
been here in such a long while. Not to worry because I would drink them
all in like a fine wine is enjoyed over a good dinner. Je me souviens I
thought, Montreal is what I remember la belle ville with a European flavor
all its own. A city that never sleeps with the francophones only slightly
tolerating the Anglo's that remained because this was their home. What
nonsense one might think, fighting over the right to speak English or French.
I suppose this is what brings out the fire in the city now. Diversity,
I love it. Bienvenue.
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