Triviality or… Significance?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

After a long weekend spent in Montréal, it is time to get back to this blog of mine… Believe it or not, my English is kind of “rusted”! Well… kind of… Let’s say I have to trade my French hat for my English hat! Before I get into the heart of my topic, I want to open a parenthesis. For those of you who follow this blog, you certainly noticed that I have short fuses regarding bad French… especially when I come across ads or road signs. I have been advised several times to just let it go… I am fully aware there is not much I can do to correct this lamentable situation. On the other hand, let it go would mean surrending my rights as a Francophone… and hopefully I will get offended by bad French for as long as I will live! The day I would renounce would be the end of me… Then I would become an assimilated product… BUT! Do not worry… this will never happen!!!

Montréal is the champion of road repairs… there is always something going on, year after year… actually, this city’s road network always look like a giant construction site! When I lived there I paid little attention because it was part of my daily life… now that I live in Ottawa, where road repairs are done in a much less noticeable way, I hate driving in Montréal.  Of course, useless to mention that traffic is bumper to bumper most of the time… yesterday, on my way back home, highway 13 looked like a parking lot: since I was literally sitting in the traffic, I had time to read the road signs. I am so used to the ones I see every day in Ottawa that I almost lost the correct French expressions and words from sight… It was pure delight to see “Accès à la 40 Est barré” instead of “Sortie Moodie fermée”, “Accès au chantier” instead of “Entrée de camions”… I never thought one day I would sit in my car and be overjoyed by road signs… it was like seventh heaven! Unfortunately, this feeling only lasted for 90 minutes: reality hit me hard when I reached Ottawa!!! Oh well… 90 minutes are better than none…

Last week, Joseph had sent me a link to an article written by Colleen Ross, a reporter with the CBC. He thought I would be interested in a recent study showing that people living in two cultures might unconsciously change their personalities when they switch language. Ross, intrigued by this study, wrote that she kind of experienced some change herself: she thinks she adopts a more aggressive behaviour when speaking German and displays more joie de vivre when speaking French. Of course, German is not the most romantic language in the world! I tried and learned it for a while and yes! because of the pronunciation, I do believe I sounded angry all the time! When I flirted with Italian language, because of its fluidity, I felt I sounded too mielleuse… which certainly does not agree with my personality! Since language reflects culture, it somehow activates identity… I really do believe our mother tongue triggers who we are only because, depending on what language we learned first, we do process information differently… Yet I do not believe that switching language modifies personalities or identities.

Unilingual people living in bicultural or multicultural environment are different from the ones living in one culture… only based upon the fact they get exposure to other cultures than theirs. For instance, unilingual Anglophones living in Québec are quite different from those who live in Ontario or Alberta… Even their English is different: they use gallicism the way Francophones use anglicism… they are branching the toaster instead of plugging it… they go to the dépanneur because they do not remember the word in English… they will talk about their kitchen skills instead of their cooking skills… they paint with a spatula because they do not know what a palette knife is for!… they take the métro in Montréal because the word subway was never in usage… they go to the pharmacy… And yes they do exude exuberance and joie de vivre! Without having to switch language!…

Back in the early 90s, I had a couple of students in a large national accounting firm… partners were a mix of Anglophones and Francophones… most of the time, they would not get along too well… referring to each other as “Maudits Anglais” and “Damn Frenchies”… One year they had a three day national conference in Calgary and they all attended. After they came back, I noticed a drastic change regarding rapports between Anglos and Francos… and of course, intrigued, I had to ask “What happened in Calgary? What drug was used in the food?”

The answer I was provided with did not really surprise me… When the Anglophones got to Calgary, they immediatly mingled with the English-speaking crowd, leaving the few Francophones on their own… At dinner, on the first day, they were sitting with colleagues from different cities in Canada when they suddenly realized they had absolutely nothing in common with these guys! Then they could see and hear their Montréal French-speaking colleagues having a blast! When the Anglos at their table started to comment on these loud Québécois and make fun of them, they took sides with no hesitation! They moved to their Montréal colleagues’ table and never looked back…  Afterwards Anglos and Francos reconciled because they had taken consciousness of their similarities… before this experience they had only looked at their differences…

For or against this study’s results, I firmly believe that exposure to bicultural/multicultural environment is a plus and people who stay confined in their own culture are missing out… what they would never do or say due to their cultural background might be acceptable in another culture… therefore are they expressing all facets of who they are or could be?…

“La meilleure façon de ne pas avancer est de suivre une idée fixe”

Jacques Prévert


Pluricultural Main Dish!…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

What I love the most about my job is the fact I can mingle with so many different people each day of my life… although all Canadians, most of them come from other countries and they bring spicy flavour to each class. It is certainly a great opportunity for feeding conversations with diverse points of view and stances… while learning French, everybody also learns a bit more about their peers’ cultures, customs, religions and traditions. Some friends of mine wonder why I do not belong to any social networks on the internet: well… I can connect with people from around the world right here! Why would I spend my time in a “virtual” universe talking with people I will never actually meet when I can do it in the “real” world… with individuals who may eventually become my friends?

Extra-curricular activities are part and parcel of my students’ training… I cannot conceive teaching them French without providing them with consistent exposure to our French-Canadian culture. Of course they all are well adapted to the main stream (English) of our culture, yet they do not know much about the other side of the medal.

Going to the movies and theater is something I do often with them… and I always favour Québec movies and plays rather than “made in France” productions because, beyond the language itself, there are huge cultural differences… In order to communicate efficiently with their francophone colleagues, acquaintances and friends, they need to understand their idiomatic expressions and, above all… their humour! I am not saying that I avoid anything that is not “made in Québec”, but I do concentrate on what will be more useful for them to know.

This week, I took James (a Chinese-Canadian born and raised in Nova Scotia) and Seema (a sweet Indian woman who arrived here less than 15 years ago) to see the movie “Cruising Bar 2”… a parody of Québec male stereotypes starring Michel Côté, one of our best actors. I had extended the invitation to Alice (a woman born and raised in South-Africa), but she had planned to go biking that evening… the following day I was told she had read my blog instead (certainly not with the goal to perfect her French! Perhaps I should write in French from now on…)… For James, the experience did not cause him any difficulties because he is now quite advanced in French. Also he had had the opportunity to watch “Cruising Bar” on TV (a 20 year old movie featuring the same characters) a couple of weeks ago. For Seema, a beginner, the experience was exhausting! She relied on the visual part of the movie, more than on the dialogues, to get the gist of the story… and it was obvious she was not acquainted with this kind of humour so particular to the Québécois. She actually learned quite a lot this week!

I have to open a parenthesis here… Is there anyone out there who can explain to me the reason why, in a city of 750 000 inhabitants (of which a good proportion is francophone), not one single movie theater is featuring films in French? Maybe they do not know that Francophones in this country are the biggest consumers of movies because… if they knew, I am convinced they would trade a couple of stupid American movies such as Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Ironman, etc. for a few ones with more substance for the brain! Unless they consider they do not have to make any effort to please their French-speaking clientele since they all are bilingual (if so, they are missing the whole point! it is not merely a matter of language, it is a matter of culture! Hollywood movies are simply not our preference…). All this to say we have to go across the bridge each time we want to see a film in French! It would be neat if some movie theaters (not necessarily all, but at least one – especially in the Ottawa east end where there is a large concentration of Fancophones) had the courtesy to feature the popular ones made in either Québec or France…

Another cultural and social activity I do privilege with my students is lunching and dining out… Sometimes I pick the restaurant (then I take them where they serve French, Mexican, Spanish, Caribbean, “nouvelle cuisine” food) but, most of the time, I let them choose… Seema loves Chinese, Jianlin (a woman born and raised in China) loves Thai and James… well… James loves Chez Cora, a Québec chain that serves breakfast all day long! It is always quite an adventure to eat out with my trainees… it is anything except boring!

English... and some French!
Mandarin… French… Cantonese… Common denominator: English… and some French!
English... and soon, more French!
Mandarin… French… Hindi… Common denominator: English… and soon, more French!

My advice: Never ask the restaurant’s owner to take a group picture for you!!!

You may end up with something like this:

Jianlin - La Dame dragon - Seema - James - and... "en prime", the chairs!

Les trois mousquetaires: Jianlin - La Dame dragon - Seema - James - and... "en prime", the chairs!