Sunday, September 17, 2006

bon bloke, bad bloke

This isn't about being a DRO....After what happened at Dawson College I lost's a little piece in the meantime.

Bon Bloke, Bad Bloke

Tabarnak! Ostie! Calisse! Every couple of years or so I get it in my head that THIS TIME I’m going to learn French and that it’s going to be different from ALL THE OTHER TIMES. The detritus of good intentions line my bookcase – "Le Francais sans Detours", Le Nouvel Espaces (Cahier d’exercices) "A Vous La France!" and the conciliatory "Schaum’s Outline Series: French Grammar (third edition)". Now I like to think that I’m as smart as the next human being, perhaps even more so, but there are few things in life as ego deflating as trying to pronounce words like trottoir and remunerer in front of a classroom of adults who are inevitably BETTER than you. I have a hard time pronouncing certain English words – why do I persist in torturing myself with la langue francais? My most recent foray into Canada’s other official language is a weekly two hour bafflefest at a francophone centre run by the Somali guys down the street. They switch from French to Somali to English with ease. I’m hoping to pick up some Somali swear words. At least I’m fluent in Quebecois swear words.
I’m a transplanted Montrealer, a Torontonian by default. My parents were born and raised in Toronto (as were my grandparents and great-grandparents) but for some flukey reason, my dad went to McGill and never looked back. I don’t have a French bone in my body, yet the longings and romance of home keep me dreaming that I’ll return to my birthplace one day, a truly integrated citizen.
I had just turned the corner into the teenaged years when Bill 101 was introduced in the mid 1970s. French had to compete for my attention with a brave new world of intoxicants. Pot, acid and booze seemed easier to understand. French was relegated to the backburner (preferably to use for hot knives). Priorities.
Besides, you didn’t have to speak French back then. The Quiet Revolution, the FLQ and the subsequent rise of the PQ must have scared the crap out of my parents, but not enough that I ever heard them utter a word of French in the house. To this day I still have anglo friends in Montreal who don’t speak French. Granted their job prospects are severely limited and they’re on disability and social assistance, but they manage to get by speaking English seulement. I had some ambition though and as is cliché, I went west.
I did attend summer school one year when I was twelve. Some sadist of a teacher had recommended to my parents that they enroll me in a French immersion class in August. "Carolyn is a dreamer", Mrs. Langlois told my parents, "she stares out the window or doodles. Her doodles are good, mind you, but doodling will not get her far. Speaking French will." My parents, wondering how to pawn off their six kids for the summer months, signed me up immediately without my consent. "You need to speak French in Quebec," said my father, sucking back an O’Keefe’s, "we live in Montreal and it’s high time you buckled down and conjugated verbs". Without so much as a "mais non papa! pourqouis papa?" I was packed off daily to a remedial gulag
The teacher, a relentlessly cheerful, thin woman, made us stand in a circle. "Bonjour enfants, comme allez-vous". My fellow inmates, other fobbed off sad sacks, matched and even surpassed my wretchedness. The teacher treated us like slow children each and every day for five weeks, clapping with insane enthusiasm when one of us managed to string together a phrase like "Ou sont les toilettes s’il vous plait" and "A quelle heure commence le film?" "Merveilleux! Merveilleux!" she’d exclaim, her eyes wide with zeal. If her manic energy didn’t whither you, the dripping heat in the airless classroom would. I get depressed just thinking about it.
And yet I persist.
I persist because I believe in Pierre Trudeau’s vision of Canada (he was our MP in Montreal). I persist because I have the utmost respect for new immigrants who put aside their fear and learn English, who speak several languages, who enrich this country by living in Canada. I may not believe in my own ability to ever be fluent (or even semi-fluent) in French, but I’m motivated by subtle and subconscious yearnings. It’s a bitch of a language to be sure, with seven tenses and nouns that have gender (maybe that’s why it’s so sexy), yet I will persist. I have to keep trying, to keep my dream alive. To make up for lost time. To be the citizen I’d like to be.

1 comment:

SarahBHood said...

Je te souhait le meilleur succes de ton entreprise! Impossible d'avoir été elevé au Québec sans partager le rève de parler en français! On the other hand, it's impossible ever to get it really right, even after all these years...