Canada 3.

I meet a French-Canadian.

“I think the thing that gets me is,” I slur, “The French thing.”

He blinks at this, so I elaborate on my thoughts. “I mean, I didn’t sort of realise about the French thing. I mean, I knew that there was some French, and all that, but didn’t think it was quite so important. I mean (again), I thought it was a bit like Cornwall, where a few people speak Cornish an’ all that, but nobody really does. If you see what I mean.”

He blinks at me again.

“I do recognise that is a reflection of my own ignorance rather than a particularly accurate state of affairs,” I concede, in the sort of tailing off fashion that one does in the circumstances.

“Yes,” he nods evenly. But you will notice that he didn’t say “oui,” – so I was right after all.

It is true, however, and is a shameful reflection of my lack of geopolitical nous. I should have been warned when I went to withdraw some money to find that First Direct was blocking my card because their fraud people were alarmed that it was being used outside Norfolk. Sometimes, however, I can be too honest for my own good and say unnecessary things that could just have well been left unsaid, going into too much detail when all it does is ruin people’s illusions of me.

“What has been the best thing about our great country?” he asked – or probably would have, had he been gallantly trying to change the subject but didn’t – me artificially inserting that line in order to provide a bridge between parts one and two of what were essentially separate conversations within the course of one evening in order to shoe-horn them into a single blog post.

I ponder this for a minute.

“Probably the attitude of breakfast-providers,” I conclude, praising the system of giving you a plate, pointing you towards lots of food and essentially leaving you to it, not charging you much at the end.

Warming to my subject, I try to explain the English way. “You see – you get a plate, and a tray, and a long counter with things drying out, and there is a sign up saying ‘four items, seven quid; six items, ten quid’, and you have to go and say exactly what items you want as you move along, and toast counts as an item and so does a baked bean, and then you take it to a till and the woman there peers hard at your items and counts them twice and pokes them around to ensure that you haven’t hidden an extra small rasher of bacon under the toast, and then you pay extra for your coffee, and then there is a man who stops you at the end and counts again, and checks in your pockets and fists you, fists you, to check for any more contraband fried items,  before you’re allowed to go to a table and look miserably at your meagre, expensive plate and read a free Daily Mail.”

“Oh, and the mountains and stuff, and forests,” I add, catching his expression.

I enjoyed meeting a local person. That is my joy in going abroad – the little and interesting differences between places and how ordinary people live their lives. Later on, it transpires that us national representatives share an interest in British progressive rock music from 1973-1976, so the major language/breakfast differences etc. are forgotten.

There is more that unites us than divides us – English, Canadian, French-speaking, normal-speaking. We are all human beings, living together on this one globe, sharing the planet and our joys and frustrations, we are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.

48 Comments

  1. “Probably the attitude of breakfast-providers,”

    More important than most realize. Highly underappreciated as a civilising influence.

  2. “my lack of geopolitical nous

    Snort! Just like Des O’Connor and Les Dawson.

    Those pants are shameful. Clean. But shameful.

  3. I have learned anither life rule: do not strip British men you do not know, like really well.

  4. Your Frenchman’s restraint appears commendable.

    On the other hand, did it occur to you that there might not be any language barrier at all, and he was merely…sober?

  5. You were fine until the last paragraph.

    Does this mean you will return home to grow crops of dandelions and nettles for organic tea, and pipe Peter, Paul & Mary music into the chookhouse?

    Nothing sadder than a has-been hippie with “holey” trousers…

  6. If I have that damn song going through my head all day I will… well, probably sulk and be rather grumpy and maybe take it out on my co-workers somewhat. I mean, what with you being an entirely digital construct and that there isn’t much else I can actually DO. However, know about the grumpiness and the possibly innocent co-workers being harassed and recognize your guilt.

  7. FYI – the French-Canadian talked more to you that night than he usually does to me in a week. Thinkaboutit.

  8. You still have some way to go before visiting my folks in Belgium and start a conversation about the language thing,not counting Brussels,that’s cheating.

    I also admit agreeing on Judith’s comment.

  9. Does the version of english spoken in Norfolk count as “normal speaking”?

  10. I am interested, RE the French thing. Is there ANYBODY out there who is as thick as me?

  11. I take it that’s a rhetorical question? You don’t really want us to answer that, do you? (Although I’m sure Ivan the Terrible will.)

  12. Jonny,
    I can honestly attest (as I would have done that night had I been able to put a word in edge-wise between you two brit blabbermouths) that most visiting furriners who don’t bother with guidebooks are as surprised as you were when confronted by “Le Fait Français” (wank-wank). And many of them are from quite nearer to here than you, like for instance from just over our southern border.
    However, I am surprised that you didn’t mention the “fresh-fruit on breakfast plate” issue that seems to inspire so much horror in some of your countrymen/women/ monkeys.

    Salut, man*

    *real actual quebec-french speak

  13. I always thought that it was a silent French in French-Canadian.

  14. Your last paragraph was very profound Jonny.
    I didn’t understand a word of any of the rest!

  15. Didn’t CDN seen sort of -well – “un-flat” to you , as a Norfolkman?

  16. Good God, man – those latest pants plumb new depths of mank. Congratulations, I suppose.

    When it comes to breakfast provision, you seem to forget that for a significant subset of the population the fisting is an integral and much anticipated part of the service. Putting the “full” in “full English breakfast”, so to speak.

    And as to Jonny being a bit of a thickie, Rachel, well, further comment from me would be superfluous…

  17. for those of interested in learning more about canadians and french canadians in particular, i suggest watching canadian bacon by michael moore. Especially the bit with dan ackroyd.

  18. Ça va!

    Which is is French-Canadian for “How’s it goin’, eh?” which is Canadian for “Why, hello! And how are you today?” We only speak normal with very flexible values for normal.

  19. “Yes,” he nods evenly. I think even nodding is underrated, and I’m pleased that you appreciated it. I don’t know why you were slurring though – was it your attempt at a French Canadian accent?

  20. Hullo Dawn and welcome!!!

    I am intrigued by the stripping comment above. Does this happen often?

  21. They speak French in Canada? Not the Canadians I’ve met. I spent three weeks there with Mrs Farty last year and not one soul ever uttered a word of French. I think they must have been pulling your leg, Jonny.

    *thinks – or was it Russia? They all look the bloody same when you’re pissed*

  22. I met a French Canadian once here in France and he couldn’t speak a word of English which really surprised me. I think the same was true of Celine Dion before she became famous. And why can’t more French speak English? So frustrating.

  23. Travelling to foreign climes is always fraught with the hazard of cultural misunderstanding. I recently spent a week in Wales, and when I got back home to Essex I went in a pub and everyone immediately started talking in English.

  24. There’s a language called Cornish? I thought it was a hen.

  25. Oh Hilde, Hilde, Hilde…

    The language barrier in this country is so funny I could cry. Nederlands is the only way to go – at least they a) answer the phone and b) speak in engels if you can’t speak any other language that this country offers.

    Allez-dit!

  26. In Swizerland we’re got four languages, none of which is English. Just in case you’re interested.

  27. Hello, Jonny! I must confess to being a longtime lurker, but very infrequent commenter.

    Not in my experience. In fact, I have never stripped a British man. Fast runners, you British.

  28. I have to confess to telling a young man I liked his pants once. I, of course, meant the North American usage (trousers). He, of course, understoof the British usage (underwear).

    Oh how we laughed.

  29. I’ve always found a Man U t-shirt to be a sort of open sesame kind of thing – even in the remotest parts of the world. It’s a tad frustrating for one’s fashion cred tho’.

  30. Oh Zed,Zed,Zed…..zzzzzz
    When you tell them from start, that you are a foreigner, even a french speaking Belgian will try to understand YOU!

  31. What idiot taught Celine Dion English?!?!?

  32. The idiot’s name is René. His head looks like a jack-0-lantern with a pony tail.

  33. Quebecois, in general, do not speak English.

    Please note the small but vital distinction between “do not” and “can not”. Quebec is near enough to receive television signals from the US, and over-the-air TV in the US is almost exclusively in English. Like everyone else in border Canada, they praise the CBC to the skies but actually watch American TV. They will, however, deny not only the fact but the ability, simply as a matter of principle

    Regards,
    Ric

  34. Ric, did were you once ‘rejected sexually’ by a French-Canadian? I think you were! That or you come from Toronto, you poor darling.

  35. non working monkey, who peed in your coffee?

    do allow for the possibility that perhaps he’s basing his opinion on more than one year of experience.

  36. I remember hearing tell of a referendum to see if Quebec would secede from the rest of Canada, sometime in the 90s I think. And that it only just didn’t get passed. So the whole French ‘thing’ is a big thing in Canada, or was, and I therefore feel superior to you Jonny for vaguely knowing something about it. Very vaguely. Hurray for me!

  37. *dials Andrew Sachs to create a diversion*

  38. Hullo Miss Mohair and welcome – sorry, your comment got stuck in the spam queue for some reason.

    I honestly, honestly wouldn’t get too excited about being superior to me. It is not an achievement…

  39. So hold on a minute, you’re saying celine dion speaks? and in English? I thought she just screeched incomprehensibly? Now I’m the idiot…. T

  40. I live in Ottawa. The further into the province you go, the less English you’ll hear — because, believe it or not, they actually *live* in their language. I’ve always found, though, that if I try with the French, they’re very patient and helpful. Never run in to a cranky one yet. That’s probably ‘cuz I’m so damned cute and charming…

    In Montreal? Pretty near EVERYONE speaks English.

  41. Ok, this is getting a bit weird. I am french, I live in Norfolk, I am about to emigrate to Canada. I read JonnyB and NWM’s blogs. This whole world seems to be merging into one…scary!

    Anyway, during my recent visit to Canada (the other side mind, the not really french one..at all) one hotel served an interesting “continental” breakfast: muffins, “do it yourself” waffles, those round things with a hole through it (bagels is it?), toasts, mini pancakes and 6 varieties of cereals….and there I was desperate to see how good croissants were in Canada!! ;( I guess “continental” means US over there?

    Can anyone tell me what croissants are like over there? I’ve already figured they don’t do saucisson 🙁

  42. I’m pink therefore I’m spam.

  43. Canada doesn’t really do croissants, on either side of the country, I’m afraid (at least I’ve only ever had good ones in France). What you describe sounds pretty normal for a Canadian hotel breakfast, though. Here in the Vancouver area, there’s also an interesting Asian influence on some hotel breakfasts: sushi, dim sum, Asian fish dishes are often available. American breakfasts are usually huge, with lot of sugar and fat – fine as an occasional treat, but not as a steady diet – and yes, that’s a definite influence too. Give me a real French croissant slathered with Nutella and a café au lait or two any day!

  44. Oh for eff’s sake – yes you can easily find good croissants in Quebec, and I’m sure you could find decent one in Vancouver too, though a freaking hotel breakfast buffet might not be the best place to look. So have no fear P., now that this is settled you can now emigrate.

  45. Blimey johnnyboy, are all canadians this welcoming or just the french ones?

    Short of a bakery, coffee house of any sorts (apart from greasy spoons cafes) in the small town I’d be living in, I thought a hotel breakfast buffet may be a good place to check what’s on offer. Right well I have my answer now…I needed to lose weight anyway!

  46. hmm, sorry P., bad day all around yesterday. To be fair I was mainly annoyed at Pinklea’s “Canada doesn’t do croissants” comment. If you move here, you’ll soon realize that anybody who says “Canada is this” and “Canada is that” is talking out of his ass. Much too big and diverse a place to be defined by any blanket statement.
    But yes, if you’re moving to small-town BC, you’re pretty much fucked as far as european breakfast options.

  47. Oh god, I have just realised there’s that Z thing too there isn’t there??! Damm.

    Well thanks for clarifying things Johnnyboy, and since it’ll be small-town AB (Alberta that is) I am proper fucked. Oh well, Canada has so much more to offer 😉

    Pinklea, thanks for your advice too, must admit the best croissants I ever had were from tesco express, so you just never know! I see Asda has made it there (george) it’s only a matter of time for Tesco!

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