It’s fine. Everything is fine!

It’s fine. Everything is fine!

Main photo – Waitress and Daniel Suarez. Photo credit: Joichi Ito

Sometimes, the waitress just hates you. Photo by Julius Schorzman

Sometimes, the waitress just hates you.
Photo by Julius Schorzman

When you’ve moved to Quebec like I have – willingly, not on a dare – all the turbulence and frustrations you live day to day become worthwhile when your parents come to visit and you dazzle them with your French.

You may have the comprehension of a springer Spaniel from Dubuque, but your parents, if they have no French of their own (and if they’re from eight out of ten provinces, that’s highly probable), they will be astounded.

“Your French is so good!” they will gush. And you won’t say anything, just smile and shrug. “C’est rien,” you might say. You could even say, “Je crois la moufette,” and they will still be impressed.

Because, if you come to Quebec from away – of your own free will, not court-ordered – your loved ones tend to worry about you. They worry about your mental state, yes, but they also worry that you and your anglo kind are on the verge of being goose-stepped off to some kind of gulag or, worse, Beaconsfield.

No one wants to make their parents worry, unless you’re 19, in which case it’s your job. So when my 83-year-old parents visited recently, it was important to assure them that my French is impeccable (i.e. I could manage just fine) and that the language communities get along (i.e. pas de gulag pour moi).

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousOn our way home from the airport, we stopped at a St-Hubert. This is always a great choice because the menu is flexible and saying “SAINT-OOO-BEAR” makes me sound so cosmopolitan.

But once we were seated, two things happened: 1) the true nature of my paper-thin French skills was exposed, and 2) I began worrying that the waitress hated us.

Let’s address the first point: It wasn’t so much the Tarzan-like translation of my parents’ orders (“He want breast. She want thigh. Vinegar. Coffee.”); at this point, my parents still think I’m Maurice freakin’ Chevalier. It’s when the waitress came back with the coffee that the ruse began to collapse.

“My cup is dirty,” Mom pointed out. “Look. There’s coffee stains all down the side.”

I flagged down the waitress.

“Cup dirty,” I said. The waitress replied that it was merely some spillage from pouring. But, would we like a clean cup?

First of all, if someone complains about a dirty cup, Customer Service 101 dictates a) apologize and b) replace the offending vessel. The customer isn’t seeking a second opinion. She wants a clean cup.

But overwhelmed by trying to understand our server’s explanation and convey this to my parents, the only response I could muster was “Oui.” My parents didn’t say anything, but I know they were disappointed. Not dirty cup disappointed but disappointed nonetheless.

The second point: the dirty coffee mugs, the defensive answer, the hint of condescension when she returned with a carafe and poured the coffee into fresh mugs right there at the table, saying something about being extra careful this time (I think) – was it possible our waitress was intentionally providing us poor service? And was it because she thought we were a bunch of stubborn, non-assimilating anglos?

To make a long story short, I went out of my way during the rest of the meal to ask the waitress questions in French. Not sure what all the answers were, but see? Nous sommes cool! I also left a really good tip, even after the whole cup incident and, honestly, the service in general was sub-par. Why? Because I didn’t want her thinking I left a lousy tip because of the language thing. Or because I’m a cheap anglo. Which I am.

Plus, it was important to demonstrate to my parents that, really, I’m fine, everything is fine, Quebec is fine!

When you’ve moved to Quebec – and stayed for years, and not just because you’re masochistic – this is the multiple-personality nature of day-to-day life: paranoid delusion tempered by blissful denial. On the one hand, we’re outraged that the provincial government appears determined to further stigmatize and ostracize the non-French minority, and we’re appalled that, according to polls, 60% of Quebecers support the secular charter that would do just that. On the other hand, when our moms call up and fret that they’ll be slapping armbands on us next, we say, “Ahh, don’t worry. It’s just the usual, desperate PQ nonsense. No one takes it seriously. It’s fine. Everything is fine!

Everything isn’t fine, of course. Serious or not, the stirring up of cultural tensions makes life decidedly distressing and uncomfortable.

And yet, we’re English. We’re good at repressing, adapting and getting on with things. Whether the waitresses hate us or not, we can still enjoy a nice meal, ne c’est pas?

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Ross Murray

Ross Murray is an award-winning humorist and radio contributor and the author of two books ‘You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?’ and ‘Don’t Everyone Jump at Once’. Raised in Nova Scotia, Ross has lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec since the early 1990’s with his wife Debbie, four children and far too many pets. After all this time, Ross feels comfortable calling himself a Townshipper; his neighbours call him something else.

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