Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In Hull

I don't know what to make of this Hull couple I had the misfortune to ask for directions.

I was in Ottawa for the day, drove in early morning, and drove back to TO later (8 hours, never again). The Bangladesh government had decided sometime ago that foreigners who landed in Bangladesh now required a visa that would no longer be granted on arrival. Apparently too many people were coming to Bangladesh, getting the 30-day visa on arrival, and never leaving. Imagine! Bangladesh had an illegal immigration problem!

So I drive to Ottawa to get a visa stamped on my Canadian passport. They take my passport at the High Commission, along with my Bangladeshi citizenship papers, and promise to have everything ready in four hours. So I have four hours to kill. I contact my cousin who works in Hull and he tells me to come over for lunch. Hull and Ottawa are two cities divided by a river between them, and Hull is in the province of Quebec (the French province) while Ottawa is in the province of Ontario. My cousin gives me directions to his office, and I drive off.

After crossing the river and driving around in Hull for a few minutes I realize I am lost. The street names are in French, as well as the parking meters, traffic signs and shop names. I park at a curb on a side street and exit the car. Seeing an older couple walking ahead, I run across to them.

"Excuse me, I am sorry to interrupt you." In my most polite tone possible, I say, "I am looking for this ---- street, there is an HRDC office there opposite a huge watch repair shop. Do you happen to know where it is?"

The man looks at his companion for one second, then replies "Oui." That's yes in French.

"Great." I reply. I am talking in English. "Could you tell me how to get there please?"

Again, they look at each other, then the lady steps forward and rattles off the directions.

In French.

After a few minutes of her 'tournez à droite' and 'après le signe' I interrupt her.

"I am sorry." Still polite tone. "I don't speak French."

The lady replied, in perfect, clipped English, "You are in Quebec."

Then the couple turn and just walk away, leaving me with my jaw on the sidewalk.

Do they feel that strongly about the English oppression in Quebec? I went to Montreal and I never had trouble there - but it was a highly cosmopolitan city. I have always thought the French have it pretty good in Canada. When I was working one summer in the ministry, we had to publish every weather report in English and in French. I mean, who reads the pollen count of Winnipeg in French? Maybe I just ran into the Most Obnoxious Hull Couple of Year award winners.



Anonymous said...

Yes, I can relate to your experience mez. I was in Laval some months back and I had a similar problem. My friend works there and so I went off over one of the long weekends to see him. The signs in laval are weird and very much confusing and then after a while you realize that you are lost. Just like Hull, french people in laval are very much proud of their french heritage and they "WILL" look at you with that abnoxious look if:
1. You "speak" ONLY english
2. If you do not "understand" french little bit to get you surviving in the french world.
So, I came across this couple (young couple...early 30's i believe) and asked them for directions. The reason I asked them for help was because they were talking in English to each other and I thought that talking to them to know of my whereabouts would be best as there is a common language of communication involved here. But what do they do? They started rattling off in French and I was just nodding my head and trying to see if they would hand gesture some directions so that I could get so that point and then try my luck with a different passerby then. I interrupted them and let them know of my lack of understanding fluent advanced french. At that point they just said, "We are sorry...Then you shouldnt be in Quebec" and took off. I was like shocked and puzzled that it took me few minutes to realize what happened.

So, some french people are like that. They love their heritage and very much hate english communication (even if they unfortunately were taught in school). The best thing to do, I guess, is limit your travel to Quebec (especially sparsely populated areas).

- Behbood

Shabina said...

ahahahahahaha...aw, bichara.

Man, the more I hear about Canadia...the less embarrassed I am of the U.S. (president Bush and all... :D)

Isheeta said...

Im not surprised at all by that!

The Quebecois are extremely proud, and thats putting it lighty, of their french. I find that when I so much as make an effort, eg excusez-moi etc, and they hear the tiniest bit of french from you, they know you're trying. In that case, be prepared to be smothered, because then they will absolutely love you! They will even speak in english for your convenience. Otherwise, be prepared to be treated like snot by the snooty!

NAB said...

I agree with the comment above. I tried saying bonsoir, bonjour and merci to everyone I saw while at...LAVAL! Yea, got an awesome treatment, infact, they even tried to speak English with me. And we finally resorted to gestures and giggles. It worked.

But then again, where I had been to was downtown Quebec. They get a lot of American tourists, so they were TRAINED to speak in English. Must be quite different once you get out of the main city.

mezba said...

Thanx for the comments. I heard another person verify what Isheeta and Nowal said, you have to speak a little French to get a lot of English back! So I guess Behbood, when travelling to Quebec, one must keep a French phrase book nearby. My French lessons prove to be of zero value when a native starts speaking in French. God, now I know why all the new desis have trouble after graduating 100% in their English classes back home. English for Today does not prepare you for "Roll Up The Rim"!!!

Shabina, na na na .. we still got a loooong way to go before catching up with you Yanks! :-)

Masti-boy said...

You better change title to "In Hell"

Jane said...

Hmmm...the French are rude no matter what country they are in. Nice to know. I was royally snubbed during my visit to France and I did speak French. I guess my accent was not perfect.

Jauhara said...

I can relate to this story, vicariously and from afar! I am a piano teacher. I got a new student from Montréal last year. The parents are Philipino immigrants who had lived in Québec for about 15 years, and they had two daughters, the youngest was to be my student. One of the reasons, which were all very telling, that they came to the US, was that they were persecuted for not speaking French, although their children did, and that the taxes were oppressive. The youngest, when I first met her, had a little English, and luckily for her, I spoke French, and the elder daughter spoke French much better than English, but I got from the dad, that he hoped that French would just die...since they were all racists anyway.

mezba said...

Thanks for the comments.

Yes, I was just surprised by that attitude. Yes, I am proud of Bangla too, but if a foreigner who obviously cannot talk the language comes to me in Bangladesh for directions, I would help him out as in Islam giving someone who is lost directions is equal in reward to giving charity. I would not tell him directions in a language he does not understand! That's not being proud. That's being an a**.

It's one thing if they French person cannot speak English. But if they can, it's just sorry pride.