10 09/05/2012 life

On Being The Minority.

This is not really about race. This is more about being Anglophone.

I’m quite accustomed to being one of the only people of colour in and about my daily life. For years and years, now… in fact, it would be weird to be any different than this. I am perfectly comfortable.
And being as I live in a large metropolitan city, I have no worries about wandering around town with my biracial kids, or about strolling around with my white husband – our life is peaceful and easy. I am accustomed to others around us, smiling at our kids, asking if they can touch their hair, and gushing, Ohmygod mixed babies are the cuuuuteeeest… but that’s not really true. (Okay, maybe it’s kinda true.) But of course, the further we stray from the core, the more sharply attitudes tend to change… this doesn’t affect us much though – we don’t travel very far, very often.
We did just return from an extended long-weekend stay at the cottage… it was time to take the boat out of the water for the season, so two days ago we took our last ride out to the big lake, trolling for fish along the way, and stopped for lunch at a casse-croute for a hot dogs and fries, at a small marina with rental cottages/camping grounds about 40 minutes north of where we stay.
 
Martin and I hadn’t been to this place for years… since before we were even married, I think. As we tied up the boat, two young teenaged girls paddled past us in a canoe, with their eyes round, and their mouths slightly agape, and then I suddenly remembered why we never made a habit of driving the boat all the way out here…
I took the children up to the little outdoor diner while Martin saw a man about gassing up the boat. There was a sprawling table of aging motorcyclists, both dudes and chicks, with all the leather vests, tats, and steel-capped black boots that go with. I chose a table for four in the non-smoking section under the tent, leaving some table space between us and all the other diners – everyone in the place seemed near-retirement age, save for the odd teenager with her parents. There was room to spread out.
I spied the waitress shuffling tiredly among the tables – she was also near-retirement age. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say she was a “lifer” waitress. She came over and put four menus on the table without looking at me. Oliver said, “Thank-you,” but she didn’t acknowledge him.
I could see how things were going. This wasn’t at all about crappy service.
I whispered, “Say it again in French, when she comes back,” but he was distracted and only wanted to play with his remote control car on the sand near by. And Madame wanted to play on the swing set just beyond the tent, so with a nod, they were both off. No one in the place watched them play with any mirth in their eyes. There were no smiles from the other patrons. Only looks of… mild tolerance. 
I took a breath and waited for Martin, while studying the menu, but decided to wait for him to order. I just knew I would bungle our food request just enough to annoy our waitress. My French is not very good, and though I can apologise in advance en Francais, I sensed that she would not appreciate my efforts.
Martin strolled over to join us, looking like he just stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue with his mirrored aviator shades, sexy sideburns, and three-day-old stubble. And out of his mouth tumbled flawless, accent-free English, as he answered Ava Scarlett, who was crying, “Da-deeeee!! Can you push me on the swing pleeeeeeeeeease?!”
Holy crap, her voice suddenly seemed like it was the loudest it’s ever been in her whole life. I saw heads turn as he approached to give his daughter a few gentle pushes.
When he came back to join me, he gave me a wordless look. It said, We’ve been here before. 

I asked him to order for us all, and he instantly understood why… when the waitress returned to take our order, she was still unsmiling and terse, but the food came pretty fast, so we dug in, so we could just… go. Let’s not dilly-dally.
Ava Scarlett noisily nattered on and on, in the way only a four-year-old can. Now and then, during her incredulously long run-on sentence, I’d say, “Shhhhh… have another bite,” and tried to stick the hot dog in her mouth. Too much English for these parts.
Every time I looked up between bites of my own lunch, I’d catch the eye of another diner, and made the faintest of smiles. I can’t help it – I tend to smile an awful lot when I’m not grumbling. And after all, YOU are staring at ME… in return, the person would slowly blink and turn his or her head. Every. Time.
I cocked my eyebrow at Martin who stroked the back of my hand with his. “It’s kinda chilly out here,” I said, quietly.
He nodded and answered, “I’ll bet I know how this sect might be voting tomorrow…”
Two burly biker dudes sauntered past us with slow, heavy steps. They weren’t making trouble, but I could practically feel the holes they were boring into the back of Martin’s head as they passed by – he is the biggest traitor of all, you see. It’s bad enough that this good pure laine man was with someone like me, but it’s not as if I’d be much more acceptable had I been Haitian, or French-speaking African. To them, our little family is not the right kind, no matter how you slice it.
I look at my watch and thought, time to get going. I also thought how glad I was that it’s only three-thirty in the afternoon, and not, say, 11:30 at night after several rounds of drinks. We paid the bill and left soon afterwards.
And listen – I’m not a paranoid person – I’m not even particularly sensitive to this kind of thing, especially given where I live… my day-to-day life does not feel precarious in any way. But then I see clips like this one about language unrest in the core of my city downtown, and see how you don’t need to be four hours north of Montreal to feel the tension. It is venomous. And, it is everywhere.
Le sigh. Onwards and upwards.
Somehow, everything’s going to be okay. 
  • Tracey

    Ack. ACK!!
    You know, it’s not as if I don’t expect this kind of thing from time to time (it takes all types to make a world) but the climate just gets a little bit heated during election time, and one can really feel it… until it blows over, and for a while, people are less riled – then it becomes less detectible, that’s all. The language-thing always makes for combustible conversations at polling time. I wish it didn’t.

  • Tracey

    Ah, things like this happen from time to time – fortunately, it’s a rarity for me. That’s a good thing.
    But, I’m sick of this whole thing too. :(

  • Idas

    Tracey,
    sacre poo.
    These situations make my blood chill.
    Steve, my 1/2 Hakka Chinese/Half Romanian spouse had a few of those moments when meeting clients in the deep south. He has hard to peg look.
    I could only imagine the look on his face when he got asked by a very fancy CEO of a big corpo whether he was a “Texan or a Mexican” kind of person (kind of whitey enough or not whitey enough).
    Schifo
    as we say in my perferred swearing language (pronounced skeefo) it has a weath of uses to express distaste, disgust and disappointment.
    thanks for sharing this post, we often forget how unpolite here in the country, middle what it’s like east and west.
    Id

  • Erin Little

    It’s unfortunate that people still think that way, le sigh. I’m sorry for your uncomfortable meal. I know the feeling of recognizing that people are looking at you and judging you and your kids…not nice. Personally I decided not to get caught up in the election, I know I live in Ontario, but in the past I always cared about Quebec and its role in Canada. Now, frankly, I’m all meh, do what you want, I’m sick of this.

  • Tracey

    Let’s hope this is a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing. Things evolve… even if slowly.

  • Tracey

    It’s true that politicians seem to love to stir the language pot during election times, when out side of this, the language-thing is far less of an issue for most, but when they do, a few handfuls of people get a bit crazy. It’s such an emotional issue – I wish it wasn’t so. When the pot stops stirring, everything tends to quiet down again, though.
    I love bilingualism – it’s great to know how to speak more than one language – my kids are Anglo, but go to French schools, which is good for them, especially as we have no intention of living anywhere else. I want them to have the ease of it. :)

  • Julie

    cue banjo music….
    sorry you felt this way. i can’t believe people in this day and age can still look down on other people.

  • Anny

    Le sigh.
    Living in the burbs and being only half anglo (seeing as I too am a *pure laine* but married and Anglo and made 3 Anglo kids), what I find refreshing about the whole thing is how when you find another Anglo family (and your ears do perk up when you hear English in this 97% French town), it’s like you are instant friends.
    There’s the family who used to live in the house behind ours. They moved away last summer but were over for coffee today to celebrate their daughter announcing that she is pregnant. There’s the other family from a street over — the dad plays poker with my husband, the mom and I run together. There’s the lady up the street with the 4-year old son who came by to leave me her number today — she heard me speak English at the bus stop in front of her house and thought we could get our kids together at the park sometime — you know, so they could meet another English kid for a change…
    Then there are all the French neighbours who know we are Anglo and dig the opportunity for our kids to teach their kids how to speak English and who have gotten used to our Frenglish.
    I think sometimes, you just have to keep smiling and hope that one day the language thing is just a non-issue and that you are all people first. I think it’s sad that that’s how it is. But that’s just 300 years of history — it didn’t start with us and it won’t end with us. And it’s not even unique to us — I’m sure lots of places fought over by colonial powers have the same problems…
    Politicians know to use the issue and language laws to rile up their base and create divisions which pisses me off to no end. Because when they are not agitating the pot about it, it really is not an issue for most people. I say, let’s not let it divide us more than it already has.

  • Tracey

    Oh, my dear… the Franco vs. Anglo thing here is completely cray-cray… it’s a constant, but anger-fire has been fanned anew in recent months with the student protests, leading up to the tres hot election last night. “Unfriendly” doesn’t quite cut it. The city is a tinderbox, but the more rural you get, the worse it gets. Unfortunately, that won’t change any time soon, no matter who is in power. :(

  • Laura

    Ummmmm…this is in Canada???
    I live in Alberta, and in an interracial marriage of my own we get our fair share of looks and stares (most often in Canadian Tire by middle aged men…) but I’ve never experienced this type of animosity – and mostly because of the language you speak? I’m just stunned, and don’t understand the intolerance.

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