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.