Will They Blame Canada (or the Canadian)?

It’s been chillier than normal the last few days in Mexico City. As a matter of fact, lately it’s been only a few degrees warmer there than it’s been here in Halifax. And El Poema has said to me that he heard in the news down there that, due to the effects of La Niña, there’s a possibly it might actually snow this winter in Mexico City.

In his nearly 30 years, El Poema has never seen snow.

I couldn’t suppress my laughter. Just watch: if it does snow, it’ll happen when I’m there and he and his friends will jokingly blame me, the Canadian, for bringing the snow along with me. As if!

What’s funny to me is that El Poema really, really can’t stand the cold. He had no regret leaving Canada many months before the first snowflakes began to fly. But it’s as though La Niña has decided to help me out a little…

If you’re going to get involved with this Canadian guy, you better get used to the snow.

And then there’s me, who hates winter, hates snow, and would rather live somewhere warm if I could. If all of this isn’t irony, then what is?

Pauline’s Bill and Fluency (Among Other Things)

I’ve been outrageously busy these past few weeks, which is why I neglected this blog once again, but let me pick up from where I left off.

It’s already becoming old news, but it turns out the reason why some (likely biased) members of the media brought up the matter of Pauline Marois’ poor English language skills is because of the bill she has introduced in the National Assembly that would confer a form of Québec “citizenship” that is largely based on immigrants acquiring a certain level of proficiency in French after three years of residency. Therefore, the insinuation — cheap shot, really — is that she expects immigrants to learn another language in three years while she hasn’t been able to do the same in 58 years. Granted, it’s a clever bit of rhetoric, but still fundamentally a cheap shot.

But what raises a lot of questions is whether this policy would form two classes of citizens: one that can’t speak French and, consequently, can’t vote and can’t hold public office, versus one that is fully enfranchised and can vote and hold public office. Critics suggest that would even be counter to Québec’s charter of rights. And at a gut level, I have to agree. I don’t like the precedent this would set.

Because you know, it’s never going to be good enough. First of all, what’s going to be the standard or measurement of “an acceptable level of French”? I hope to hell the standard isn’t for written French, because what’s going to happen there is that the standard is going to be much higher than what’s expected of Québécois purs laines, who, on average (like their anglophone counterparts in the rest of Canada, by the way), can’t write worth a heap of beans. But let’s say the focus will be on spoken French for day-to-day interactions. Then comes my second concern: I know very well it will never be good enough, and there will result an implicit (if not de facto) second tier of citizens. I base this belief on my observation of how some Québécois — I won’t bother making links — put down the efforts of anglophone politicians who make a very real effort to speak French. For instance, I really don’t like Prime Minister Harper; however, I have to give him credit for how much he has improved his French in the last four to five years. It doesn’t sound “natural” on him and it probably never will, but, as a result, I can already hear the derogatory comments towards someone like him who would reach his very acceptable level of proficiency as “not good enough” and “murdering the French language.” And finally, if the aspired-for standard of spoken French is the variation that has become common in North America — not that there really is such a thing, but rather many variationS — then the same negative judgement will be reserved to those whose spoken French has a more European flavour.

You know, one of the big reasons why I’m moving to Montréal next year is that I want to live in French after more than 20 years in an anglophone region. But I’m one lucky bastard! Because I learned English and French simultaneously at a very young age, the two languages occupy the same area of my brain, whereas with my feable attempts to learn Spanish these days, I’m having to find another area of my brain and hope that, through practice, I will be able to gain access to that part of my brain without needing to go to the first area for translation. There’s absolutely no shifting of gears in my brain when I turn the radio or TV from an English to a French channel. I don’t notice a damn thing. Not even 20+ years of Halifax has killed my French or, more importantly, my sense of identity as a French-speaking Canadian first and foremost.

On the other hand, this could be a tempest in a teapot, for the chances of Marois’ bill passing in the current National Assembly are slim to none. And it’s quite possible the standard will be laughingly low, just as I’m sure some new Canadians learn just enough English to be conferred citizenship. But the polemic Marois’ bill has fuelled in Québec, alongside all the talk of “reasonable accommodations,” is definitely worth noticing, because there are glaring rhetorical inconsistencies on both sides of the issue.

Pauline Don’t Speak Too Good English

Pauline Marois was crowned the leader of the Parti Québécois a few months ago and has returned to the Québec National Assembly last week following her byelection win in Charlevoix.

Marois is a seasoned and experienced politician, having held several key folios in past PQ governments, including health and finance. Some find her too matronly and condescending, and others hold grudges against her for decisions she has made while minister. Personally, I don’t dislike her personality, and I wasn’t affected by her decisions since I didn’t live in Québec at the time. However, strangely, I think my mother who also doesn’t live in Québec doesn’t like her much, as I remember her bitching about “la Marois” and her policies that she heard about on the news even though they had no impact on her.

Today, she forwarded this link to a TQS news report (in French) suggesting that her poor command of the English language would be a handicap to someone aspiring to become the premier of any province, including Québec. I’m not sure if Mom sent me this link because it’s a jab at Marois or because it reminds her of her own inability to speak English (as in, “See, even she can’t do it!”).

A few things come to my mind as I look at this video. For one thing, I think that a premier would have access to interpreters, so I really don’t think her lack of English is such a big problem. But for me watching this video, I can’t help but squirm for her personally. I don’t think she should be embarrassed; rather, I’m thinking that, as bad as it is, her English is a lot better than my Spanish. And I can so relate to searching and searching for words and only having a long string of “uhs” and “uhms” filling the airwaves. It’s maddening and you feel like an idiot.

I’m Impressed!

I just finished doing a significant transfer with my online banking, which of course is with my “day job place,” and no less than 10 minutes later, the phone rang. They were checking to make sure it was a legitimate transaction and that I had done it. A few minutes earlier, I was on the phone with someone else in another department to help me figure out a recent transaction, and the gentleman at the other end of the line was extremely helpful. All I can say is that if the clients of my department get — or more importantly, feel they get — the same level of service — and my department spot-check stats suggest an extremely high satisfaction rate — then I’m very impressed with my day-job employer. Too bad I draw the line in this blog and make a point of never mentioning it by name. In fact, I’m making a point of turning off comments on this post …not that I get many comments lately. *sigh*

Where to Put My Head

Oh my gosh, what a crazy week! The days at the day job have been long, and I worked on the other job every night except last night. I just had no energy left; I could only flop on the couch, watch bad TV and drink red wine. I was in bed by midnight.

It turns out that El Poema saw my good news from earlier this week as a positive. I can’t get into any of details here — that is, about neither the good news nor the reasons why he might have some reservations — yet I’m sure you’re probably wondering why he wouldn’t view favorably something that’s undeniably a good turn of events for me. Let’s just say some things are never easy.

There are so many “life” things I need to do these days that I simply keep putting off. Very ordinary things, such as shopping for things I need to replace, like my jean jacket. So, since I had to buy coffee beans today, I went to the mall where, lo and behold, there was a big sale. I walked out with not only a new jacket but also a sweater and a new pair of 501s — all for about 80 bucks. Since I can only take so much shopping at one time, I didn’t venture into shoe shopping although I desperately need a pair or three of new shoes.

Man! Too much work has turned me into a total bore. Yet I keep hoping that it’ll be clear sailing once I get over the hump. In other words, the usual story…