…for reasons I still don’t understand.
I always say that collectively, Quebec drives me bonkers, but individually I love the Quebecois. (I often say the exact reverse of Alberta.) The Quebecois – I used to say — they are so warm and they’ve got all that joie de vivre and every other cliché one could spew. But I have found those clichés to be true. Or rather, I had found them to be true until last autumn, when I met the exception.
I was studying for a semester in Italy and one of my classmates was a French-Canadian lady from Montreal, probably in her later sixties. When our language teacher noted that we were both from Canada, French-Canadian lady immediately said (in Italian), “Yes, but we hate each other. We’re enemies.” Oh ha ha ha. I assumed she was kidding.
From her end, she apparently wasn’t. She spent most of the next three months bullying me, needling me, heckling me (literally) when I spoke in, or in front of, the class, putting me down, correcting me, taking not-so-subtle cheap shots at me, explaining things to me that I already knew (things she would never have tried to explain to anyone else) as though I were some sort of hapless dolt, excluding me from get-togethers and so forth. Very, very, super odd.
One example: I had (stupidly and trustingly) confessed to her how difficult it is for me to speak in front of groups in any language, and that I was dreading giving a certain talk in front of our class in Italian. So when the day came that I gave the talk, what did she do? I wasn’t but half-way through my first sentence when she contradicted me at the top of her lungs, causing a gaggle of our Chinese and Eastern European classmates to giggle uncomfortably. I ignored it and kept on and I’m glad I did. But then she got up and gave her talk, starting by pointing in my direction and reminding everyone that, as far as she was concerned, I was totally wrong in what I had said. Again, I ignored it, because, well, I was brought up properly. (FYI, I was not wrong in what I had said, of that I am sure, but that is not even the point. I sat through many talks in my three months studying in Italy last year and listened to my classmates say things that were inaccurate, even breathtakingly stupid, but in a million years I would never have publicly contradicted or embarrassed them.)
Another example: our wonderful art history professoressa (seriously, this woman was a goddess of knowledge and calm) used to take us out once a week on walks through Perugia, discussing works of art and architecture both outdoors and indoors. One day, a rainy day, we were inside an art gallery and there happened to be a modern art exhibit. (With our prof, we were studying the Renaissance.) It was, literally, stuff like irons and aspirin bottles and cloned Mao portraits in different colours and garbage like that, all meant to be meaningful, I’m sure. Our prof (who by then I had impressed in class – she made that clear with her replies to me — on several occasions, not the least of which being when we discussed the Elgin Marbles and I didn’t spew the usual drivel) asked me what I thought about it all. I started by saying (in Italian) that modern art was not really my thing and that I found this particular stuff not that great and…Well, surprise, surprise, French-Canadian lady interrupted me (seriously, I was still talking!) and said, glaring at me, “I am an expert in modern art. This is my area of knowledge and interest. I understand it.” That seemed pretty odd to me since as far as I knew she was a retired employee of Bell Canada, but ok. She then blathered on, glaring in my direction, about folks who were too dumb to get the deep meaning in modern art.
There are many more examples I could give, but you get the picture.
So I finally let on that I was a bit bothered by her bullying, when on one occasion our language professor was asking for an English translation of a certain word, and I said what I thought the translation was (and I was right). French-Canadian lady, who was seated in front of me, turned around and said in the most smug, dismissive tone (with a little laugh and hand gesture included), “No, that isn’t even close.” The fact that English is my mother tongue (and not hers) did not appear to interest her. Now, this incident happened after nearly three months of being picked on by her, and I had pretty much had it. I responded to her in an, er, emphatic tone, emphatic enough that the prof noticed and asked if there was a problem. “No,” I said, before getting up and leaving, though class was not quite over (did not want to scream in front of everyone).
Well, French-Canadian lady came to find me later and offered some non-apology apology and I accepted it, though I didn’t buy it for a second. Later, I vented to a classmate who offered his sympathies to me (he had noticed French-Canadian lady’s nastiness), and I mentioned that it was pretty rich for her to be correcting my English when she didn’t even speak English. He laughed and agreed and then I added that she didn’t speak French either, when you got right down to it, but rather Quebecois (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I am not usually mean, but I was ticked.
So the whole experience was very strange. I am old enough that I just use these things for my writing and also to try and learn from the wonderful tapestry that is our life on this planet with our fellow deeply-disappointing humans. But occasionally, when French-Canadian lady was really full-throttle picking on me, I wondered why. Maybe she just hated English-Canadians; perhaps politics played a role. She friended me on Facebook early on in the semester (after saying we were enemies) and then abruptly said to me one day, “I see we don’t have the same political views.” Um, ok. I was all like, so what? I don’t have the same political views as many of my friends. But I guess, given her rigidity, to her it was a big deal.
It isn’t like I am young and cute anymore or anything, and there were plenty of young, cute chicks in our class that she was perfectly nice to, so it wasn’t that. Sometimes I asked myself if she were just insecure, but she seemed the opposite, rather an egomaniac. Although not a good singer, she never passed up on an opportunity to get up in front of the class and sing. Once she did a painful rendition of Les Gens de Mon Pays, for example, and though it was lousy, she clearly felt she deserved applause and thanks from the rest of us and overall, I kind of admired her obliviousness. And yes, I applauded loudly for her, though one can be certain that had the situation been reversed, she would have laughed at my singing.
The great Eric Hoffer once wrote that, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” I suspect the French-Canadian lady in question used rudeness to feel strong.
So how do things stand now? I mentioned she friended me on Facebook. Well, she has now unfriended me. I have no idea when she did that, because I don’t make a habit of checking people’s pages to see if we’re still “friends”. I noticed it recently because we were both tagged by a mutual friend.
So that is my tale of the French-Canadian lady who was mean to me for reasons I never quite “got.”
Humans – endlessly strange.
Happy Canada Day!