Saturday, December 22, 2012
my home and native land
I forget the subtle things I love about Canada. I don't get home very often, and this time I'll have been here for only 15 hours on an overnight stopover on my great adventure. I'm in Montreal which means I hear more French than English. Canada is a bilingual country, and I am always amazed at how anyone from shuttle drivers to coffee shop employees effortlessly switch from one language to the other. My own French allows me to say please and thank you, ask the time, read and order food (mostly, I've had a few surprises) and the odd small saying. I'm certain my appalling accent gives me away immediately, but I still mumble my small vocabulary. Occasionally this will get me a full response in French, to which I can only respond with a politely frozen smile until the individual realizes they are dealing with an "Anglophone", and then repeat themselves in English.
Canada, I don't think you realize how cool you are. People complain about having everything in two languages, everything from cereal boxes (my first French lessons) to government employees in Alberta. In Quebec the French language is legislated as the dominant language. You require a level of fluency to graduate from high school here and signs must be entirely in French, or have French in much larger letters. This and the disagreements between the Quebec and Federal governments can be frustrating.
But here's the thing. I've lived in the US for almost ten years now and I hear plenty of Spanish, and in some neighbourhoods there are signs in Spanish. It seems insane that Spanish is not an official language in America, but it's not. It's seen as the poorer language, the language of immigrants, possibly illegal immigrants, and if you live in the US and speak Spanish and look even slightly Mexican, it is perfectly acceptable for authorities to ask to see you papers, to detain you, to deport you. Mothers and fathers can be arrested and sent to deportation centers with no way to contact children and family at home (home meaning in the US). I find this appalling, I am an immigrant and have never been asked to provide proof of citizenship. I have an American friend of Mexican decent who speaks perfect English, and while she was in Texas on a business trip was approached by police during a professional lunch and asked for ID. She showed them a driver's license, and was told she needed to provide proof of citizenship, and because she didn't have her (American) passport with her they "detained" her under treat of deportation until her husband arrived with her passport.
Right, so I got slightly off topic there. Canada, you're cool, even if you're not always aware of it, which makes you even cooler.
Also, I've got some pretty awesome Canadian friends, with whom I had a fabulous dinner with last night. Stayed way too late, but it was so good to connect again. I must get back home more often.