What's WRONG with these people?
So, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Partially because I’ve been tired (being on your feet for 8 hours a day really is hard on a 42-year-old body), and partially because it’s hard to figure out what to tell you guys about. As for what’s new, I’ve started my French classes at a local adult education center. It’s every Saturday for 4 hours and will last for about 4 months. Total price: $55 CAD (around $40 US). Which is absurdly cheap. They gave me a placement test when I registered and I tested at a Level 2+ (out of 6 Levels). Meaning, I got to skip level 1 outright and they think I know a little more French than Level 2. I chose to do Level 2 because I did NOT feel ready to go straight to Level 3. What I’ve noticed with my French is that my comprehension, even my listening comprehension, has gotten pretty decent, but my vocabulary is just way too limited. So, I understand when someone is asking me for directions or what time the bus is coming, but I have to reply in English. Hopefully these classes can fix that. The make-up of my class is pretty interesting—it’s about 15-20 people from all over the world—Vietnam, Mexico, Sudan, Iran, Philippines, and me. My understanding is that in order to gain citizenship in Canada, you have to pass a proficiency test in English or French, so many of my classmates are there for that reason. The class is taught entirely in French, which makes sense since as a whole, the students don’t share a common first language.
As for work, things seem to be going fine. It’s exhausting, like I mentioned, but has done wonders for my French comprehension. And has given me a greater respect for chefs and people working in restaurants. White collar people like to shit on food service like it’s the bottom rung of employment, but I promise you it isn’t easier than lawyering. It just isn’t. Anyway. I do think it’s time I start looking for work opportunities that may be more in line with my skills, so that’s in the works. Plus my arthritis could use a break.
Anyway, on to some of my thoughts about our time here so far…
A friend of mine who has lived all over the world had told me that it takes about 6 month to feel like you really live somewhere after you move. So, as of a couple weeks ago, it’s been 6 months (!!!), and I’m still not sure I feel that way. Part of it is because we really just haven’t found a social circle yet. But part of is because, honestly, it’s just really culturally different.
For me, when I think about culture, I usually think about things like food or language or music or customs. I don’t usually think about social attitudes or habits. Which is dumb of me because attitudes and habits are truly the hardest part to adjust to in a new place. Food and language and music are all just new things to experience and learn about. It doesn’t require you to completely reprogram your brain. And the attitudes and habits here are really really different from the states. (Here’s my disclaimer: I can’t speak about all of Canada when it comes to this stuff—I really can only talk about Quebec. And people tell me that Quebec is unique. It’s more European. It’s more ethnically diverse. It’s… well, no one can really explain to me why exactly it’s so different than other parts of Canada, other than the outrageously high sales tax—15%!!!. But I’m told it is.) So, let’s talk about how culturally different this place is than what I’ve been used to my whole life. That means today’s entry is going to have a lot of generalizations and it might be a little complainy.
First of all, the people of Montreal seem to have endless amounts of patience. And while this might seem calm and lovely, it really isn’t. It’s stressful. There’s no sense of urgency. Ever. Even when there’s something you need to do in a specific amount of time, no one will respond to your urgency. People walk on the sidewalk (and always in the middle of the sidewalk so you can’t go around them easily) like there’s no rush to get anywhere, even when there is. People will stand in line at the grocery store for 10 minutes, but still won’t locate their wallet until they are actually at the cash register. And no one waiting in line behind them seems to mind, even though they should. As an American experiencing this… it’s rage-inducing. I don’t need people to lose their minds over the incompetence of customers trying to use the self-checkout lanes, but it actually makes me angrier when I’m the only person grumbling.
This endless patience may explain the severe lack of immediate conveniences here. No Instacart. No Amazon Now. No Uber Eats or Postmates or Seamless. I guess if you live like you have all the time in the world, then what do you need that immediate stuff for, right? Part of me thinks I could be a billionaire if I started those services here, and part of me wonders if anyone would bother to use them.
Second, people here are much more open-minded and flexible when it comes to food than what I’ve witnessed in the U.S. Since I’ve now been working for several months in a café, I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to how people eat here. And what I’ve noticed most of all is there isn’t the same kind of performative veganism vs. carnivorism that there is in the states. Vegans and vegetarians don’t bug you about their food restrictions when I ask if they want bacon on their egg sandwich and meat-eaters don’t act like the notion of a vegan pastry is a personal affront. I’ve regularly described vegan cookies we sell to inquisitive meat eaters, expecting the response of “Ew, no thanks”, only to hear, “Hmm, interesting. I’ll try it.” It’s refreshing. We have meat-eating customers buying our veggie pate sandwiches without hesitation, and vegans acting like they won the lottery when I tell them we sell vegan pain au chocalat. And there just isn’t the same level of pickiness I’m used to. We sell lots of fresh pre-made sandwiches that already have toppings on them, and no one acts like they’ll die when they hear they can’t specify “no tomatoes” or whatever. They just buy the food and eat it.
Third, nothing starts on time, and they’re fine with that. Maybe it’s the reliance on public transportation and/or the terrible traffic that results in a more loosey-goosey inability to be certain of your arrival times, but times really should end in “-ish”. Oh, your class starts at 8:30? Yeah, no, that means people will be trickling in between 8:30 and 9 and it’s fine. Again, no sense of urgency. It really goes against my punctual nature, and I still find it totally rude.
Honestly, I’m not sure if this is stuff I’ll ever get used to.