French

Neighborly love in the suburbs

Yesterday afternoon, after back-to-back meetings, I checked my voicemail; I had a message from a family lawyer, who lives on the same street as my parents, asking me to call her at my earliest convenience.


I attended a French immersion school in a poor immigrant-centric area for my first 4 years of elementary, by the end of which I couldn’t string together a basic French sentence. So, in grade 5, my mom transferred me to the local school a few blocks from my house, in our very francophone suburb of Montreal. Super Québécois – we were only 4 Anglophone kids out of the 50 “graduating” students. I had a lot of catching up to do. It was also a bit of a culture shock, and my first exposure to prejudice: a homogenous population where my maternal tongue made me an outsider.

Because my mama was my mama, she encouraged/volontold me to sign up for a regional public speaking competition in the fall of Grade 5. In French. Why? Because it was important that I develop the self-assurance and confidence to speak my mind eloquently and convincingly, as a woman in a man’s world. Yes, she would talk to me like that at 11 (thirteen-minus-two) years old. I wrote a text called “Oui, c’est beau la vie“. It brought a tear to my mama’s eye – so mature, so wise, her little Bingi was so wonderful. However, her little Bingi had a brutally thick English accent –  the sounds coming out of my mouth didn’t qualify as French words. My mama reached out to a woman living at the end of the street: Mme R, a lawyer specializing in family law, who spoke beautiful French. Mme. R firmly agreed with my mother that the ability to speak my mind persuasively was a critical survival skill-set, and so she agreed to spend 2-4 hours weekly, for two months, giving me free elocution and public speaking lessons.

I quickly grew to love and admire Mme. R. I’d not been exposed to many career women: most of my friends’ moms were either housewives like my mama, or else had simple 9-5 jobs. But Mme. R was the mother of 3 little munchkins and their home radiated comforting love and happiness, just like ours did, except she had a Very Important Job and Didn’t Hide Her Intelligence, my mama said. My embarrassment about my terrible French decreased. I had something to say, and clearly Mme. R thought it was something worth saying and worth listening to (over and over and over…). Her munchkins would sit quietly during my practices and sweetly encouraged their new friend, who was doing something Worthwhile, so their mama told them.

I didn’t rank well at that public speaking contest, despite delivering my best performance. I was the only non-Francophone participating. That was my first time learning that having something worthwhile to say does not mean people will listen.


Mme. R apologized for calling me at work: that was the only contact info she could find via Google. We hadn’t spoken, other than occasionally bumping into each other on the street/grocery store, since I started high school: life happens, that way. She was pleased to see that I’d grown into a belle jeune femme, épanouie et heureuse and hoped that her internet searches were an accurate reflection of my real life.

Her reason for contacting me: she’d noticed that despite last week’s snow storm, my father’s driveway was uncleared, and the flyers were piling up on his front porch. And while she and Mr. R had tried to convince themselves that everything was ok, it had been many days since she’d seen my father around in the neighborhood.

Touched, I explained that my father had left to travel Russia exactly two weeks ago, and obviously had forgotten to consider the weather/mailman in his plans – completely like him. Her relief was profound. She offered to clamber over the snowbank, clear the flyers and reminded me that he could always count on her and Mr. R to perform such neighborly favors. I asked after her family; my mind boggled when she told me the 3 lil’ munchkins were all grown up, and she was now a grandmother! She carefully asked after my mother. 4.5 years doesn’t make the communication of Ma’s death any easier, y’all. Mme. R was dismayed – she’d assumed/hoped that my mother’s absence from the neighborhood was due to her failing health keeping her house-bound.

We didn’t say much else – the memories were too strong.

Our phone call was done in fluent French.


I’d forgotten about that brief period in my life, those hours spent in that safe bubble of comforting love and happiness. I’d forgotten about Mme. R.

I wish I could’ve found the words to thank her. Those French lessons allowed me to be admitted into the prestigious French high school which shaped my personality and taught me the problem-solving skills that make me a good accountant. My ability to speak my mind persuasively & fluently in French has influenced my career: it dictated which Big 4 I was admitted to, the client portfolio I was awarded, the mandates I worked on, the opportunities to travel to France for work, and getting hired here, at my dream job. It is what allows me to pursue my Big Dream to move to Paris within 24 months. Who I am, and what I’ve become, is welded to this language.

Thank you, Mme. R. Thank you for the gift of your time, your language and your love, twenty years ago. And thank you for the gift of your care for my father, now.

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Tinder isn’t the right forum to discuss feminism?!

It begins normally. It always does.

Feminism fail 1

He would have gotten bonus points had he found my cape comment amusing. I am whimsical. Appreciate that!!

Feminism fail 2

I’ve written at length about my pet peeve – my boxing pictures on my online dating profile triggers (unconscious) gender bias in many of the guys that message me. I’ve also been told that I am oversensitive about this topic. That is why I decided to accept Tinder dude’s explanation about “women with agency and personal power”. I did wonder why he secretly wanted a kick-ass girlfriend – no one who sincerely wishes to have an assertive and independent girlfriend feels that is a wish that should be kept secret. But, since I am renowned for being très judgmental, I did not point out that inconsistency, and waited to see where the conversation would go.

Feminism fail 3

Nope, not really. I think that was pretty rude, bro. Asking me what type of feminism I subscribe to, only to then tell me that the entire movement is misguided/wrong/harmful is an unsubtle way of letting me know that he doesn’t actually care about my opinion but really is looking for opportunities to bash feminism. The fact that I disagree with his assessment of the modern feminism movement is irrelevant.

Feminism fail 4

At this point, it was abundantly clear that he in no way cares about my opinion. NO, I AM NOT INTERESTED. Trying to point out how my opinion contradicts the supposed behaviour of all feminists (because obviously, we act as one unit – seeing as we all have agency and personal power!) is not going to change my level of interest in Tinder Dude. In fact, I suspect Tinder Dude enjoys deliberately negating the opinions of girls like myself who could kick his ass. This stinks of more than just the usual gender bias – this has all the makings of a guy to whom emotional abuse is a fun pass-time, and who views passive aggressive behaviour as a strategic skill, rather than a failing.

The conversation lasted a bit longer. My favorite part came near the end of our exchange:

Feminism fail 5

Of course he was.

While this Tindersation was ongoing, I stumbled upon this article about Tinder’s co-founder Whitney Wolfe.

For Wolfe, the episode served as a crash course in feminism. ‘I’m going to be honest,’ she says. ‘Up until I started work on Bumble, the “f-word” scared me. People would ask me if I was a feminist and I didn’t know how to respond. The word seemed to put guys off, but now I realise, who cares?’

I certainly don’t.

 

 

Economic forecast: the Canadian shoe market will shrink in 2015

A few weeks ago, my friend Voilàaaa congratulated me on my blog, and remarked very innocently that he was surprised that there were no posts about him. Humility is his forte, I know. In honor of his imminent move back to his home country, I’m happy to oblige.

How it all started

I met Voilàaaa 6 months after a devastating break-up. I’d spent the first 3 months in a self-destructive alcoholic haze, flirting and dating as many people as possible. The next 3 months were a menopausal stage: my hormones had stopped working, and I was asexual, completely indifferent to any member of the male species, no doubt because I was too wrapped up in my misery.

Voilàaaa appeared at the Savate kickboxing club at our university one day. He was in his 2nd year of university, still fresh off the boat, and looking for a cheap and easy way to get back into shape – what better way than via the sport he’d been practically raised doing? I’d been practicing Savate for several semesters with no success and less skill, and had reached the point where I considered quitting it daily, and taking up yoga instead. In the midst of another frustrating sparring session one day, I heard a voice, with a heavy French accent, calling out useful simple tips to me. Cautiously, I tried one or two of them. To my amazement, they worked! Every successful moment was followed by a musical “voilà”, spoken in satisfied tones. Afterwards, I thanked him, and in the months following that conversation, 2 things happened:

  1. I was blinded by the most painful crush ever;
  2. He adopted me as his unofficial pupil, and coached me in the art of Savate.

Worst crush ever

Nobody was more confused at my crush than myself. At that mature period in my life, I had three unshakable rules regarding boys.

  • The object of my affection must be my age or older;
  • The object of my affection must be taller than me;
  • The object of my affection must not weigh less than me.

Voilàaaa did not satisfy any of those criteria. (In his defense, many guys do not meet the height/weight criteria. I’m rather tall, muscular and/or curvy – depending on the month- and have a penchant for high heels). Logically, I should not have found him attractive. But my hormones, so long dormant, reappeared with a vengeance. I could not speak to him without blushing, or having a loopy smile. Embarrassing. Voilàaaa suffered through my puppy-devotion phase with grace and kindness, never letting on that he’d noticed. Or perhaps he was simply oblivious; in which case this post’s honesty is a terrible mistake. Luckily, he is getting on a plane soon.

Lisa Kudrow and I have something in common

At the time, most guys that I knew were engineers – a demographic group that is not known for its fashion sense. However, Voilàaaa had style. He wore jewelry – I had never known a guy to wear jewelry before – and he made it look good. To this day, he remains the only person I know who can wear sweatpants with flare. He’d even post pictures on Facebook of his shoe collection.

These 13 pairs of sneakers, neatly alligned, represent the portion of his shoe collection that did not fit in Voilàaaa's closet.

These 13 pairs of sneakers, neatly aligned, represent the portion of Voilàaaa’s shoe collection that did not fit in his closet.

He owned over 40 pairs of shoes. Learning that fact caused my infatuation to fade, and I developed a new unshakable rule:

  • The object of my affection will not own more pairs of shoes than me.

There is a video clip of Lisa Kudrow, explaining that when she first met her husband, also French, she thought he was gay because:

He’s really good-looking. His hair was always perfect, he always did it very well, and he dressed impeccably, and he cared about those things, and he would judge my shoes, so I thought “Oh, um ok, I think, are you – have you ever been – gay?”

Voilàaaa was not amused.

Benefits of coaching

He coached me in Savate, sometimes for several hours a week. The improvement in my fighting was almost instantaneous. But more importantly, by giving me the gift of his time for no other reason than he felt like it, Voilàaaa taught me a valuable lesson: not everything in life is a trade-off, and kindness is never earned, it has to be given. Somewhere in between my mom’s un-birthday presents and that awful break-up, I’d forgotten that essential truth.

My teammates soon noticed my progress – I gave full credit to Voilàaaa. Over time, he became a certified Savate instructor; he took on a 2nd protégée, who through her hard-work and his training, became the Canadian champion in her weight category; and this summer, Voilàaaa coached Team Canada, as they prepared for the Savate world Championships in Rome. I take full credit for his success – his coaching endeavours started with me, après tout.

Summarizing a friendship is hard

When I think back on my friendship with Voilàaaa, I am amazed at how much has happened in these 4 years:

  • He was a poor starving student when we first met, working student jobs;
  • He graduated, survived the soul-crushing job-hunting period, and found himself a great first job;
  • He’s dating one of my besties, the Canadian champion mentioned above – watching them together makes me so happy! Savate super-couple.
  • He started volunteering. This, from a guy who once emphatically explained to me that he doesn’t believe in doing something for free – he is a hustler, and he wants to rule the world one day, so he doesn’t have any time to spend without a monetary reward.
  • He has left an indelible mark on Savate in Canada.

I wish him nothing but success in France – may he establish the foundations of his world rule.

An ingenious solution to be stylish and protect his shoes from Canadian winter slush and salt.

Voilàaaa’s solution to remain stylish and protect his shoes from Canadian winter slush and salt.

My street cred: That time I got into a fight with a French door

So this one time, I was on a business trip in France.

(Let us take a few seconds to appreciate how cool that sounds. It is even cooler when compared to my previous business trip exotic desinations such as Archbold, Ohio and Edmonton, Alberta.)

During this trip, I managed to take time off one weekend to explore the city of Lyon. And following my fairy godmother’s advice on how best to spend my money when in Europe, I decided to get a haircut.

At some random, inevitably beautiful plaza, I saw a fancy hairdressing salon; I waltzed in, and with my best French, I requested: “Rendez-moi belle, SVP.”

Chopity chop chop chop later, and voilà! Significantly less hair. Le short.

Feeling as though I had regained my youth and my flirt, I proceeded with my walkabout, and found myself in a shopping district full of upscale boutique stores. Picking one at random, I walked in, and found to my dismay that everything cost way too much, was beige and eye-wateringly overpriced. I decided to exit this unworthy store, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t appear to be leaving because I couldn’t afford any of the merchandise: I was leaving the store because I was French, chic and unimpressed. With my fabulous new haircut, I was confident in my ability to pull off such an authentic look. I underestimated the amount of concentration this new persona would require.

As I approached the exit, with my nose held high in the air (that is French behaviour, n’est-ce pas?), I did not notice that the store’s door was made of clear glass, and that I could not see its edge, and so, I energetically opened the glass door into my nose.

Which provoked an equally energetic nose bleed, all over the swanky store’s white floor.

As I tried to catch the rainfall of blood drops, crying from the pain, laughing hysterically, and swearing like an English sailor, I realised my cover was irretrievably blown.

I fled outside, leaving the disgusted saleswoman to wipe up the puddle of bright red blood , to continue my hemorrhage on the sidewalk. Less conspicuous.

As the French would say: “Zut alors!!”