Montreal Language Skills October 09 2014, 1 Comment

After spending an extended period of time camping, you often learn things about yourself, life lessons that I somehow managed to avoid right up until week three of our Great Canadian Journey. I thought I'd share a few of these with you.

Life Lesson #1: Carrying a small, yet powerfully poisonous bottle of Deet to the bathrooms is not only an appropriate thing to do, but a necessity. After several weeks of appearing to have worms - due to an unfortunate attraction of mosquitos to my delicate posterior - I realised that smearing my cheeks with bug repellent every time I went to the bathroom would make my life not only easier, but less awkward around strangers

Life Lesson #2: Never underestimate the importance of a raccoon contingency plan. After several post-drive beers around a game of cards, I found myself without such a plan when a (probably rabies-laden) raccoon began snuffling around the cup holder of my chair. After several long seconds of slow reaction time, in which I dumbly wondered how the creature had sneaked up on me so casually, I eventually sprang from my chair yelling every profanity I knew (and several that I made up on the spot) as I fled toward a thicket of poison ivy. Luckily I narrowly avoided that particular life lesson, the raccoon, however, did not even flinch at my hasty retreat and continued to poke around my things with the blatant belligerence that is so often attributed to these sneaky little beasts.

I was too busy fleeing from the raccoons to get a picture, so here is one of a squirrel.

Life Lesson #3: It is almost impossible to pass yourself off as a local, especially if you spend the majority of your nights encased in canvas. Ignoring, for a second, the blatant fact that the vehicle we are driving has 'THE GREAT CANADIAN JOURNEY' plastered on it, people seem to be instinctively aware of the presence of a tourist. Even after leaving the car behind and concealing the omnipresent camera, people just seemed to know.

It may have been the slightly harried look I had adopted from fending off potentially rabies infested raccoons from my tent all night.

It may have been the unavoidable, and ever potent, camp fire smell that had become infused on my very being.

Or it may be because I'd walked confidently into the cafe in Montreal, walked up to the counter, and had what appeared to be a language spasm in front of the confused waiter.

The sad thing is this happened more than once.

There was one particularly excruciating time that I'll use to illustrate this particular life lesson. I remember striding confidently to the counter, looking the waiter in the eye, smiling politely and then being lost in absolute panic. “What language do I use?” I thought. “Do I launch ahead in English and hope for the best? Do I throw down my butchered French and attempt an apologetic look? Do I try to mangle the two together? Or do I throw it all aside and attempt an interpretive dance in order to get my cappuccino (how does one mime cappuccino?)”

Meanwhile, the waiter has already greeted me. “Did he say 'hello' or 'halo'?” The barrage of thoughts had begun again. “If only I was paying attention! How do you say language spasm in French? Maybe I can still laugh this off?”

At this point the line behind me has grown so long it had reached the door, the waiter obviously wanted to usher me on but had become aware that of the possibility that the silent man before him could very well be unhinged. As the seconds slowly and painfully scraped by, that likelihood became more and more feasible in his mind.

"Est-ce que je peux vous aidez?" he asks gently.

“At last!” I thought. “Something I can grasp onto! French it is!”

"Oui," I responded, just as carefully. "Je... Je..."

At this point years of high school French rapidly flew through my mind, doors in my brain where wrenched open as the language section of my brain was dusted off and re-examined. I could have told him all about my soccer team, despite the fact I hadn't played in years. I could have told him all about my nice, friendly, very stupid dog, that had died years ago and the list of other adjectives I had learnt to describe him with. I could even have listed the complete contents of my grade 7 pencil case.

".... Je...."

Now I have become aware that the waiter thinks I am unhinged... And possibly narcissistic. 

"...Je..." I said again in an increasingly feeble voice.

"Il veux un cafe!" Someone from the back of the line, which is now out of the shop, shouted angrily. I almost wept for joy and love of this rude man at the back of the line. I wanted to hug him. That was exactly what I wanted!

"Je." I said and nodded vigorously, still unable to find any useful words.

He got the drift. I got my coffee. I'm pretty sure he realized I was a tourist though.