Canada: A Botched Mosaic (part 4)

Editor’s note: This story about Canadian multiculturalism was originally a single 3,600 word article meant for a British magazine. I decided to turn it into a mini-series. It tells the story of Peter, a Lebanese-Canadian youth and his experience of Canadian multiculturalism. He meets different people through his life who influence his thoughts. Although this tale contains many true elements and anecdotes, it is a work of fiction. Read part 1 here, 2 here, and part 3 here

When I was still in CEGEP[1], some eight years ago, I used to work in a call centre. Those who worked

Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba is an example of an African (Congolese) singer who found success in France. He is idolized by Africans for doing so. Photo by Radio Okapi

there were either students who needed a part-time job, recent immigrants whose experience in their home country was deemed inadequate just because it wasn’t Canadian experience, and strange characters you wished you’d never known. Most of the time, I sat with a group of Brazilians, a Senegalese youth named Didier, and a Pakistani Muslim woman named Saeeda. There were very few French-Canadians and Anglo-Canadians. One of the supervisors, a male French-Canadian student, once walked into the office and said after having looked at all the employees “Holy Shit! I’m the only white person in this room!” Because of my name and my appearance, French-Canadians assumed I only spoke English and some foreign language but when they knew I spoke French and knew a lot of Quebec slang, they would suddenly become very friendly. Didier was very intrigued:

“-Peter, how do you understand the Quebecois?

– Well… I grew up with them…

– But you come from a Lebanese family!

– And?

-Don’t they seem foreign to you?

-No. Just spend time with them and you’ll get used to them.

– I’ve spent plenty of time with them. I don’t get how they think. Why do they use sacred things in the church as swear words[2]? Do they even speak real French? What is this ‘Mweh, tweh, fack uh[3]’?”

Didier spent most of his time with black Africans; they were the easiest to understand even if they weren’t from his home country. They watched movies from Cote d’Ivoire in French and French films. In fact, they hated France for their colonialism as much as they loved it for its culture! He and his friends praised Africans who had made it big in France and considered them heroes. France was the place to go. Didier came to Canada as a Political Science student. He praised how much the Canadian government cared for its citizens: unlike African governments, the Canadian government wasn’t corrupt. There is money in Canada, many opportunities and hope for a better future. If anyone was in financial trouble, the government, because it is socialist, had programs to help people with low income.

To be continued…

 

[1] “Collège d’enseignement général et profesionnel” (General and professional education college). It’s an establishment that teaches trades and prepares students for university.

[2] In the 1960s, French-Canadians from Quebec rejected Christianity in an event called “The Quiet Revolution”. Since then, they have been using words such as “Criss” (from “Christ”, Christ), “calice” (“chalice”) and tabarnak (from “tabernacle”, tabernacle) as swear words and insults.

[3] “moi, toi, fak”. “Moi” means “me” and “toi” means “you” in standard French. “Fak eh” is Quebec slang for “and thus”. Didier is confused because by Quebecois accents and slang.

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