Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Take Your Cell-Phone & Stick It Up Your ASS!

I’m tired of the debate as to whether or not people’s driving skills are impaired by the use of mobile phones. The fact is, when it comes right down to it, people lose the ability to avoid being complete assholes as soon as they try to talk on their cells and interact with the general public in any way at any time. If you are walking through a crowd, talking on your cell, feeling extremely agile and adept at multi-tasking as you quickly pick up a coffee, step around the small children by the elevator and then jump to the curb to hail a taxi – you are a complete asshole. The reason you are a complete asshole is because, while you were in your own little cellular-world, you failed to realize that someone else was actually next in line at the coffee stand. Another reason you are a complete asshole is because although you stepped around the children at the elevator you also nearly knocked some old lady down the stairs. My closing argument as to why you are a complete asshole is that when you stopped to hail the taxi you didn’t realize there was a blind fellow just 20 feet away from you hoping to catch the very same cab.

Now you may truly believe that you’ve never done any of these things while walking along talking on your cell – but that is because you are a complete asshole. You see other people do these things all the time, but you are so full of yourself that you overlook your own indiscretions because YOUR conversation is just so much more important than anyone else’s. It’s not really important at all, but you believe it is because you are an asshole.

I’ve had customers at my bistro bark out an order as they walk by with their cell phone glued to the anus that they call their head, giving me the ‘shh’-finger as I try to clarify their order – just so they can continue with their universally important conversation as they proceed to the toilet. Upon returning and finding out that I was out of soy milk they then proceed to bitch and complain that I should have told them so when they first came in. To those people I say, “Take your cell phone and stick it up your ass!”

I’ve had clerks at the coffee shop screw up my order because they were too busy talking on their cell phones – and afterwards the same assholes try to convince me that I should pay for the order because I didn’t take the time to make it clear to them what I wanted. I guess I should really just try phoning them, but I never seem to have their number listed in my phone – because they are assholes. To these people I would like to say, “Take your cell phone and stick it up your ass!”

This behavior has been going on for years but I am only blogging about it now because of an inconsiderate fat bitch that really pissed me off tonight - at the end of an otherwise perfect day. I had a long, busy shift but everything went really well at work and I left feeling really gratified with the work I had done. I stopped to rest my feet at a pub that has an outdoor patio, sipping a cold pint of beer and enjoying the cool night air. I finished my cigarette and my beer together, and at the perfect moment to shuffle over to catch my bus. I got my favorite seat on the bus – a single seat, so I din’t have to worry about sharing with someone who smells worse than I do at the end of a hard day’s work – and I sat back to enjoy the ride home.

I estimate that there must be 30 potential stops between work and home. Usually, at that time of night, the bus only has to stop maybe a dozen times. Oftentimes new passengers have a question or two for the driver, but most are considerate enough to step aside as they ask questions so other passengers can board; but not the fat cell-phone adorned whore I that I have decided to call Mavis the Cow. No, no – Mavis the Cow hopped on board with her cell to her ear and leaned on the pole up front, finishing her current train of thought with her ‘friend’. Other people tried to get around her, but her ass was too wide so they had to wait. Finally she addressed the bus driver and asked if our bus connected with some other bus at Terminus Charlesbourg. The driver was patient, but I could hear a little irritation in his voice as he responded, “Oui.”

Finally Mavis the Cow was free to move along, allowing other people to board, but she had other plans. She held her position, with her big ass blocking the door, as she confirmed with her friend that she would be hopping on another bus at Terminus Charlesbourg. Mavis the Cow didn’t start moving until her conversation was well underway again and then she shook her booty down the aisle, all pleased with herself for what she obviously perceived to be a seamless transition in and out of her perfect little cellular world. The rest of us were far less impressed.

Part way down the aisle she told her friend to be ready in half an hour and it became apparent that when she asked if our bus made her connection, she didn’t just mean the 801 in general, she was actually hoping that the specific 801 that her majesty was standing on would arrive at the station with her next bus already waiting for her fat ass. The bus driver heard this and tried to call out to her to tell her that there would be a 30 minute wait at Terminus Charlesbourg, but Mavis the Cow was too wrapped up in her important conversation to listen to him so she just gave him the ‘shh’-finger.

The driver called to her again, but she just waved her hand and kept walking toward the back of the bus. The driver’s face revealed his frustration, and his mouth opened a couple more times as he desperately tried to find the words to get the fat whore’s attention, but finally he just threw his hands up in exasperation because he really had to get driving again to make up the time that she had already cost us. If every newly boarding passenger slurped up this much time, all of us would have an extra half hour wait to get home.

When we got to Terminus Charlesbourg, Mavis the Cow stampeded through other passengers on her way to the front of the bus. She started shouting at the bus driver and I couldn’t follow her French that well but it was obvious that she was pissed off that her connecting bus wasn’t there waiting for her fat ass. The bus driver tried to explain that he had tried to provide her with this information but she just tore into a tirade about her friend already being on the way to some bar and how she wasn’t going to be able to make her ever so important rendezvous out front.

Her nostrils snorted and she actually pawed the floor of the bus with one of her hooves. Mavis the Cow and turned into a very angry bull. The driver had little choice but to keep driving and she refused to get off the bus. She just kept arguing with him and I think she was actually expecting him to drive off his route to get her where she wanted to go. The driver negotiated to get another bus to wait for her further up the route and she finally sat down.

At this point the driver had to use the on board phone in the bus to arrange transport for her majesty. He’s a professional driver and didn’t drift off into some other world while talking, but it was obvious that even he was distracted by the phone, although I’m sure the huffing Mavis behind him wasn’t helping matters. Fortunately my stop was nearby and I was eager to escape the mounting tension as quickly as I could so I could just get home and put my feet to bed.

I rang for my stop, but as we were approaching it the tone of the driver’s voice changed as he received the news that the other bus couldn’t wait very long for Mavis. Mavis jumped up and starting tearing a strip off of the poor driver again and he started driving faster and actually missed my stop. It was about all I could take and I know my voice revealed my anxiety as I barked, “Excuse, mon arrêt!”

We were traveling pretty fast and nearly a block past my stop when the driver hit the breaks and sent me and Mavis into the windshield. The driver began apologizing profusely as he opened the door, and as I stepped out Mavis looked at me and snorted as she tilted her head towards the bus driver. Apparently that self-centered cunt wanted me to reassure her opinion that the driver was inept, but her expression of superiority turned to shock as I looked her in the eye and said, “Take your cell phone and stick it up your ass!”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Learning to Speak French

My grade school French teachers allocated a lot of time to verb conjugation drills. I’m certain that we must have studied some other aspects of the language, but memories of those seemingly endless drills still send shivers down my spine; “je cours, tu cours, il court, nous courons, vous courez, ils courent.” Don’t even get me started on the irregular verbs.

Oddly enough, those inane drills were actually helpful in the development of my French literacy. I only wish that more time had been allocated to words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘everybody’, and ‘nobody’; words that are used far more often in common speech than in quality writing. When you first try to construct sentences in a new language, spoken or written, such words are essential and should be on the tip of your tongue or pen. Although good writers might prefer a phrase like, “There are those who,” a novice in the language can easily get by with “Some people.”

It would be nearly impossible for any Canadian to be completely French-illiterate. I say this even though I’ve spent years tutoring adult literacy in English. Total illiteracy is extremely rare and usually results from a combination of unusual circumstances. After all, years of dozing in front of our cornflakes ensures that even the extremely nearsighted and dull are able to recognize either “Milk” or “Lait” as the stuff we pour on our cereal. For those with the gumption to turn the cereal box around, words like “gratuit,” “jouet,” and “à l'intérieur,” rapidly become familiar.

When reading French, I can even stumble through a phrase like, “Il ya ceux qui déclarent le contraire.” I know that “Il y a” is “There is” and I can assume that “Il ya ceux” is a strange conjugation of that, like “there could be”. I know that “qui” is “who” and “déclarent le contraire” looks like “declare the contrary”. Putting it all together I would guess that, “Il ya ceux qui déclarent le contraire,” means “There are those who disagree” or “There are those who would say otherwise.”

Being able to decipher French is quite different than actually writing in French, however. Fortunately there are great translation websites now, and with the little French that I know I can actually catch the odd error in translation. Translating almost every e-mail has given me a lot of insight into idiomatic English expressions. For example, rather than saying, “I took French in school,” I find I get a better translation by saying, “I studied French in school.”

None of the above helps me much when I’m at work, however. If the chef took the time to write down what he wanted, and then gave me the time to decipher his message, I’m certain that my French literacy would rapidly develop to a fully fluent level. That is never going to happen though. He might say (in French), “Put down the bucket of squid and come help me drain this vat of pasta,” and I really only get one shot at interpreting what he is saying. Now I can recognize various forms of “aider” so I know he wants help, but the rest of the sentence is Greek to me (or Spanish, or literally French).

Complicating matters is the fact that people rarely say things the same way twice. He could start with the words, “Drop,” “Put down,” or “Forget about,” followed by “the bucket,” “the pail,” “the container,” or just “the squid.” There must be dozens of permutations for the first part of his command, and I only get one shot at interpreting the meaning before he tries a different permutation.

Even further complicating matters is the fact that people don’t pronounce things the way that they write them. My favorite example of this is the English phrase, “Do you want to go for coffee?” We tend to pronounce that phrase as, “Jewanna gopher coffee?” The same thing happens in French, and so suddenly I hear this out of place word like “gopher” where it doesn’t belong at all. It doesn’t help much that one cook has a thick Hungarian accent and the other has a thick Vietnamese accent. Fortunately the only important word in the aforementioned phrase is ‘coffee’ and it is easy to tell by the inflection that the rest of the sentence constitutes an invitation.

And so it is that I stumble through my days in Quebec catching maybe one word out of ten. I survive at work because I know my way around a kitchen and can usually anticipate what people will need or want me to do before a word is spoken. I get through stores by anticipating the generic scripts followed by all cashiers regardless of language. I survive commuting by bus by keeping a keen eye out for street signs and thumbing through my street atlas like it’s a treasure map. It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived in Canada for forty years and I still can’t understand the most basic spoken French phrases on the fly.

To this end I’ve taken to watching French movies. One of the problems with this strategy is that most French movies are made in France and so their accent is very different than the Quebecois accent. Movies that are dubbed into French occasionally have a Quebecois accent, but then the mouths don’t match the words so I get thrown off quite a bit. I’m hoping that I can find some good Quebecois television programs to watch. I guess that in retrospect I should have tuned the television into CBC Francais a lot more often.

So in summary I guess I can’t complain too much about my grade school French classes, although I wish there would have been more audio assignments. Had I spent as much time watching French television as I had reading cereal boxes I might be much further ahead today. Most francophones that I’ve met who have taught themselves to speak fundamental English tell me that English television was their greatest asset. I guess I’ll be spending a lot more time watching streaming television at the CBC website. Fortunately I am an optimist and I truly believe that eventually osmosis will prevail and I will end up fully bilingual. On the other hand, I am certain that il ya ceux qui déclarent le contraire.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

First Impressions of Quebec

It’s been twenty years since I spent more than a few days in Quebec. The last time I was here I was traveling though, and so most of my interaction was with hotel staff and gas station attendants who were used to dealing with traveling Anglophones. Now I have strayed from the beaten path and started delving into the neighbourhood grocery stores, depanneurs, and other public venues where the regular Quebecers hang out.

In only five days I already find that I really should learn to type with accents above the vowels, but I’m not going to bother since a lot of my quotations are going to be phonetically spelled anyway. I can read a lot of French, and I can even put a sentence or two together in speech, but understanding the native Quebecer is a skill that is going to take some time.

I noticed in northern Quebec that they slur a lot of words together with a phlegm-flailing, almost German sounding noise. I met a fellow from northern New Brunswick who spoke much the same way. Montrealers seem to role over a lot of sounds with a sort of drawl that is reminiscent of a New Yawk accent, but I could swear that they actually swallow the last syllable of every sentence. In Ville de Quebec, however, they ratta-tat-tat each syllable like a machine gun in the meter of European Spanish but with a subtle and soft phlegm-flailing sound that reminds me of Brazilian Portuguese. Usually I’m lucky to catch two words out of ten.

I’ve been camping outside of Ville de Quebec for four days now, and I’ve listened to traveling Francophones from all over. One woman, who had been a French immersion teacher in New Brunswick, sounded just like my first French teacher. I could clearly hear each syllable and given a moment or two I understood almost everything she was saying. Maybe all French teachers learn French in the same place, because she told me that my French was beautiful and she couldn’t hear my English accent at all. Not so with other Francophones.

If you walk into a store and start speaking in English, most clerks will look at you like you are from the moon. On the other hand, if you walk in and start speak French poorly, most clerks will break into even worse English and some of them actually speak in tones of disgust. This is a helpful tip for Anglophone tourists, but I’m here to learn French so it doesn’t help me a bit. I’ve tried pressing on in French and that seems to extinguish the disgusted tones but few people will revert to French to speak to me.

The campground is filled with Francophones from all over, the music is mostly French but all bad. They have a thing for discordant French jazz and English soft rock – I don’t even want to talk about French country music. The sounds are starting to sink in though, and I’m slowly starting to recognize more words. I spend a lot of time listening to people talking to their children.

On one hand I feel I need to start carrying a French/English dictionary, but on the other I am happy just learning the words in context without developing the habit of doing real time translations in my mind. Traveaux is on orange, diamond shape signs and indicates construction ahead. Interdit is anything you aren’t supposed to do. Chemin seems to be like ‘way’ as in a path or route, although it is also like ‘road’; as opposed to street (rue). Pont is bridge. Oh, and never use a cathedral (Eglise) or a Saint(e) as a reference point unless you have a photographic memory for architecture and names. Every Eglise looks about the same to me – like a 300 year old cathedral – and every Eglise and Chemin is named after Saint(e) someone or other. Fortunately detour is a French word, and I hit a lot of them driving along Chemin Saint Louis on my way to Eglise Sainte Louise.

I’ve made a game out of trying to get in and out of a store without them figuring out that I’m an Anglophone. I sort of cough as I say ‘bonjour’ upon entering and laugh my way through a ‘tres bien’ if they seem to ask a question about the weather or how I’m doing. When a clerk approaches asking questions I mumble a ‘juste regardant’ as I turn away. At the register they will usually say “c’est tous” ou “Est-que c’est tous” and I’m primed with a quick “c’est tous” in response as I pretend to drop my keys. So far it’s worked twice out of about a dozen attempts. Twice the register didn’t display the amount and I was left hanging like an imbecile that couldn’t count money. Once the clerk was asking if I wanted my chocolate bar in the bag or with me and I blurted, “c’est tous” (that’s all). Other failed attempts ranged from being busted upon my ‘bonjour’ to an unexpected question to someone pointing out that I was driving the jeep out front with the Saskatchewan plates.

So today was my trial by fire. I bought an atlas de rue de Ville de Quebec and drove across the Pont de Quebec. It’s such a massive structure that I couldn’t help thinking of the Queensboro Bridge and I instantly broke into whistling the theme from Taxi. I followed the Saint Laurent into Vieux Quebec and oh what a wonder it was. I really need to get a camera, but I don’t think a photo looking up from my jeep at the Hotel Frontenac would begin to convey just how big or incredible it really is. In moments I felt like I was in some chase scene through a European City in an Ocean’s Eleven sequel. There are rocks that have been mortared into that area for over 400 years and you can feel the history. Cannons still point out over the garrison wall; a poignant reminder of the distinct, non-Anglophonic sentiments . There is now a road below the cliffs leading to the plains of Abraham, but you can really feel just how hard it must have been for the British to scale their way up to attack Quebec from behind.

As if it weren’t European enough, the only franchise restaurant I saw was a Mickey D’s and it was in a stone, trios etage building with a mansard roof and wrought iron railings around the patio. Even the patio furniture was wrought iron with thick glass table tops. Ray Kroc would have pewped his pantz. I wondered if I could get a glass of cheap wine with my Grande Mac if I went in. I decided to never find out.

I wasn’t looking for tourist attractions, however – I really wanted to get lost in Ville de Quebec. I’ve been hopelessly lost before in Vancouver, Toronto, and especially Montreal. This time, however, I didn’t have any place to be and I sincerely wanted to be lost. As it turns out, I found that it’s nearly impossible to get lost when you really rather wouldn’t be anyplace else. I found a park that was a memorial to the Battle of St. Foy – the French won, and so plenty of streets and businesses in the area incorporate the word ‘victoire’. If you keep going one way you are soon in Limilou. The other way you are in St. Foy. In between if you go to the river you are in Sillery. None of these are as large as Richmond, Surrey, or Burnaby though, so you don’t lose any time. Making matters easier, there are no big elevated freeways to get trapped on so you can turn around at your leisure.

The next story is where things get very phonetic. I wanted to eat in the city, but I just didn’t have the courage to try one of the many very busy little bistros. I couldn’t find any familiar franchises other than fast food, but I did find a place called ThaiZone. I know my Thai food, and it seemed franchise-ish, so I decided to go for it. For one who has eaten real Thai food, it was a bit of a disappointment. They stir-fried my noodles with the toppings and they got rather soggy. Fortunately there was self serve crushed peanuts and sliced lime. I saw a bottle that had the right colour for Nuoc Nam, but the label said something like “la rumouald”. I grabbed the bottle and said to the clerk, “Newack Nam?” Her eyes bugged out, but just then an oriental customer jumped up and said, “Oui, NeWOCK Nam,” stressing the ‘wock’ because I had mispronounced the Thai word. The clerk’s eyes bugged out more, so the oriental customer looked at her and said, “Newock Nam est la Room-old.” At this, the clerk looked at him and said, “ROWM-OWLED,” stressing his mispronunciation of the French word. They both looked at me and I just said, “Fish Sauce!” The only question left in my mind is why any self-respecting Thai fellow would have been eating in there in the first place.

I decided it was time to head back to the campground, so I just headed downhill towards the St. Laurent expecting to find Pont de Quebec. Along the way I entered the campus of Universite Laval, and from the main entrance it looked much like what I expect Place Riel in Saskatoon to look like after the new construction. I was quickly along my way and easily found signs pointing me to the pont. As I drove back across I was once again overtaken by the urge to whistle the theme from Taxi.