2013 was the summer of England and France. My husband, Brent, and I hit seven cities in three weeks, taking in a mix of city and country. This is part of a series of blog posts recounting our adventures over July of 2013.
“Ah! Nous pouvons vous aider, Monsieur!” The overly friendly, but under-ly coordinated, café owner was struggling to juggle a fold-up table and two chairs – furniture that he was carting outside so Brent and I could enjoy lunch on the sidewalk outside of the café. It seemed only polite to offer help.
But he tisked at me as he made his way through the door, Brent following. Then, as he somehow managed to navigate the three stairs up to the sidewalk without dropping our soon to be table and chairs, he turned back to Brent: “Vous êtes Quebecois!”
It wasn’t a question so much as a statement. And he’d figured it out based on the one full sentence I’d quickly strung together in a attempt to save this really nice, almost Santa looking, man from carrying three pieces of awkward furniture. I mean, there were three of us. Offering to help just made sense.
And maybe, years ago, I would have thought that he pegged us as Quebecois because I’d offered to do something nice. And all Canadians are nice, right? But that’s not why he declared our place of origin with such certainty, and I knew it.
As Brent stared at me with a “WTF did this guy just say? Do your language magic now, woman!” face of fear, I clarified: “Non, nous ne sommes pas Quebecois, mais je sais que j’ai un accent Quebecois. Nous sommes canadiens.”
Years ago, I would have denied this. I would have been embarrassed by the idea that I had a recognizable Quebecois accent. I was horrified the first time I was told that I did, in fact, speak French like a Canadian. But I admitted it freely on this July day in Honfleur, France.
I was walking the same streets at Samuel de Champlain had walked. I was admiring the same harbor in which he had climbed aboard the ship that would take him to what is now Quebec City, establishing a permanent colony in New France. The history nerd in me would have trumped any shame in my accent by itself.
But there was no shame left to overcome.
There was, once. Once, when I had bought into the idea that the Quebecois accent was uncultured and rude, that its nasal qualities and emphases were gross. Because that’s what I’d heard. I don’t even know from where. I just know that growing up, it was common knowledge that nobody should want to speak with a Quebecois accent. The only acceptable accent to claim was a true French accent, from France.
But saying that is like saying that North American English accents are wrong. That if a person is going to speak English, it needs to be with a proper British accent. That an American accent is gross. That the Aussie accent is to be avoided. That the Kiwis have butchered the Queen’s good words.
But I like the various English accents.
And I like French accents too.
The way a community speaks says so much about its history, the outside influences their culture faces, and it ties its speakers together. It gives them a place to call home – a place that they call home in their own way, with their own pronunciations.
I call Canada home.
And I do it like a Canadian. In both languages.