"Do you mind me asking where you're from?"
"From Québec", my friend answers for us. "Québec City."
"Québec! How delightful! I've been there once, and I'm actually planning on returning later this year. Well, quebeckers, could you give me some tips? I'd like to visit some smaller cities on my next trip, but I don't really know the province..."
"Well, you could start by Sherbrooke I guess?", I suggest. "It's a little to the South from Québec. Or Lac Saint-Jean in the North."
"Or Trois-Rivières!", goes my friend, being a little patriotic about his hometown. "And there's Granby."
"How about the Gaspé region? It's by the Atlantic", I say.
"And well, there's always Montréal, not really small but..."
I give a little look at my friend and smile. "... Or Lévis."
We both laugh, and the man looks confused.
~ * ~
Seven months later I'm paying my hot chocolate at Second Cup in Banff, Alberta. I'm slightly exhausted from all things English Canadian happening around me - but then I stick my debit card into the reader and see the machine automatically change the language into French. I smile, grab my cup and return to my table.
"Cette machine me parle en français!"
"Pour vrai?", goes my friend.
In seven months my hatred triggered by the fear of the unknown had turned into tender affection. Instead of pouting at home, I found myself seeking ways to adapt, learn and understand my new homeland. The uncomfortability (discussed more in THIS POST) had turned into unconditional curiosity. Thoughts like "Why is everyone always trying to talk to me in public places?" morphed into "So what if I sound like an idiot when I say the word 'la porte' - I want this door open!"
Seven months ago I never would have thought that there will be a day when a man from Vancouver addresses me as a quebecker, and that one tiny word, that absolutely irrelevant little term of a definition, warms up my cheeks and frees the butterflies in my stomach. Seven months ago navigating through a payment process in French was my absolute nightmare, but today it makes my heart long for my new home when I'm lost in the western prairies.
|A Christmas gift from my spouse|
A Local is something that every immigrant seeks to become. A traveller, however, voyages on in the crowd, bumping into people she will never meet again, sitting in cafes observing passersby going about their lives - and in the end, catches the train and leaves forever as all the locals go on with their routines, never having known about the girl who was there for that blink of an eye. I was sitting with my backpack in that Starbucks in Vancouver, watching those people desperately trying to catch the bus, being an outsider from somewhere else. Their routines were my adventures.
To become a local asks for more than catching that same bus with everyone else: it asks you to want to belong. Becoming a local means you have to stop observing things by asking what is different, and instead address things with the question of why does it even matter. The showers are really different in Québec compared to Finland - but so what, since I can very successfully wash myself in both? Door knobs might be a bit confusing for someone who has turned handles all their lives, but so far I have been able to enter and exit every room I wanted. Quebeckers wash their dishes with sponges, and so will I.
Seven months ago I was a Finn in Québec, comparing my every step to all the steps I had taken in Finland. As months passed, that hunch of bitterness and sickening I felt for my home country slowly turned into nostalgic memories and distant contacts as I dove into the mystery called French-speaking Canada. After the first shock passed I proceeded to explore my new home with a never ending hunger, to a point where my colleague once told everyone that "Mel probably knows this city far better than any of us, so if you need directions, ask her".
|Rue du Petit Champlain, Québec City|
~ * ~
"But Mel", he says. "I think you already are."