Sunday, 26 January 2014

It's a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll...

Australian ex-pat trying valiantly to uphold national pride in -20C. Photo: Charles Cardinal

The title of this post is something probably only Australians of a certain age would get. It's a schoolyard twist on the lyrics to AC/DC's It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll); just try singing it and you'll see what I mean...

Today is Australia Day, and despite all the broader political ramifications and my personal uneasiness in recognition of Invasion Day, as it is also known, I am a little more nostalgic than usual for my home country. I celebrated by listening to '80s Oz Rock and making a batch of lamingtons to share with my classmates tomorrow. Surprisingly, there are two other Australians in my class, so I am not as much of an exotic creature as usual. I also made a batch of sausage rolls for Charles and I, which turned out to be the best I've ever tasted, perhaps because I've been so deprived. Like any good immigrant, I have soulful longings for the unique tastes of the Old Country.

It's a curious thing, being an expatriate. There is all the excitement and novelty of a new country, culture, and—frequently—language to explore, but it is so often clouded with a few greying drops of homesickness, as well as the involuntary comparisons. I can't even imagine what it must be like for immigrants who have had to leave their home against their will or for the preservation of their lives.

As always, I remind myself that the purpose of this blog is to enforce a positive view of change on myself so, like a happily tipsy father of the bride, I take the view that I am not losing my own culture, but gaining a second. (Gosh, I just remembered having a jumbonormous fight with a German boyfriend in 1998, when he claimed Australia didn't have a culture. Oh, my goodness!) As I sit here, I've been contemplating just what it is that I'm invoking when I think of that mythical beast that is "Australia." In essence it seems to be wide, open spaces, a freshness of both spirit and produce, and a lack of taking anything or anyone, including oneself, too seriously. But mostly it is the wide, open spaces. Oh, and warmth!

For years I have celebrated drives through those wide, open spaces with a stop at a country bakery for a sausage roll and a Farmers' Union Iced Coffee. It was a little tradition that I made for myself somewhere along the line, to the point now when a long car trip will induce sausage roll cravings. I've managed to find a suitable iced coffee substitute here, at the ubiquitously Canadian Tim Horton's chain, but it looks like I'll be doing a little pre-trip baking from now on because there really is no suitable alternative to the sausage roll here, and 16,000km is indubitably a long trip "down the shops."

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Back to school

"You sound like a French-from-France!"

To most English speakers this would be a compliment, right? Coming from my 11-year-old stepson it is a stab to my heart, a soul-crushing blow, the most scathing of put-downs. Around here the French-from-France don't speak the True French. They are fickle followers of fashion, blithe spirits who do not care for tradition, who do not know the Old Ways. Québécois is the True French. Except when it borrows from English. Or a First Nations language. Or it had to make up a word to describe something unique to the New World. Or it uses the informal "tu" form of address with wild abandon. But let's not get picky now!

To someone who has had exposure to French-from-France—moi, for example—it is also a terrifyingly daunting dialect. Similarly causing, I'm sure, the kind of fear that must strike an English learner when they encounter a Scots accent, a Deep Southern US accent, or a broader-than-broad, closed-mouth, Far North Queensland accent. But here I am in Montréal, having just braved the joual of Témiscamingue, and today I started niveau 3 (level 3) of my cours de francisation.

I'm now at the Centre Saint-Louis, much closer to home after three and a bit months at the Centre Lartigue. These classes are run and heavily subsidised by the Commission scolaire de Montréal, via the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Immigration also offers classes, but after a spectacular fail at fulfilling their own KPIs, I wound up in the care of the Education Minister.

It's an incredible deal: a $70 administration fee per six months, plus $10 per level for the textbook. For that you get 20 hours per week of professional, immersion French classes. As I wrote: incredible!

I won't lie, I have found it very challenging going back to study almost full time. Twenty contact hours of foreign language learning by immersion leaves you pretty shattered for several extra hours on top of that per week. It's not the work per se; I'm doing very well. (Thank you home tutors!) But being a povvo student after years of full-time work is very challenging. My Aries moon is also always very impatient to just get on with things, and I want to master it all NOW, and I want to be back at work NOW! (I'm not saying these are attractive qualities I admire in myself, but it is a personality trait I am constantly battling to overcome.) I am continually taking stock and reminding myself that most of the known universe dreams of "taking a year off to learn French." Reason vs Wonder again!

So, now on my second institution, I am also on my fourth school venue. Some of the buildings have been beautiful—evocative and even anachronistic. Others have been coldly utilitarian. We've seen chalk dust and felt erasers, wall-mounted pencil sharpeners, wall charts and maps, linoleum, and even PCs running Windows XP.

It really feels like I am back at school.