In Vancouver, everybody comes from somewhere else. I’ve always liked this aspect in a town, being multicultural. However, one of the things that confused me the most in Vancouver is the way people make you notice, on an awfully regular basis, your own accent. With 52% of the population speaking another mother tongue than English, I thought that nobody would care much about other people’s accents. Now you hear it, now you don’t. This not the case. When the question “You’ve got an accent, where are you from?” arises, I feel the same awkwardness a woman middle-aged woman would when asked her age. My brain translates the question as: “Your English is terrible, what country tried to teach it to you?” Then comes the compliment “Your English is so good,” which you can only compare to someone spitting out a piece of pie and flattering the cook afterwards.
Maybe I wouldn’t be so sensitive about it if the question wasn’t asked so often. A simple “hello” on my part can become a trigger. Invariably, in response, people list the places they’ve been in France: Cordes-sur-Ciel, Villemur-sur-Tarn, Saint Sulpice-La-Pointe. I’m kidding, it’s always Paris. Surprise! And Provence and Marseilles if they feel adventurous. I know all the holiday stays of my usual hot-dog vendor by heart, because he goes over them every time I see him. He never seems to remember that I’m the very same French girl as last time, though. At least he probably doesn’t notice how I stuff myself with his hot-dogs.
One day, in the elevator of my building, I said hello and I was asked, once again, where I came from. It was the second or third time that day (I’d already eaten a hot-dog earlier), and I was so tired of it that I replied, “Here.” The man frowned, confused, “But… you’ve got an accent.” I made eye contact, defying him to call me a liar. He tried a weak, “Québec?” I repeated, “No, here.” The metallic double doors opened and I fled, leaving him to his confusion. Given the expression on his face, it was as if I just told him Santa Claus didn’t exist. Existential crisis. It might not have been very nice of me but it felt good.
Of course, coming from somewhere else is something to celebrate. I know friends who jump at any occasion to talk about their origins, their countries, their town. I’m aware that most people just want to make small talk or wish I’d return the question. Or, maybe, in one percent of the cases, they ask because they really care. But it makes me feel as if I’m just passing through. It makes me feel as if I just arrived from the airport, en route to go buy a caribou plush only to immediately go back to Toulouse to eat cassoulet. In Vancouver, people come and people go, and it’s sometimes hard to put down roots. It’s even harder when you are reminded daily that you’re not from here. I’m Caucasian so I have no reason to complain except for the undeniable pleasure it gives me to do so.
I’m not ashamed to be French, but I’d love to have people talk to me about something else upon meeting me. I’d like them to ask me my favorite colour (gasoline blue), my go-to dessert (cheesecake) and how many cats I want when I get older (17).
The multicultural aspect of Vancouver is very attractive and one should take interest in others’ cultures without erasing it under a “Canadian” label. But, once, just once, I’d love to buy a hot-dog without being reminded I should be eating a cassoulet dish instead. Maybe because, deep down, I miss it terribly.