Life in a new country is never easy. Before coming to Canada, I really thought that I could live anywhere without making clumsy cultural mistakes. I was very wrong.
The first time I realized that I was not quite in tune with Canadian culture was when I went grocery shopping in a supermarket. Recently arrived from France, I rushed to the shelves and first decided to buy some bread. Being French, I certainly didn’t throw it contemptuously in my basket. No, bread is like the earth – it is to be respected. It should be chosen carefully.
So, I picked one up and I looked at it carefully. I checked to see if it was crusty. No, the first one wasn’t crusty enough. Also, I don’t like bread to be overcooked. So I took another one, and another, frantically checking them all until I was stopped by a reproving look. The security guard was staring at me, intrigued and surprised.
He obviously couldn’t decide between searching my bag and calling 911, so I stopped and studied him for a while. Then I went back to my search with renewed fervour because I don’t like to be interrupted in such circumstances.
However, I threw a furtive glance to see if straitjackets were being brought in. No, none. I felt that nothing was standing in my way, as the clearly startled security guard had left. I wouldn’t have paid that much attention to this minor incident if a second one hadn’t appeared. Now I was nervous. In fact, I almost landed in jail. Thank goodness we live in the 21st century, otherwise I think I would have endured quartering and hanging.
I was on Granville Street heading towards the platform to take the Skytrain, when suddenly, I heard the train coming. There it was, already stopped. I ran and managed to reach the platform even as I heard the warning signal that the doors were about to close. Instinctively, I blocked the doors and rashly entered the train. I acted on impulse. I didn’t even think about it.
In France everybody does it, and nobody is shocked by it anymore. I had barely recovered my wits, and then looking up, horror: I was faced with dozens of reproving stares, as if I had committed the most awful act of infamy. I told myself that it would pass. I decided to just stand there with a vacant look, because of course in these situations there is never a seat available.
Unfortunately, ‘it’ didn’t pass. All eyes were still on me. They seemed to shout: “Shoot her! Shoot her!” Amazed by the turn of events, I imagined a defence: “Your Honour, ladies and gentlemen from the jury, I ask you to kindly forgive my crime – for apparently this is the matter at hand – and in my defence, I want to present you with mitigating circumstances that I hope you will consider. You see, I come from a country far away, and more specifically from a wild place commonly known as ‘Ile-de-France’ by the natives. People there fight nearly to the death every day to get a seat on the RER B (suburban train). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I erred. The fault is grave, but I would like to assure you that it wasn’t done intentionally. Consequently, I cry for mercy and beg you not to quarter me.”
Eventually, red with shame and obviously short of arguments, I got off the Skytrain at the next station, like a fugitive trying to hide from the rest of the world.
Translation Natalie Tarkowska