The New Not Normal


I’m spending this month in a series of group counselling sessions for management people past forty who are “in career transition,” as the euphemism goes. In general, it’s been pretty helpful. I’m terrible at networking and cold calling so it’s helping me with that. They say 80% of jobs out there are not advertised so networking is how you get them.

But an interesting thing happened yesterday. We’re in the suburbs of Montreal and as a group, I’d say about 30% of us are immigrants. If I was in the city’s core, I imagine that percentage would be higher.

One participant made a comment, beginning with “When I came to this country…” and when he finished the moderator said (I’m paraphrasing because it was in French, mostly):

“OK, here’s a thing. On Friday, in the United States, they are going to inaugurate an IDIOT. Because of this, on both sides of the border, and I’ve lived in Boston and Montreal, there are bigots who think it’s now ok to discriminate against immigrants. You may want to focus on your experience and education and not your background. When you’re talking about your background to an employer, just say I have a PhD. Or, I worked for Coca-Cola. You don’t have to say my PhD is from Spain or I worked for Coke in Colombia. That can come later when they find out how really great you are.”

Now, this moderator was an older guy so maybe he was erring on the side of abundant caution but it surprised me that he suggested that. Last year, Canada welcomed 25,000 refugees and only the most conservative of our politicians suggest heavy restrictions on immigration. But perhaps he has good reasons for suggesting it. Canada is not immune to this kind of dog-whistle, anti-immigration rhetoric and some of our own politicians are taking a page out of Trump’s book.

It’s a frightening and sad thing to imagine something as banal as employment counselling can be poisoned by this new political atmosphere.


On the Language of Business

As a Quebec anglophone, I am what is known as bilingual*. I can read, write (with assistance), and understand what is being said in person or on TV or radio.

The * comes in when it comes to speaking. I am incredibly shy about speaking in French knowing that the French in my head sounds a lot better than what comes out of my mouth. So, afraid that I’ll make mistakes, I speak quickly and nervously and because I speak quickly and nervously, I make mistakes. If I slow down and think about what I need to say, I do better.

This makes job hunting in Montreal a bit of a challenge. Montreal has plenty of companies that operate officially in English. I worked 19 years for a company that did its business in English. But others are French only or bilingual. And that’s natural. This is, after all, Quebec. You know you can do the job you’re applying for but if you can’t communicate through the selection process, and knowing you’re up against people who speak four or five languages effortlessly, you’re going to be a disadvantage in a major way.

I have a phone interview in French on Wednesday. I can do things to prepare, like write down some anticipated responses in French (phone interviews are great that way – they’re like an open book test) but my spoken French really needs to improve. There are things I can do to help with that: MeetUp groups that specialize in French conversation, etc. But until I get it up to a better standard, I’m always going to find myself at a disadvantage.

It’s the reality of employment. You always need to upgrade your skills and learn new ones if you want to stay relevant.

Clearly, I have some room for improvement.

But at least I’m not Wayne Gretzky.

La Meute

Rather disturbing, if not entirely surprising, story at CBC today about the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant groups in Quebec.

The question of Quebec identity has come up in this province from time to time whenever new customs are introduced into the majority culture. It came up with Charter of Values two years ago and now it’s manifesting itself into this group called La Meute or, “the Wolfpack.

Aligning themselves more France’s Marine Le Pen of the Front National than Donald Trump, la Meute, according to the CBC, “hope to become a lobby group of sorts, dedicated to making Quebecers aware of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism.” Generally, I’ll assume your political movement is bad news if it has “Front” in the name.

Of course, they seem mostly based in rural Quebec where few immigrants actually live but anti-immigrant sentiment is often highest.

Over the past year, with the refugee crisis in Europe, as well as with the election of Donald Trump, it seems as though people, egged on by fake news designed to whip up hatred, are now emboldened to act out against those who are different.

We need to guard against complacency and smugness in Canada because we’re not so different from the rest of world.

In Which I Dream About Justin

Warning: This post contains the recounting of a dream, which is officially the boringest thing one can talk about.

Photo by Sean Kilpatrick of The Canadian Press
Photo by Sean Kilpatrick of The Canadian Press

Last night, I dreamed about a family reunion in which I was reunited with my long lost cousin Justin Trudeau. We had a good laugh about how long it’s been and he gave me a good natured ribbing about my support for the NDP and I, in turn, gave him a good natured ribbing about how, the last time we met, he had hair like one of the Musketeers.

People asked how we were related and, as it turns out, it was on both of our mothers’ side as one of my uncles married the sister of Margaret Sinclair.

We had such a good time at the family barbecue that I forgot that I gave bad directions to a friend who ended up parking her Yaris on Wolf Island (not Wolfe Island), a small circular land formation in the middle of the Bay of Funday which can only be accessed by land for one hour a day, thus stranding her there for the night.

I awoke in the middle of the night trying to figure out if I was in fact related to the leader of the Liberal Party. No, I only had one uncle on my mother’s side and he married a woman from New Brunswick who is no relation to Margaret Sinclar. Then I began to wonder if I was going around telling people that I was related to Justin Trudeau and a slight panic began to set in as I was sure I had and people would think I was a liar or a fantasist. It took a while for me to calm down long enough to remind myself that, no, I haven’t been making up stories about famous relatives before I would fall asleep again.

On a related note, I am attending a creative writing class at the local library tonight. I may be asked to leave.

On Memory and Identity and Lost Supermarket Chains

(image via nous sommes folklore)

The other day, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (no cavities, mother!). The dentist’s office is located in a mall that is celebrating its 60th anniversary. In the mall, there were signs detailing the history of the mall, showing when it opened in 1954, and the new dining sensation of barbecued chicken available at Miss Montreal diner. The supermarket attached was Steinberg’s, naturally, as the Steinberg family owned the mall and adjacent car dealership. All that exists of Steinberg’s these days is the Pik-Nik in the mall’s food court.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I remember Steinberg’s.”

Which was not true at all. I came to Quebec in 2003, eleven years after the chain declared bankruptcy and got sold off to the Provigo chain. I had vague memories of being aware that it was a chain in Quebec in the 80s just from watching Lance et Compte and Rock et Belles Oreilles on Radio-Canada.

But I don’t “remember” this place as though I’ve always lived here. Maybe after having a kid born in Lasalle, getting married, and buying a home here, I finally see myself as a Montrealer/West Islander/Quebecker. So much so that my memories start pretending I’ve always been here.

Later, while listening to the game on TSN 690, I thought to myself, “I miss Dino Sisto calling the games on CJAD.”

Or maybe when you start pining for days long gone by in your adopted home, that’s when you’re part of the place for good.

On the Pending Homeownership

One week from tomorrow, we’ll own a house. Well, our fruit-based financial provider will but you get the idea.

This morning, I dropped a fairly substantial amount of money in the form of a down payment, notary fees, and taxes at the notary’s office before heading to work. The next meeting is May 1st when we get the keys.

This morning, as I left the office, my nervousness over this milestone in our lives together turned to elation. As I often do during life’s milestones, I looked for a song to connect to this moment so that I would remember it forever.

I tuned into Mike-FM, and this is what I got.

Songza’s 80s Dance Party in Canada is my favourite playlist so I’m not exactly adverse to a little Luba in my life. It reminded me, however, of that scene in Jerry Maguire. I guess you can’t pick your life’s soundtrack all the time.

I turned up the radio and sang along.

On Irish Origins, Yarmouth Blue, and the Price of Beer

Two weeks ago, we were in New Brunswick to visit friends and family. As I often do, I went through old photographs of my family in generations past to see if I could find anything new. This time, I found my aunt’s birth certificate from the 1930s. She died in the 1950s, years before I was born.

On the certificate, it listed the “racial origin” of her father as “Scotch,” and “Irish,” for her mother, aka my grandparents. My grandmother had complicated and difficult childhood, due to her own mother burying three husbands and before dying relatively young herself. At one point she was placed in a Catholic orphanage when she could find nobody in her extended family to take her.

All of this was relatively new to me as the only thing I really knew about my grandparents is that their families rejected them when they were married due to the religious differences: She was Catholic, he was Anglican (for my own part, my parents were married Anglican and baptised us Anglican but raised us in the United Church). There was more to the story: their eldest child was born out of wedlock and that, I think, was a bigger scandal than the religious one in 1920-whatever.

This is all to say that I’m discovering stuff about my family’s past as I get older that I had no idea about. Not because it’s all coming to light or something, but because I just never asked,

Elsewhere on the trip, I managed to see some friends I hadn’t seen in a while which was nice because in my day to day life these days, I don’t have a friend locally who I can just call up and go do something with. Many of my high school friends ended up in Toronto but I do have a few in town I should make an effort to see more of.

Now that we’ve bought a house, the plan to move back to NB is on hold. But in eight years, I will have been at my job 25 years. Retiring in my fifties and moving to a cheap part of the country might be nice way to spend a retirement. Not sure my Montreal-born son would ever forgive us for moving him back to the boonies, though.

Speaking of housing, I’ve had a few friends and co-workers tell me the only paint to buy is Benjamin Moore or Behr. I’m keen to do the majority of the house in Yarmouth Blue, which I saw in a Martha Stewart magazine and felt it really spoke to my WASP sense of taste. But I’m pretty sure we can find a close approximation somewhere else. But would we just be painting the dark red and brown (I know!) walls six times over because we bought cheaper paint? I dunno. If money were no object, I’d just hand the L.L. Bean home catalogue to an interior designer and say, “Make it look like that!” But then, if money were no object, we wouldn’t be buying a 44 year old condo townhouse.

It’s weird that the minute I signed to buy a house, that whole section of the magazine stand opened itself up to me where it was a blind spot in my field of vision for years.

Suddenly I am at once interested at intimidated by the concept of home renos. But I imagine I can tackle anything on a weekend with enough beer, a how to guide on YouTube, and decent tunes on the iPod.

Which brings me to one of the biggest impediments to moving back to NB: The price of beer is easily twice what you’d pay in Quebec. This is a shame because NB has some great brewers like Picaroons, Pumphouse, and the new Hammond River Brewing. Now, to be honest, I don’t drink beer like I once did. I like a pint now and again but I rarely keep it in the fridge (but I do love me some scotch). I just think a truly visionary government would make this their top priority instead of, you know, jobs and shit.