Thursday, October 21, 2004

"Le Conducteur qui ne peut pas conduire!"

The title of this post is a reference to the time I first saw the full banality of the french sense of humour. My old bedroom in Berkeley was on the second floor in the back. Our next door neighbors had an apartment building in their backyard. There was a french woman who lived there and one weekend she had her whole family visiting. They came out of the apartment building and the youngest boy, who was maybe 13 or 14 got into the driver's seat of the car. The family patriarch said, "Regardez! Le conducteur qui ne peut pas conduire!" [Look! The driver who doesn't know how to drive!] And the whole family just started busting up. My sister and I were upstairs and saw and heard the whole thing. I mean they really thought that was hilarious. They couldn't get into the car for like 2 minutes they were all laughing so hard.

Anyways, this post isn't about french humour, but about drivers in Montréal. They are insane! It's funny, because today in class the teacher asked us how we found the people of Québec. She's from Haiti originally, and said how she found them so nice. Almost everybody had a story about how nice and hospitable the people here were. And then one guy told a story about how he volunteered to man a blockade during Le Tour de L'ile (a bike ride all around the city they have each summer) and two different drivers tried to drive right through it and another got out and yelled at him while even another tried to move the barricade. Then the teacher said "Sauf quand ils sont en voiture!" [Except when they are in a car]. And then everybody had stories about how nasty and aggressive people were when they were driving.

And it's true. I ride my bike alot, and I'm fairly aggressive myself (actually on a mission to destroy all cars). I had my share of encounters in New York, but New Yorkers are downright mellow compared to the montrealaise. I can't tell you how many enraged birds I've gotten from housewives in SUVs. Yesterday somebody spit at me and hit my back fender because I was too far out into the road. And when you're driving it's pretty competitive. They all think they are in the Grand Prix. People just run red lights. Quite regularily. My friend had her brother and wife come in from Calgary. They were an hour late because nobody would let them off the exit ramp! It's really dangerous to be a pedestrian here. I had a guy make a left turn into me on Mt. Royal when I was crossing on a walk sign. He actually came so close that I had to hit his hood with both my hands and bounce back. I was getting ready to whip open his door and slam his head into it when he raised both hands and pointed to his head with a look of "I'm so crazed I didn't even see you." I really look both ways when I cross the street. On the positive side, when you get in a cab, they race. That can be quite fun. Not like those neutered labradors they call taxis in New York.

So as an amendment to my last post on the gentle nature of the Québecois people, please note that they are the opposite behind the wheel of their car. I have no explanation for this except that maybe it has something to do with France. I should note, however, that this aggressive behaviour seems to cross language barriers; the anglos are just as bad.

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