Friday, April 22, 2005

The Negativity

Something I'm proud of myself about is that I seem to have mostly overcome the negativity that learning a new language seems to bring up in others. I think a lot of it is because we first started learning this stuff in high school when everything is "stupid" and "gay" and French, being illogical and frustrating, as well as seeming kind of fruity, falls hard into both categories.

I still have brief flashes of frustration, such as today when I said "beaucoup des erreurs" and was corrected mid-sentence by the teacher. Beaucoup is always, always followed only by de, never des and this mistake really seems to drive the teachers wild. It is a simple and consistent rule, except that it's buried in a bazillion other exceptions with de that I still can't figure out. For instance:

Le groupe des étudiants

Une group d'étudiants

Why? Who can say.

Once you've had a few honest french teachers who admit that the language makes no sense, it makes it easier for you to accept it and just get along with learning, memorizing and practicing so you can use the language, which is what you want to do. However, there is a certain group of people, even at this advanced stage of their learning who really can't seem to accept the way things are. And they have been really bugging me.

So I am going to indulge in a bit of negativity myself, just to get it off my chest. These are the arrivants to Canada who spend most of their time complaining about Canada and how poorly it compares to their original country. Please understand that this is a very small minority and most people are quietly grateful for their opportunity and just working hard to take advantage of it. Surprisingly, the ones who complain are almost consistently eastern European. It's bizarre. I've never been there, but from the way they talk, their part of the world is some kind of paradise.

It often seems that practically every other sentence out of their mouth is some kind of complaint. Here are some classics:

"There are no clothing stores for women in Montréal. There's really nobody stylish here. The woman don't know how to dress. In Romania, the women are much more stylish." (this from a woman in a denim pantsuit).

"I see the wiring coming out of the houses and I'm shocked. In Slovakia, they would never allow wiring like that. Don't they have inspectors here?"

"The architecture in Montreal is all the same. Everything looks very cheap and shoddy."

"The parents here are very different than in my country. They let their kids do anything. All the children here do drugs and drink all the time. Even in the schools."

"The day cares here are terrible. The other children are dirty and sick all the time. And they feed bad food to my children."

It goes on and on and in the case of parents, you can see a lot of it comes out of anxiety for their children who are growing up in a very different way than they did. But most of them seem to come from some kind of feeling of superiority. It's good to be proud of your upbringing, but have they no sense of cultural relativism? There are many responses to these kinds of statements, the obvious being "so why don't you go back?" Usually, the answer to that is reality and it's often quite sad, so I just stay quiet and nod, occassionaly tring to clear up misconceptions.

I used to go to high school with a guy from Austria who was always crowing about how clean and pastoral Austria was. We used to goad him by saying how the sheep in the fields were androids and the clouds were pollution until he got red in the face and had a spas out. Perhaps it's just a European thing, thinking that everything is better where you're from. I don't know, but it certainly is not a helpful mindset to have when you've emigrated to a new country.

Most of the people in my class are much more reasonable. The comparisons they make between their country of origin and Canada are just that, comparisons, and usually interesting. When they complain, it's usually the same things that Canadians complain about, like the government. And once you hear that, you know they've finally arrived and should consider themselves true citizens.


Jason L said...

I have never lived anywhere that is different to an 'extreme'. (Not that Europe is that different) But I do notice that once people here (in the US) find out thatI am Canadian they invariably want a value judgement - be it political or healthcare or something. I try to remain wide eyed and aware of the differences without being constantly critical.

There is, however, a real stereotype about the eastern Euros and their complaints. You remember the mother of out good friend JMD whose mother was from Czechoslovakia. When they first moved from Toronto all she could do was moan about how much better everything was back there.

You just gotta ignore that sh$t.

Buzby said...

Didn't you know that eastern Europe is secretly a hyper advanced world that they hide from the west because they don't think we can handle it.