Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The anglophone whirlpool

It's been a while since I've posted and there are many reasons for it (got a job, family obligations, etc.) but one underlying strand that I realized is that I've slowly been drawn into the anglophone world here in Montreal. Once out of the french language program for immigrants, I started to drift towards things that were familiar and easy and in english. My social life has been growing here and I've made connections with other people through playing basketball, my work and my girlfriend's job. All those people are english-speakers.

Montreal is truly a bi-lingual city and though there is a gradient and a wide middle which uses both french and english regularily, there are also totally separated parts, which are only french or only english. For me to stay in the only french side requires a real effort on my part and that's a tough effort to make when I'm trying to find work and make my way in a new city. It's one of those situations where having the the freedom to choose is actually worse for someone like me. If this city was totally french, I'm sure my french would be way better by now. I might be exhausted and a bit lonely and culturally disconnected at times, but I'd be out there. Here, because I can find work in english and play basketball in english and drink beers with other english speakers where we all share the same jokes and cultural references, it requires significant will to push oneself away from that towards the foreign.

I have two regular recreational activities that keep me connected to the french. My kung fu school is francophone and I go there 4 times a week. I'm an expert at saying things like "coup de coude en arrière" (rear elbow strike) and "prise de tête" (headlock) and I usually hang around after class just talking, so that keeps my french warmed up. I also play in a regular roleplaying group every other week and that is 5-6 hours of non stop listening and talking in french, with all kinds of vocab. Both these activities are fun in and of themselves, making the french practice really easy. Also, the other francophones there are mostly bilingual (not so much in the kung fu class) and immediately helpful with vocab and grammar.

Otherwise, it's basically shopping and comments on the street where my french gets used. I still don't really have friends where I can just hang out in french. My next door neighbours were bilingual, but they left and now they are all anglophones. My girlfriend, who is incredible in all other respects, is from Vancouver and her french is at the high school level. My job, which is part time, is also mostly english.

We did just finish a trip to the Gaspé peninsula (which will be an upcoming post) and my french got a serious work out there. We stayed at a lot of b&b's and hostels where I got to sit at the breakfast and sometimes dinner table and speak tons of french. That was great.

I give you all this background as a context for my current situation and the status of my experiment, which is behind schedule but slowly moving ahead. I had hoped to be more immersed in the francophone world at this point.

But I was given a serious push at the beginning of the week because I got a call from one of the places where I'd dropped off my CV. Now, getting a call back from a company where I've left my resume is a miracle in and of itself (that's something like 1 out of 95, but don't get me started). It's a francophone organization and they wanted me to come in for an interview the next day. Let me tell you, I was nervous! Job interviews are always going to make you nervous, but in a foreign language, that's a whole nother story. I was definitely stressing. I had fantasies of the interviewer just stopping the process about five minutes in and dismissing me because I was either not understanding a word or not making any sense.

We did a lot of job-related stuff at the french program I took, but it was a while ago. I wrote down a bunch of keywords and stock answers, looked up tons of vocab and grammar and practised. I also had my roleplaying game the night before, so that was great for warming up the ear. During the day, I listened to french radio (which I probably would have done anyway since the CBC is on strike).

The interview actually went quite well. I definitely stumbled and the woman interviewing me was very forgiving, often filling in sentences for me. I am a pretty good fit for the job, though it doesn't pay as much as I had hoped. At one point, she asked me what my goals were and I laid out my career and personal goals, (one of the phrases I'd memorized). She seemed satisfied by my answer, but then I remembered also to add that I wanted to improve my french. She basically said that my french didn't sound all that bad and she hadn't really considered it an issue in terms of my capabilities for the job (part of which would be as a teacher). Well, that was very good to hear. I don't know if she was just being nice, but it added a lot of confidence.

I don't know if I'll get the job, but despite the fear and a day of loose bowels, that interview was a great experience. Really forced me to turn back to the francophone job world and gave me a ton of confidence. After that, a job interview in english seems so easy! I've defnitely got a lot of work to do on my french and a lot more willpower needed to stop the slide into the anglophone whirlpool of comfort.


WeSailFurther said...

Magnifique! Good luck and keep posting, dude.

Chiman said...


Is the job market up there tough or are you having trouble because of the type of work you are looking for? Also, is there more much work there for anglophones?
Your blog is enjoyable to read. You should write a travel guide.


Anonymous said...

Formidable! Now you know what auditioning is like!