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Today was the first day of classes for me at a new school

I’ve been dreading a lot of things — the 1.5 hour commute, the stress, etc. To say nothing of the fact that the rising cost of education in Canada is a downer. The length of time I’ve been spending in school is getting to be a downer.

Today my alarm went off at 6, I was out the door at 7, and got off the bus at school at about 8:20, for an 8:30 class.

I was stressed about the commute taking longer than I thought it would, the packed buses, finding/getting to 8:30 my class.

When I sat down and class started, I couldn’t help but feel irritated at all the students coming in late, disrupting the class, and showing the prof/the class disrespect.

After my first class, already exhausted and hungry, I sat outside in the grass, under the trees, taking respite from the overcrowded halls and the absurd lineups for everything. I tried not to think about undergrads asking silly questions, or the weird buildings with illogical layouts and room names that make navigation difficult.

After eating and reading a bit, I just sat there, staring off into space, enjoying the fresh air and sun that will soon leave us.

And then this song came on my iPod:

I remembered that under a different set of circumstances, I would not be sitting lazily in the middle of a university quad with my open-but-not-read textbook in my lap and my bag and jacket strewn about around me while I waited for my next class. In a different set of circumstances, I would not have access to education:

It’s strange. I’m not naive. I grew up with the stories of persecution in Iran. I’m no stranger to what’s going on. But today a reminder of it, bringing along a side of perspective, hit me at exactly the right time.

I could write about a lot of things. I could talk about my last few weeks in Corsica. I could talk about my few days in Nice, which included me dragging all my belongings across the city (it was traumatizing. I don’t want to talk about it). And there was the overnight stay in Marseille before flying out. Of course it involved a strike. Because it was France.

But right now, I need to talk about Toronto. I’ve now been back here for just over three weeks. A lot has happened in that three weeks. Many resumes sent out. 3 interviews. Many friends I reconnected with. I started helping out with a children’s class. I started rollerblading again, 7-10 km each time for the moment, but I’m sure that will increase.

Somewhere in that three weeks I know I emailed my friend R telling her I how I’d come home one night, saw the Toronto skyline from my room and realised how much I love living here.

That was short lived.

This city quickly took it all out of me again. There’s too many people, too close together, too angry, too mean.

Have you ever taken the TTC at rush hour? I have to take the TTC at rush hour at least once a week to get to the aforementioned children’s class and it’s more than enough.

It’s packed. The TTC doesn’t have enough money for all the trains it needs because it’s paid for by the tax dollars of those living in Toronto but is used by all the people living in surrounding suburbs commuting into the city every day. So it’s so packed, you’re lucky if you can even get onto the train. Often you have to wait til a few trains go by before you can get on one. And when you get on, you just want to get off.

You want to get off because there you are, packed in with a closeness you usually reserve for family members and gynaecologists, smelling people’s armpits… In complete silence. If I’m going to smell your armpit, can I also at least know your first name? Or perhaps, how you are today? Even just a hello would suffice at this point. Or a nod of acknowledgement. But no, we all avoid eye contact while we wait until our suffering is put to an end. And because everyone is so unhappy to be commuting, they’re all grumpy. And mean.

There are many things I’m now remembering I absolutely can not stand about this city. I’m not going to go into them all. I don’t need to, because the TTC just seems to epitomize it.

What a miserable existence.

Now that I’m coming back to Toronto, at least for a little while, I have been thinking about re-acclimatising to the city.

I really needed to come to Corsica — to slow the heck down a bit. This is the perfect place to do it. Nothing runs on time, the city shuts down for two hours midday, it’s hard to get anywhere quickly… It was like counterbalancing my life in Toronto.

So now that I’ve adapted to Corsica a bit, I think about going back and it seems strange to me that I will be in such a crowded, bustling city. What do you mean subway trains come every four to five minutes? What do you mean, lunch in Toronto isn’t two hours long for everybody? The siesta is sacred!

I was talking to someone about this. I told them, you know, I think Toronto could really benefit from the siesta. Shut everything down for two hours. Make people stop, have a nice lunch, chat with friends, maybe have a short nap. What else would you do if the whole city is shut down? Toronto would learn to slow down a little. Can you imagine how much more pleasant everybody would be? Families would see each other more. People would be more cordial to each other.

To which they replied — do you really think that would happen? Or do you think maybe everybody would just freak out?

Like this guy:

(He was freaking out because the Eaton Centre, a large mall in Toronto, had been unexpectedly been shut down during large scale protests that were going on last summer during the G20).

I guess Toronto isn’t quite ready for my radical idea.

Tidbits from my time in Corsica:

“A wild boar just ran by my window!” “Did you kill it? I have been craving stew.”

Dinner

“The road is closed.” “Looks like somebody was assassinated. Guess you have to take a side road.”

“Were you home last night when there was the explosion at the hotel nearby?” “Oh yeah. It happens…..”

“Don’t you love how even in an Irish pub, on St. Patrick’s Day, they sing in Corsican?”

Forza Corsica!

“Why do you suppose there’s police tape?” “I don’t know. But the fact that these cars have gone right through it so they could park on the sidewalk must mean it’s not very important.”

“Why is the area by the port closed off? And surrounded by cops?” “They think there’s a bomb in one of the cars.” “So you’re all just… standing around watching? To see if it’s true?”

“Oh look! There’s a skating rink at the Christmas market!” “How did they get ice to freeze in this temperature?” “I’m pretty sure…. they’re skating on plastic.”

“The shelves are all half empty.” “Well, look at the sign right there.” “The port is blocked and so the shipment didn’t come in?! Again?! What is it this time?” “A strike.”***

***When it’s not because of a strike on the mainland (which it usually is), it’s because of inclement weather on the mainland.

All the scenarios above are things I’ve encountered while here (even if the wording isn’t exact).

As I start to think about having to go back to Canada (which I can’t even begin to tell you how much it upsets me), I think about trying to explain Corsica to my friends at home. And I can’t come up with the words.

You have all the scenarios above. And there’s the copious numbers of women wearing fur coats and carrying animal print bags. And there’s waiting over 40 minutes for a bus that’s supposed to come every 20 minutes before deciding that this is not worth your time. There’s the buses that come 10 minutes early, making you glad that you’ve learned that it sometimes pays to be obsessively early.

Most useless buses EVER

There’s the nationalist graffiti.

"Get out France!" it says on the top. The signs are in both French (on the top) and Coriscan (on the bottom), but the French has been blacked out.

There’s the two car train (smaller than a Toronto subway!) that goes across the whole island.

The other day some friends and I went to Corte. We went to the (fairly small) museum. Admission to the museum also entitled you to admission to the citadel. While walking through the citadel, the American in the group pointed out to me that there was absolutely nothing explaining what different things and parts were. We were expected to just walk through it and just get it. Or just not care enough to wonder what it was we were looking at. The American commented that this just “epitomized Corsica”. So true.

We also saw the house in which two members of Napoleon’s family were born. Once again, nothing explaining anything. But what’s more, there were old tires, and old chairs, piled in different parts of the house. As if someone thought, “Oh, I don’t need these anymore. But there’s space in the Bonaparte house.”

Maybe somebody will need these tires

Pull up a seat!

I watched Enquete Corse — a really great movie that truly captures Corsica in a comical way — with the other Canadian I know here. We absolutely loved it. So much so we wanted to buy it. But we were discussing how if we show it to people back home, they wouldn’t get it. They wouldn’t be able to appreciate the humour the way we can. You have to live it to understand it.

In my time here, I’ve learned to just smile, shake my head, and say, “Oooooh, Corsica!”

I’m going to miss it like crazy. Here’s to your chestnuts, your wild boards, your beaches, your mountains and your…. personality.

Ooooh, Corsica….

Today I was teaching my CE2 (grade 3) students about clothing:

I have a black shirt. I have blue pants. I have black shoes.

It meant: They learned first person singular present of the verb “to have”, they reviewed their colours, they reviewed the fact that adjectives go before the noun in English. And of course, they learned the names for clothes.

Ok, so what was I wearing?

I have a white t-shirt. I have blue pants. I have grey shoes.

Of course now the kids were focused on my clothing.

Child 1: She has a t-shirt!

Child 2: She must be cold!

Child 3: No! Canadians are never cold! Because it is always cold in their country!

Well there you go folks. The Canadian Experience, as summarized by a French/Corsican eight year old. Two for one deal: The spreading of Canadian stereotypes along with my wonderful imperialist language, wrapped up in a nice package! I would call this a job well done.

My gift to you: Canadian stereotypes, and an imperialist language to go with it.

In somewhat unsurprising news — strikes all over the country today. Teachers’ strike in Corsica tomorrow. And a public transit strike in Ajaccio since last week. When is this country not on strike? I’m surprised they were ever able to have a revolution. Sorry, can’t revolt today. Somebody said or did something I didn’t like so I’m on strike from the revolution.

The other night I was at dinner at the home of some French Baha’is. They were serving soup, and I was telling them I only wanted one scoop at first. That’s when they taught me the word louche, which means ladle, or a ladleful:

Une Louche

Then today a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook, which I found hilarious:

One line, however, really caught my attention. At about the 0:20 mark, he says, “Quelque chose de louche est en train de se passer.”

Having just learned the word “louche”, I was a little confused. “Something ladle is going on”? That can’t be it.

So I went to the dictionary, and looked up “loush” and “loushe”, thinking maybe it’s a homophone spelt differently. Nope — no such words “loush” or “loushe”. So then I looked up “louche” and sure enough, it’s a homonym:

From Wordreference:

louche /luʃ/

  1. adjective (équivoque) [individu, passé] shady;
    [lieu] seedy;
    il y a quelque chose de ~ dans cette histoire there is something fishy (colloquial) about this business.
  1. feminine noun (ustensile) ladle;
    (contenu) ladleful.

Along with being a noun, meaning “ladle” it also is an adjective meaning “shady” or “seedy”. Well there we go. There’s nothing ladleful going on in the song.

Of course then I started thinking about how much this must happen to learners of English.

For example, while hanging out with my friends (one Canadian, one American, and four Italians) last night, we were playing Bananagrams, which is like a version of Scrabble but everyone has their own scrabble board. Anyway, everyone was doing it in different languages, and the American had put on his board pine, as in “to pine”. Now, most of the Italians there speak some English, but didn’t know this verb. So we explained it in French.

Of course now I’m thinking — will they ever hear the term for this:

A "pine tree" does not "pine" for anybody

and experience similar confusion as I just did?

Also, do non-native speakers of English ever hear things like “There’s something fishy going on”, and wonder how a trout or salmon got into the conversation?

There's something trout-y going on here.

Dear France,

I came here as an English teacher. I am here for seven months to improve my French and to sustain myself while here, I am teaching your youngins a bit of my native language, so hopefully one day, they will speak better than you. Because quite frankly, most of you don’t speak English very well. That’s not to say Anglophone Canadians speak your language well. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So speak to me in French. I know my French needs improvement, but that’s why I’m here. So I’m not like the majority of English-speaking Canadians who sound atrocious when they try to speak “French”.

There are some of you who do indeed speak English well. And usually that’s because you’ve spent some time living in English or North America, and bravo. For those of you who haven’t had the experience of living in a place where they speak a different language, let me let you in on something:

Asentenceassimpleasthiscansoundcompletelygarbledtosomeonewhodoesn’tspeak

thelanguageastheirfirstifsaidtooquickly.

Alsoitcanbenexttoimpossibletoparse,evenifthepersonknowsallthewordsandstructures

withinifnotarticulatedproperly.

So if at first I don’t understand you when you say something, just speak a little slower. If that doesn’t work, try using different words.

Also, keep in mind that for non-native speakers, it can often take a little longer to process what is being said, so a lack of immediate response doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t understand.

Unless you speak English well, don’t try to translate. Chances are, you’re just making the situation more confusing. Because in many of these situations, you can’t actually string together proper sentences in English. You are just spewing out the nouns from the sentence that you know in English. And 99% of the time, those are the words in the sentence I already understood in French.

Honestly, if you think a person has only understood bits and pieces of what you said in French, do you think it’s helpful to just (incorrectly) translate bits and pieces into their native language? Think about that for a moment.

I don’t have trouble with my nouns. Usually, I understand all the nouns you just uttered in that stream of consciousness. Usually, I don’t understand one of the structures you used, or I don’t understand how what I think you just said fits into the context of what’s happening, or why you’re saying it, or simply, I’m just not 100% sure that’s what you said.

So unless you speak English well, just say it a little slower and clearer and we can go on our way.

Because quite honestly, if you don’t know the difference between “Where do you go?” [sic] and “Where are you from?”, you shouldn’t be “translating” for me.

If you don’t know that “bus” doesn’t translate to “car” in English – that “bus” is just “bus” in English, and “voiture” is “car”, you shouldn’t be “translating” for me.

I should point out that the people who do speak English are the ones that don’t try to translate – because as I mentioned, they have lived abroad themselves and they know what it’s like.

In short: Unless you want to speak to me in English because you want to practice your English, just speak French and we’ll get along just fine.

And please don’t take this all the wrong way— cause y’all are fantastic. Your country is as fantastic as y’all seem to think it is. I never want to leave.

❤ Me.