Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

“The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot..,’

I was listening to Macklemore when I first set foot in Quebec City. It was 6 am, and I had “slept” on an overnight train–the music wasn’t for entertainment, it was a much-needed pep talk.

“I will not be a statistic, just let me be…”

The streets were empty, steep, and (of course) uphill the whole way. I trudged forward with the song on repeat, clinging to the words. I’ve listened to this anthem countless times. It has been good to me. I’m lazy and insecure and my creativity needs constant motivation, so songs that kick my ass are more than welcome. Plus, Macklemore is just fantastic. Plus, I like the themes: Hard work. Potential. Passion. People.

This time, though, my brain didn’t connect the message to creative endevours. It didn’t motivate me to learn a new chord, or write a semi-meaningful poem. I had one thing on my mind: le français.

I was in Quebec. I have been studying French for…a long time, at any rate. The last 5 years I have put crazy effort into it. I take a third of my University classes in French. I do customer service-lite in my second language. I claim bilingualism on my resume (then explain it away at interviews).

This was the test. Would I be able to speak French in this province, or would they snarl at my messy accent? Would I shrivel into a poor, defenseless anglophone? It wasn’t impossible. This was Quebec. I was one mispronunciation away from an eye roll and the ever-deameaning “Eez h’okay, vee can speak anglais.”

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands, ten thousand hands, they carry me.

Ten thousand hours, the song repeated to my tired brain. If you’ve practiced for ten thousand hours, you should be an expert. That’s how it works, right?

I must have spent ten thousand hours speaking French by now. In that moment, I decided I needed to find out.

I sat down on a bench and pulled the phone from my sweater pocket–20% battery, draining with every stroke. I pressed my thumb to the calculator icon and began to tally up the time I’ve spent studying French.

One hour a week from Grade 1 to Grade 6, is 1 x 42 x 6, is…only 242? Maybe it was two hours a week. 484. Okay.

Around 500 hours of class in high school. About the same in University. What about those 3 months in France? Can I put that down for 2,000 hours?

All my totals were a stretch. I added up the liberal estimates, pushing the “equal” button firmly. The number on the screen mocked me. I scrunched up my face. 3500 hours. Not ten thousand.

Not even close.

I mentally scanned through my short life, realizing that “eating,” “sleeping,” and “talking” were the only things I have practiced for ten thousand hours (which, my calculator informed me, is an enormous 416.67 days, or 1.14 years).

Great. I’m not even very good at those.

I’m no Outlier, and I’m certainly no language scholar.

My feet were heavy as I moved further uphill. This was just another chapter in my weird relationship with bilingualism. Terms like “studying French” or “learning a new language” always sound so simple–they don’t properly embody the embarrassment, frustration and word-wrestling I’ve been doing these last few years. It’s a rewarding process, but it always plays games with my confidence.

Or, at least, I always play games with my confidence. This time, I used a calculator and arbitrary standards in a rap song. Ten thousand hours? I thought bitterly. How is that possible?

time

By the time I reached the Quebec hostel, I had successfully chewed away most of my second language confidence. The words “Parlez-vous anglais?” practically fell out of my mouth. The lady at the front desk smiled back at me. “Yes, of course,” she responded, helping me check-in and stowing my bag. I told her thank you–didn’t even attempt a merci– and headed out the door.

I immediately felt bad about it. One of my personal rules is “love > fear.” It’s a cutesy and unspecific rule with about a million flaws, but I use it all the same. I use it because, in some moments, it’s a solid reminder. It was certainly a solid reminder as I stepped down the sunny Quebec City streets in search of breakfast. My fear of francophone judgement was overriding the hours (albeit not 10,000) that I’ve put into learning their beautiful language.

So I ordered my breakfast in French. They served me right back in French.

I asked for directions in French.

I went back to the hostel, and spoke to some francophone roommates. They asked if I could switch rooms so their friend, in another room, could bunk with them. I agreed. We sorted out those details in French, too.

I even met a friend from Ireland who couldn’t eat gluten, and inquired about the menu for him at a couple restaurants.

Not bad for 3,500 hours.

And so, as I get ready for my government bilingualism test and my fourth year courses en francais next year, I’m feeling just a little bit more confident. Just a bit. But for me, that bit is a really big deal.

So thank you, thank you Quebec. Thank you for not laughing at my accent, or switching to English when I mixed up my pronouns. Thank you for understanding when my imparfait was particularly imperfect. Most of all, thank you for serving me in French–and for smiling at the fact that I’m trying to speak your language.

Thank you for a great 3 days, Quebec. You’re really not as scary as everyone seems to think.

c'est si bon

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Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Feminists Women People have a lot to be pissed off about today.

Like the Steubenville rape.

Like yet another church abuse cover-up coming to light. (Thaaanks, Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Ugh. Luke 8:17, anyone?)

Like the fact that just talking about rape brings up awful, confusing, violating memories for about a third of the women I know.  The fact that “trigger warning” is no formality.  The fact that, whether you’ve been told or not, You know a rape victim. You probably know a whole bunch of them.

Unsettling, right?

Yes, there are things to be pissed off about. Raging, raging mad.  And while some people are getting mad for the first time, feminists and rape survivors have been getting mad for years.

This marks a critical moment for feminism.  People are with them on this one.  People are listening to what they have to say about rape culture.  We can’t hide from it anymore.  Even to some of the larger skeptics, feminist ideas and stats and language don’t seem so crazy anymore.

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.

But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about.

I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.

“Rape culture” is a powerful term.  No one wants to be an active participant in such a culture (even if many of us are). In fact, to the untrained ear, the words “you are a part of a rape culture” can sound suspiciously like “you are predisposed, as a member of this society, to rape and/or be okay with rape. Especially if you’re a dude.”

Anyone who sees themselves as not okay with rape might just leave at that point.

I know that’s not the kind of unproductive thinking that feminists are trying to promote.  But I also know that it’s the message a lot of people are hearing, and naturally, what they are rejecting. And when they reject that, they reject a lot of other things. Really, really, important things.

Sometimes, fingers need to be pointed.  I get that. I agree with that.  But when the finger-pointing feels scattered, confusing , or overwhelming, the people on the other side sometimes respond with a resounding “Ungh, what did we do wrong this time?” followed by “I’m gonna go hang out over here with the people who don’t condemn my gender and my world and my jokes and my favourite tv show, thankyouverymuch.”

We are getting away from the main message entirely, aren’t we?  The constructive message of trying to create a safe and equal environment for women. The effort to address the prevalence of rape and gender violence in our world. Feminists are trying to empower and protect future generations of women.  Everyone should want to get on board with that.

This is a reasonable message. There are solid stories and data, being broadcast to mostly reasonable, if sometimes ignorant, people.  So where’s the disconnect?

Most reasonable people want a couple things when presented with a new and somewhat radical worldview (yes, feminism, that’s you!):

1)        They want to feel empowered to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

2)        They want to be able to ask questions in English—yep, good ol’ patriarchal English. And they want to get an answer that does something, anything, other than just attack their question.

3)        They want the freedom to play the devil’s advocate. Because that’s what people do when exploring a new idea.

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness.

And if you disagree with that, then you have probably never spoken to my father.

My father is honest, loving, stubborn and somewhat sheltered (I mean this in no negative way, dad, je t’aime).  He’s sheltered in the way many of us are–or would be, if it weren’t for the internet or certain parts of our education. Sheltered in a way that ends with questions and comments which are sometimes well-meant but poorly phrased.  I remember one such comment.  It was a genuine idea, a devil’s advocate stance, but it included the words “asking for it.”

“Dad, ugh. When you question feminism, you can’t do it in English. You have to do it in feminist.”

“But I don’t speak feminist…”

“Then you should learn. Or you shouldn’t talk about these issues…unless you want to be eaten alive.”

But that’s not fair, he says. Screw feminism, then. “What did we men do this time?”; “I can’t say anything right!”.

Should he be saying things like “asking for it”? Absolutely not.  And he doesn’t think I or any other woman would ever be “asking for it.”  During that particular conversation, he wanted to talk about safety, and understand consent, and help prevent rape.  He just couldn’t think of any other language to discuss complexities he saw. And when the word “Feminist” came into the conversation, he got really uptight.  His mind jumped to the most radical version of that ideology.  He got defensive.

When it comes to his actions and ideas and values, my dad is a feminist if I ever met one. Yet there I was, watching him walk away into the comforting arms of “can’t deal with these ‘feminists’ right now.”

You know what? Sometimes, I find myself walking into those arms, too. I just can’t be outraged about everything that feminism wants me to be outraged about. I can’t.

But I know for sure that I can be outraged about Steubenville, and everything that surrounds it. I know for a fact (just called home to confirm!) that my father is outraged, too. He wants to address this. A lot of us do.

Feminism is going to play a major role in the ensuing conversation, a conversation that a lot of  people are on board with.  And that’s good.  Especially if we go about the conversation the right way–if we lead with stories, ideas, examples, courage, and real talk.  After all, whether you identify as a feminist or not, there’s a problem here.

Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.

– – –

I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
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