I live in Quebec but have abysmal French comprehension. One of the benefits of this is my ability to tune people out. Paired with my natural self-absorption, it’s a guaranteed way to live in a perfect isolation bubble. French conversations can be happening all around me, morning DJs can be braying on the radio, and I can still focus on my work or my book or my campaign to stop Adam Sandler before he films again.
Sometimes, though, I like to play a game where I imagine what the people around me are saying. In truth, this is how I conduct most of my conversations in French, which makes for some occasionally distressing visits to the doctor. Eavesdropping, on the other hand, allows me broader flights of fancy.
For example, I recently spent the morning in a garage to have my winter tires put on and my rear shocks inspected. I settled in the waiting room as people came and went. Most kept quietly to themselves, reading magazines or tapping on their personal distraction devices. But one young man pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to have a conversation that I imagined went like this:
“Hi. I’m at the garage… Of course I’m wearing pants!… I’m calling you on a cell phone and talking loudly… No, it’s not so important that it can’t wait but there’s only this guy here, and I’m pretending he isn’t… I’m still loud, listen how loudly I’m talking…The chairs are very slouchable here, which is good because I like slouching. Do you like slouching?… My beard is so-o-o-o-o full and luxurious!… I know!… I know!… I know!… No, no, only monkey pee can do that… Do you know, I’ve completely forgotten about Quebec’s so-called Secular Charter. It was all we could talk about for a while but now no one seems to care, like we’ve moved on. Oh, Quebec!… Talking loudly in public is fun… I’m planning to tailgate someone later when my car is fixed… The guy with me needs a haircut, and his beard is far less luxurious than mine… OK… OK… OK… Bye.”
It was the guy from the service desk.
“Oui?” I said.
“We’ve checked to see why the air bag light keeps coming on and we’re going to rip up the passenger seat where the child sits with the weight of her school bag. Is that okay?”
“You fix the light?”
“It might be. We’ll run a diagnostic and fire the mechanic.”
Later, another service rep came in to talk to one of the waiting women.
“Madame? It’s hammer time. But one question: do you think anglophones are more paranoid than francophones?”
“Oh, definitely more paranoid. But with reason, am I right?”
“Can’t touch this.”
And then they laughed.
It wasn’t long before my own service guy came back holding a small C-shaped piece of metal.
“This is a part of your car,” he said. “It’s broken because you are a negligent car owner. Come with me and I’ll show you where we make mistakes.”
I followed him into the service area where a mechanic had my vehicle up on a lift.
“Here is your car in the air,” said the service guy. “That’s called magic. Here is another broken part that will make your car stay in the air unless we use pythons. Look how broken you made it. We can take this piece and jam it into that piece because metal is the stuff of gods. We can put your tires back on if you like or you can ride home with no bouncy-bouncy, up to you.”
The mechanic said, “You have one of the handsomest beards I’ve ever seen.”
“You fix today?” I asked.
“First I have to go into the room and laugh about you, and then I’ll write up a bill for $613 because I know you are going to pay. Okay with you?”
“Oui,” I said.
And that’s why Quebec anglophones are more likely to be poor than francophones. So stay in school, kids. Learn French. Don’t do drugs.
This post originally appeared on www.lifeinquebec.com