Monday, August 05, 2013

Story Time: Pride Goeth Before the Fall

My computer keeps dropping the internet connection here which is really annoying. The only way I can seem to get it back is to reboot the router but I’ve done that three times in the last 24 hours and I don’t really want to do it again. Plus I’m the only one experiencing this. Argh! Anyway, I’m taking it as a notice that I shouldn’t be online and writing this blog post in Word instead. It’s good. I’ve been meaning to get this down anyway and I always get distracted when I’m online :P

People ask “what was something that surprised you about Europe”. The easiest and most profound answer was when we crossed from Belgium into France. I was riding shotgun in one of the vans and my friend Brendan was driving. It was a cold rainy day (like most of those first two weeks) and the six other people in the back seat were sleeping. In the area of Belgium we were in (around Ypres) Flemish is the dominate language, followed by French and then, on things like menus, English. Still, the moment we crossed into France and all the street signs changed from Flemish to French, I felt myself relax. It was a strange feeling. I didn’t even realize I was tense but all of a sudden I felt comfortable. Sure I still couldn’t read half the words but I whipped out my “Petit Bob” (which is what my prof in Chicoutimi dubbed my Le Robert & Collins mini French/English dictionary) and started looking up words. My favourite was when we were on the Auto Route and looked up “péage” which is “toll”. A few minutes later Brendan asks “why is traffic slowing down?” “Uh, dude? I’m going to assume there’s a toll booth coming up…” LOL

Our first stop in France was in the town of Péronne where we visited La Musée de la Première Guerre Mondiale. We were given a certain amount of time and told to go find lunch when we were done in the museum. They said “there are lots of wonderful restaurants here, go try them out” Okay good plan except, two things happened. One, everyone got through the museum faster than expected so the organizers of the trip shortened the time we had for lunch so we could get back on the road. Two, my friends and I had our first true exposure to the French way of eating. It is, let’s say “leisurely”. There is NO rushing the French, especially in a busy restaurant at lunch time. So we’re sitting there and it turns out I have the best French at the table. I’m doing my best to translate for everyone but even I couldn’t figure out “Coque St. Jacques” (scallops). Of course it didn’t help that I hadn’t brought my Petit Bob into the restaurant. Anyway, I did try and ask the waitress if our meals would be ready within 30 minutes and she assured me they would. And they were, it’s just that it only left us about three minutes to eat :( It was an incredibly stressful meal because of our time crunch even though the food was delicious. We were the last to get back to the vans, which made the organizers mad (even though it was their fault for changing the parameters on us) and to add insult to injury, I stepped on my skirt hem and pulled it half off while I was running through the rain from the restaurant to the van. Not my finest moment.

So, good? I like French and I was fascinated by my reaction when I was surrounded by it. Bad? My first chance to actually use it was a low spot during the trip.

Now to put this experience into perspective.

One of our next stops was at the Beaumont-Hamel Battlefield. This was the site of a short nasty battle that featured a battalion of soldiers recruited from small towns in Newfoundland, Canada. In the space of time that I stressed out and ate my lunch, over 700 people lost their lives. 700! I have that many Facebook friends! That’s like having every single person I know killed in under an hour. And for many of these communities, this is exactly what happened. One family lost four or five sons in this one battle. This was the first place that the numbers regarding the casualties of war actually made sense to me. Before that they were just numbers. At Beaumont-Hamel they became people.

Also, this is slightly unrelated but it’s from the journal that I wrote for that site.

The welcoming nature of the Parks Canada guides at Beaumont-Hamel was also nice. Their faces seemed to light up when we identified ourselves as Canadians. I made a point of discussing employment opportunities with one of the clerks. She was awesome with discussing the required qualifications and different types of positions with me. She even discussed housing and transportation arrangements that the government provides. If I can bring my French language skills to the required level, I would love to work at a site like Beamont-Hamel. Being able to share the story of fellow Canadians would be an honour and something I would take great pride in.

I’m serious about that. My grand plan with being in Europe this summer is to hopefully come back and work in the future. I’d love to live in France and work for Parks Canada. That’s my dream job. We’ll see if I can make it happen!

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