Saturday, November 18, 2006

Shock de culture

Last week I was in Montreal (or more accurately Dorval) for work. I was a little nervous because the scope of the project was out of my comfort zone, not to mention that I had to conduct all business in French. However I fancy myself as having a little Quebecois in me (laid back and all that), so I figured a good attitude would get me through the week. It was with this mindframe that I sat, sweaty-palmed, as the opening meeting (attended by 10 French Canadians and me) was wrapping up. I had successfully navigated my way through a french introduction of myself (I even got a laugh out of everyone!) and was finally starting to relax a little.

We were discussing the logistics of our visit to the site, starting with a tour of the facility. At this point it should noted that this facility uses some nasty, smelly chemicals which we could potentially be exposed to during our tour. As we're just about finished, the Health & Safety rep practically yelled at me from across the room,

"Jessica, are you pregnant or think you might be? Even if you're just trying, there are certain areas you shouldn't visit."

Just like that. In front of everybody. I tried to maintain my composure, but I was so shocked! I checked my translation, was that actually what she said? Yes. Did she just ask me an incredibly personal and sensitive question in a room full of people I've never met before? Yes. Was everyone looking at me waiting for an answer? YES! I imediately thought of using humour as self-defense and saying something like "That would imply that I've actually had sex in the last 2 months, so no!" But luckily I quickly realized that a) I had no idea how to get that across in French and b) a comment like that might actually make everything more awkward. I managed to stammer a "non" and shake my violently to impress on them that I was definitely NOT preggers. Everyone seemed to accept this and moved on with the meeting. I was a little shaken, but I had a job to do, so I got over it.

Later that evening over dinner and drinks with my co-worker (who is 100% Quebecois) I casually brought up the situation to reassure myself that I wasn't in the wrong. I was going on and on about how awkward it was, how I couldn't believe she asked me that, etc. when I noticed a strange looked on his face. "You know", he said slowly. "It really wasn't a big deal. Nobody even noticed." I must not have looked convinced because he shrugged his shoulders and added "You don't have to be such an anglophone about it."


Allison said...

OMG! That was so funny!!!! Very cool that you were the sole rep. for your company and conducting the whole meeting in FRENCH! Felicitations! It made me laugh that you were acting like a "maudit anglo".

Stevie said...

That is so hilarious and awful at the same time. Although it's refreshing to see people not care about such a personal question! I think I must be an uptight anglo because I would have probably turned bright red!