I was a French teacher for the federal government for four years. Once day, as I was having lunch in on the Statistic Canada campus, I was approached by two guys. They introduced themselves and explained there were “working here” and took an interest in the papers I was grading.
Browsing: Working in Canada (and elsewhere…)
When I first came to Canada, I had been warned: there are much less holidays on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, and no public strike will change labor laws. Looking back, I can say the system is different but not in a bad way.
I have my own office. An office with a door, a desk, a computer, a phone, a whiteboard and drawers. I also have a very cool magnetic pass to get around, one with my picture on it. I have a favorite lunch place and I hate Monday mornings. I got a new job, in the office. I feel like a lucky girl.
When I showed up at work to pick up my last pay check, after coming back from South America, most of my co-workers stared at me, slightly bewildered: “You look… different”.
I swear that’s the last time I fill in for the receptionist. I’m a bloody French teacher. NOT a receptionist. And if the woman can’t even remember if she’s supposed to be in a group or a private class I really don’t think she will do that great as a student. And.. and I hate the phone.
The volunteer took a step back as he spoke, as if my Europeanism could jump on him. I decide to not mention that I spent quite a lot of time in malaria infected areas in Latin America, and got my yellow fever shot last minute in Panama’s remote countryside in a local health center.
But she surprised me. Instead of mentioning my laziness (because she clearly remember that when she visited Paris, French were less efficient than Japanese, therefore they were lazy – some kind of genetic problem that I must have had inherited because I was very French indeed – are you following me ?) , she blamed my English.
I wish John would shut up. But you see, John is so enthusiastic about his French training that he has to mumble vocabulary on his way to class. For now, I’m trying to open the bloody classroom door. Stuck, as usual. Or… do I have the right set of keys ?
We took a sit on the bikes and watched. The second plane had crashed into the 2nd tower by then and it looked like anything but an accident. Our English was somewhat limited but we grasped most of the news. Not that it was hard to understand : voices and faces said it all. People just didn’t understand what was going on – neither did we.
Summer usually brings the worse students, along with those to busy to take classes the rest of the year and whose only chance is to come to school when the Parliament isn’t in session. I don’t mind those ones. They’re usually focused on their studies because they’re desperate to pass their French test, which will entitle them to a promotion or a pay rise. But the weirdos…
Standing in front of a busy LCBO meant attracting all kind of weirdos. I was known as the “flower girl” and people would stop by and talk to me about their life, their kids, their problems. Without buying flowers, of course. People would first speak to me in all kind of foreign languages : Russian, Lebanese, Italian, Spanish, Greek… I guess I did look like an immigrant !
Oh crap. It’s 8:50 and my brain is still sleeping. I ought to wake up.
I extricate myself from the car, a task harder than usual considering I’m holding a can of Diet Coke and my handbag, slung across my shoulder, is bursting with colored folders, papers, photocopies and pens.
I step on the sidewalk and slam the car’s passenger door. I stand there and root around my handbag and pull out a lighter. Woohoo, first victory of the day, not a small one considering the mess in my bag.
How many interviews have I been to ? I’d say about thirty in Canada so far, ¾ of them in my first year in Ottawa. I was desperate for a job but the odds seemed to be against me. At 20 years old, my resume was pretty short. I had no previous work experience in Canada. I had no references but abroad. My English wasn’t that great and I wasn’t a Permanent Resident yet.
This summer 2001 is hot and humid. The typhoon season is in full swing and some days, I can’t even leave the 32nd floor of the building where I live. The whole island is regularly swept by strong winds and pouring rain. I live in Hum Hong, about twenty minutes from my office in Tsim Shat Shui. When the rain isn’t too strong, I still make my way to the office, knowing that my co-worker will otherwise make fun of me.
However, I soon discovered that workplaces bore some resemblance with the world I was used to. Contrary to my naive opinion, people don’t automatically become smarter and well-behaved nor that they turn into hard-working knowledgeable professionals once they get a job. Quite the opposite actually. I also discovered that every job had its dirty little secrets that only insiders know. And sometimes, I was one of them.
I’ve never been a morning person. Even though my high school days memories are slowly starting to fade, I still remember my last year. We had to attend classes Monday through Saturday starting at 8:00 am, and everyday was a struggle to get up.
My students are office workers. I’m not – and their field of work and the arcane of the ubiquitous bureaucracy can be bewildering for a rookie like me. Like when I was filing up for another teacher last week for a Canada Revenue Agency class. So I came into the class, introduced myself and asked the students to do the same, one by one.
I’m a young office worker. The world is mine. As soon as I’ll finish my cigarette, I’ll go deal with the commissioner, a weekly task to which I excel. That’s life when you go teach at the government.
– Hi/ bonjour, what’s your name ?
Great. A spelling bee contest at 8:55. I must say that I love my name, but really, does it have to have 4 “i” and several consonants people never know in which order to arrange ?
Office workers have always fascinated me. I used to see them in public transportation, early in the morning : guys drinking their daily shot of black java in some kind of fancy spill proof cup; women awkwardly applying another layer of make-up on their face. They looked busy. They looked like they had a goal and shared a common culture of which other were excluded.
Qui est quoi ? Le Québec est officiellement francophone, le Nouveau-Brunswick est la seule province officiellement bilingue, et le reste est anglophone, avec des poches francophones un peu partout (Manitoba, Ontario…). Le tout forme un pays qui se bat sur quelle langue utiliser, quelle langue privilégier, quelle langue a combien de pourcentage de locuteur. Et surtout, pas-dessus, un long contentieux entre anglophones et francophones.