23 Aug 2013

Godfather

Given that this blog is set in Montréal, you could be excused for thinking that a post with such a title is about the mafia. But fear not, yours truly has not joined the mob, for that would be most inappropriate for a respectable chaperone to an eighteen year old girl.

Of course, she considers herself mademoiselle much more than fille, and has not tardied in exploiting her recently attained maturity for her first overseas trip sans the parents. And so it was that I shared my home with a teenager young woman for a month.

This young woman, you see, happens to be my goddaughter, and as such it was my privilege to see her grow up from the time she first sat on my lap as a little girl. Since then, she has obviously come a long way and, incidentally, travelled to more places than I, thanks to her intrepid parents. When I announced a few years ago that I was about to move overseas, and consequently would not see her as often any more, she didn't seem worried. Instead, she promised to come visit.

This summer, she did. I will admit to some initial trepidation at the prospect of having a teen stir up my daily routine, but as it turns out, a change of rhythm was exactly what I needed. The godfather's office was quickly transformed into a bedroom, and within days an entirely new way of life had set in. The daily sharing of meals and catch-up on the latest adventures in language school made for welcome social time, and on occasion I was compensated for moody mornings by a surprise cooked dinner awaiting me at night. The weekends were filled with excursions, including a road-trip to the ocean, planned in a nod to the family's irritating habit of driving around the world when one could fly...

Yes, there was suddenly more cleaning to be done (drains clogged with hair were not previously a problem), and yes, sometimes I felt more like a tour operator driving the bus from sights to outlet malls while the lady caught up on some sleep, but then again I admired her uncomplicated, uncomplaining attitude wherever we went. Clearly, the countless adventures her parents put her through have had their effect.

While it was not always obvious, over time I came to realize that behind that youngster attitude, there was actually real curiosity about this country and its inhabitants. Some traits, such as the fondness for Tim Hortons and Bixi, were rapidly assimilated. And the Roots store should have paid me commission.

When I accepted the request to become this young girl's godfather, I did so with a view on exposing her to a different lifestyle, complimentary to the one she was used to at home. Looking back at the past month, I feel satisfied in knowing that I was able to do just that. And going forward, there will be plenty of anecdotes and in-jokes we can share, not to mention good memories.

On Monday, my goddaughter returned to Switzerland. Her bedroom is my office again, and here I am typing these lines. Nobody giggles in the background. No one offers to run up to the corner to get a few Timbits. An eerie silence surrounds the godfather. I miss her already.

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4 Aug 2013

Nice

Stereotypes make for good conversation. So good, in fact, that my goddaughter, who is spending a few weeks in Montréal to brush up on her French, is discussing them at lenght in her language school classes. The appropriately cosmopolitan make-up of her class is certainly helping, although from what I hear the cornucopia of accents is not.

Unsurprisingly, the Swiss are perceived as rich, on time and precise, and the Americans as overweight and monolingual (fittingly, no Yankee is in the class to defend his country's glory).

And how do the students perceive their hosts? As nice. Extremely, persistently, overwhelmingly nice. That, and addicted to the delights of Tim Hortons (a trait my goddaughter quickly assimilated). All of which the teachers were undoubtedly pleased to hear, for it is in line with how Canucks tend to see themselves.

Are these perceptions just clichés, then? Or is there something to them? As if on cue, a wonderful story from out west made the news last week: In just a few days, Canadians had bought over 5'500 cups of Tim Hortons' finest for strangers - just because. My teenage guest could not stop laughing when she heard of it, so poignantly had coffee addiction and niceness been combined in these random acts of kindness. Even yours truly was touched (although he tend to think that a cup of Timmy's is more a curse than a blessing).

And if this had not been evidence enough, we put Canadian politeness to the test at Kingston's Royal Military College last weekend. On an evening stroll along the bay, we were attracted to it by the sound of marching bands, and while the road gate to the complex was closed, the pedestrian entrance to the side was wide open - and unattended. So we carried on walking, first through the grounds randomly dotted with decommissioned military hardware and eventually to a big square, where the college's band was rehearsing for the next day's tatoo at Fort Henry. Other recruits were in the stands watching, and so we simply sat down next to them and enjoyed the show. All the while, we were looked at with a mix of intrigue, apprehension, queasiness, and perhaps a dash of disbelief. Clearly, we were not really supposed to be there. But then again, the entrance had been open, and we seemed to appreciate the performance.

Could they have asked us to leave, possibly to return to the ticketed event the next day? Of course. But they didn't. Because they wore Canadian uniforms. And throwing someone out is simply not nice.

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