Quebec tourist excited to use decades of French education addressed only in English
QUEBEC CITY, Q.C.—Sandra Withington has dreamed of visiting French Canada since first seeing the Les Voltigeurs de Quebec Heritage Minute in 1994. So the moment she received her $400 tax return, she logged on to the Via Rail website and booked a ticket from Edmonton to Quebec City.
"I took French throughout public school, high school and university, but, other than singing Lady Marmalade at karaoke that one time, I'd had never had the chance to actually speak français in the real world," she said. "I was très... excited."
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Unfortunately, within five minutes of her arrival in Quebec City, Withington asked a woman, "Où est le salle de bain?" and was answered with a shocking, "Right over there."
"I have fantasized about being directed to toilets in Canada's other official language since Grade 4," sighed Withington, 28. "I'd already come to terms with all the time I wasted learning algebra. But French?"
The shocking development continued at a nearby restaurant, when Withington ordered "un café au lait et une crème brûlée."
"The server replied, 'One milk coffee and a burnt cream coming right up.'"
Maurice Cartier, owner of upscale dining establishment L'homard Rouge, said it is customary for staff to translate for English-speaking Canadians.
"I offered this lady an English menu, but she proudly demanded a French-only version," Cartier said. "She then sat with a French-English dictionary on her lap, trying to discreetly look up every single appetizer. After forty minutes of requesting 'un petit plus des temps' it was easier for me to just recite the whole menu to her in English."
"And frankly, her pronunciation was terrible. Like, Stephen Harper-level bad."
Concerned her anglophone accent was giving her away, Withington attempted assimilate into francophone culture in order to trick locals into addressing her first.
First she stood in a busy park pretending to be a blind woman who needed help reading a comically large map.
"Based on what I've seen on Just for Laughs Gags, that's a situation Québécois often run into," she said. "I've been told music transcends all languages, but apparently that doesn't apply to slide whistles. It was integral to the bit but no one came near me."
People mostly glared at me, though I think one French-speaking man called me a seal.- Sandra Withington
Withington then found a sports shop and purchased a hockey sweater in an attempt to blend in.
"I asked for the blue, white and red sweater of the Quebec Nordiques, but I was sold a red, white and blue Montreal Canadiens sweater instead. People mostly glared at me, though I think one French-speaking man called me a seal."
Realizing wearing a Habs sweater in Quebec City is still seen as a faux pas, Withington then went to the Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral-Basilica to ask God for forgiveness, which was the most French-Canadian action she could think to take.
God did not forgive her.
Withington finally found success at the end of her holiday when she asked a pedestrian, in French, how to get to the train station.
"She actually answered me in French! I almost wept with joy," Withington said. "Sadly, I couldn't understand her and had to ask if she spoke English."
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