I’m strolling along the quiet alley, soaking in the summer sunshine and glancing into store windows as I pass. In a lot of them I see the same stamped t-shirts, carvings, and miscellaneous ‘Made in China’ key-chains hawked to tourists on every commercial street in every city. We have a few shops back home in Swift Current where I could likely buy the same thing.
But, hey, I’m a tourist here, so why not pick up a few trinkets? I enter one of the tourist traps and come out again with a key-chain for Mom and a stuffed mini-beluga whale for my seven-year-old sister.
If truth be told, I’m not actually a tourist. I came here to Québec City as a summer student after finishing Grade 12 and my primary goal is to become fluent in French. Back in spring I went online and discovered a neat little academy here offering eight week crash courses so I showed the site to my folks.
They were enthused, too. “Learning French will open doors,” Dad said. “If you stay here in Swift Current, knowing French may not be such a big advantage. But if you want to work somewhere else, land a government job, or travel, it’d be a handy thing to have.”
So my folks shelled out for the course and lodging, I emptied my precious bank account for spending money, and here I am. I may not be able to afford t-shirts and souvenirs for all the folks back home, but atmosphere is free. So today I’m absorbing the ambience of this historic old town.
Being it’s Saturday and no classes, I decided to come downtown and just mingle. See how much I can pick up from the conversations around me. Get a bit more of a tan on this beautiful summer day. Feels like time to take a break now, though. Sit awhile and sip on a cool glass of iced tea.
I’ve already passed half a dozen little restaurants along this street, with their neat outdoor tables. I come to another with appealing colours — and appealing prices on the posted menu by the door. I get in line and request a table on the patio; soon the hostess leads me to one and I sit down, tossing my shopping bag on the chair.
I catch the eye of the girl sitting alone at the next table and smile. She looks about my age. I wonder if she’s from Québec City or maybe some other part of the province? She definitely looks French. I contemplate starting a conversation, but what if I can’t understand a word she says? Would she be willing to bear with me and help me out if I get stuck?
I suppose a bit about the weather shouldn’t be too hard. I open my mouth, but then shut it again when the waitress shows up with her drink. Anyway, she looks a bit worried. Maybe she has something more important on her mind and hopes I’ll mind my own business?
Then she looks over at me again and sends me a shy smile, like maybe she does want to talk. Oh, dear! What if I really can’t understand a word she says? Come on Emily, I tell myself. Crank up your courage and give it a try.
I begin with “Bonjour. Il fait beau aujourd’hui.”
She nods. “Oui, c’est ça. Est-ce que vous êtes d’ici?”
No, I’m not from here, I mentally answer. Her French doesn’t sound local. Maybe she’s a tourist from some other country? Maybe she’s hoping to make the acquaintance of the locals and here I am trying to take up her time. I’d better tell her the truth.
“No. Je ne suis pas d’ici. Je viens de Swift Current Saskatchewan.”
“Swift Current!” she squeals. “Well, hi! I’m from Moose Jaw.”
“That’s terrific! So close to home,” I exclaim. Then add, “My Aunt and Uncle live in Moose Jaw. I wonder if you know them?”
(Note to non-Saskatchewan folks: Swift Current is about 174 km—108 miles—west of Moose Jaw.)