Lost in translations
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: “Irrelativity” is on the road as Barry Smith tours his solo shows through the U.S. and Canada this summer. This dispatch is from Montreal, Canada.
MONTREAL, CANADA ” It’s not that I’m not capable of learning French. I’m sure I could have done it before this tour, since I knew one of my first stops was in Montreal, where, in case you didn’t know (like I sorta didn;t) they speak a lot of French. And I’m sure I could learn French at some point in the future. But my future potential and current good intentions didn’t keep me from getting a parking ticket within 24 hours of my Montreal arrival.
It’s not like I had to become fluent in French or anything, right? I could have learned a few key words and phrases; numbers, days of the week, basic directions. I used to know how to say, “I have a red bicycle” in French, but that was a whole lot cuter when I was younger. Now it would just be sad. Even sadder than not longer knowing how to say it, actually.
My lack of culture hasn’t held me back that much. Everyone I’ve met also speaks English and is happy to go there with me. But parking signs are not so understanding. Complicating the fact that I don’t even know the days of the week in French (I know, I know – “Phrase Book” – don’t rub it in) is the fact that Montreal uses military time, so 8 p.m. is actually 20:00 hours. So when I see a parking sign ” luckily there’s a “P” in the French language ” that says “Blah, blah, blah ” 15:00 h-16:00 h” I’m thinking, a thousand six hundred hours? Well, I’m good here for another (counting on fingers) two and a half weeks! Let’s have a beer!
The Canadian dollar is pretty much at a one-to-one exchange rate with the US dollar at the moment. This is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I’m getting paid for my performances in Canadian dollars, so that’s good. On the other, I can no longer legitimately make Canadian-money-isn’t-worth much jokes, which is a real shame, as I was going to say that my parking ticket was $45CND, which, given the exchange rate, comes out to be “jacque merde.”
Too bad to miss out on that joke, eh? And yes, I said “eh.” So I have picked up the language a little bit over the past week.
I take the ticket off the windshield and drive around ’til I find another parking place. I ask the first person who walks by, a very attractive Montreal woman, if she could please explain the parking sign to me. She takes a few minutes to explain what the sign means, and why, and that I’m good in this spot ’til tomorrow at noon. Cool. Thanks.
Oh, hey ” I just remember that the reason I’m in town is to do a performance of “American Squatter” at the Montreal Fringe Festival. I got so caught up in the parking stuff that I forgot all about it. I ask the woman if she’s planning on attending the festival, and if so, if she’d like to hear about the show that I’ve traveled here to perform. As I do so I instinctively reach into my back pocket to pull out one of my flyers, a handsomely printed, postcard-sized bit of promotion.
Suddenly things get weird. She gives me a “so THAT’S what this whole help-me-read-the-parking-sign scam is all about” look. She backs away. I know it makes for a great dramatic element to say that someone backed away, but in this case she actually did. She backed away.
“Sorry, Dude. I have to catch the bus.”
“OK. Thanks for your help. I really appreciate ” uh …” I trailed off, increasingly embarrassed, like my gentle self-promotion was some sort of violation.
Within the Fringe environment ” The Fringe Bubble, as I like to call it ” handing someone a flyer is like a handshake. We’re all here to do our creative thing, and flyers are the currency we trade in.
But outside the Fringe bubble, handing people stuff on the street is apparently an affront, an insult, almost a reason to reach for the pepper spray.
“Hi, I spent the last year writing a play, and I’d just like to tell you about AAAAARRRGHHH! MY EYES!!”
(Barry’s on tour for four more months – so settle in, everybody. Read more about it on his blog – http://www.barrysmith.com)
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