Friday, April 20, 2007

Xenophobia in Montréal

Friend, blog-reader and commenter, Mac (Assiniboine) sent along a link to this post on the blog of a friend of his, a Palestinian resident in Montréal. Xeno-Cappuccino Grande Grande. An anecdote dripping with racism and xenophobia and some humor.
That was when I noticed that the topic of conversation at the nearby table shifted to: yours truly.

I brought the paper closer to my face and attempted to look absorbed while closely following what they were saying. I discerned from the way they were dressed and their accents that they were middle class, probably white-collar or civil servants. Two were making sarcastic references to “reasonable accommodations” (of minorities) the hot topic in Quebec nowadays. One of them refused to go along and insisted on changing the subject (so as not to offend me). I shall call him the Tsadik (righteous one) for the rest of my story.

After a brief and awkward pause, the outspoken head-baboon screeched that since he lived in a free country, he was entitled to say what was on his mind. He then defiantly added that “if certain people didn’t like it, they could go back to where they came from”. I slowly looked around to see if there was another source of stimulus that brought about his bizarre outburst. Given that there wasn’t a veiled Muslim or a turbaned Sikh in sight, I deduced that it was indeed the pile of papers in foreign-looking script as well as my Shaar LaMatchil that got him excited. They went on about how immigrants should be shipped back. One offered to pay for such an endeavor, another said that they should seize our assets and split them among the Pure-Laine Québécois, since we (immigrants) were living off their generous tax dollars. The Tsadik remained unamused and refused to engage in the conversation.
(It turns out the strange looking script was Hebrew. "How ironic would it have been: A Palestinian victim of anti-Semitism.") Truth be told, barring one bizarre exception (in Chicago of all places), I've never faced this kind of stuff, this overt, all these years living in the US. I've never had problems flying (and I fly a lot) after 9-11. I never felt I was being singled out I've never been called names. Or anything worse.

However, now that I sport a full (and quite straggly) beard, I have noticed something that is minor. It was most apparent zipping around the Metro in DC this past week: the stare is slightly longer, just by a second or so, there's the occasional side long glance. Maybe I'm imagining it. [Shrugs] The beard's here to stay. I don't miss shaving in the least. I need to go get batteries for the trimmer though -- I can't have it trimmed every week for ten rupees (~25c) like I did in India :).

1 comment:

Mac said...

You really ought to have pointed out that the Tsadik had been to Greece on holiday and thought that the Hebrew in Nizar's papers was Greek. (If it had been Arabic, or if he had known it was Hebrew...?) My own experience in Quebec is that I cannot ever practise my French because I am always spotted for an anglophone (how?) and everyone wants to practise their English on me. Or at the very least to say on the ski-run chairlift, "I am not speak English but I want to saying hello. Hello." Nizar, of course, is a conundrum to people in an ethnic environment as uniform as francophone Canada, but it's not only francophone Quebeckers who find him a puzzlement -- he once discovered his very own paparazzo'd photo on the cover of a Jewish student magazine in Montreal as of a representative handsome Sephardic Jew. He was not offended, needless to say. He is less pleased when Catholic bigots go after him in the workplace over being a wog and, presumably a Muslim; he points out that his folk have been Catholic (albeit Melkite, not Roman) far longer than the French, but it affords him little satisfaction.

(That being said, he tells me of his aunts who each successively drove their poor mother to bed for a month when they in turn married a Muslim Arab sheikh in Dubai, an Orthodox Christian Greek and a born-again Protestant American -- and at the latest of the weddings wound up throwing dishes at each other. And his parents, who are after him to come to Australia and prise his poor sister away from the Muslim Iranian she has so perfidiously fallen in love with. He proposes indeed visiting Australia later this year but instead spending much of his time with friend Mac. Shall I find an Oriental Orthodox church service to take him to, do you think? No...Nizar finds them rebarbative beyond all tolerance! I should perhaps instead direct him to my Mum when he is on the prairies this summer: having met all manner of exotics in my social orbit, she asked an Indian friend, "Sam, what religion are you?" (Something interesting, no doubt -- Hindu? Muslim? Jain? Parsi?) "Anglican." "Oh...[kathunk...boring]")