Cher Montréal – La préquelle

I make it no secret that I hate the holidays. It started when I was a kid – not the hatred for the holidays, but the groundwork for what was to come. We moved a lot back then, my dad always looking for the next step up the corporate ladder, and so we always travelled during the holidays. Grandparents want to see their grandkids regardless of how many states we had to drive through to get there so we packed three kids in the back of a Honda Accord, before the days of built-in DVD players, and during the time when the Walkman ate batteries like a kid eating candy on a dark street on Halloween.

Sure the car ride from Massachusetts, to Buffalo, up through Canada, and then down to Detroit was rough, but it was the tension before and after that scarred the surface of my adult vision of a holiday. Mom and Dad would often fight over whose parents we’d stay with and how much time we spent with each. Now, a married adult myself, I face the same choices. The Hubby and I don’t fight about it and I’ve never slammed a pot down on the stove in disagreement over the in-laws, but I still cringe every time a holiday rolls around.

My parents, still happily married, live in South Carolina. His mom lives in Maine. His dad in Massachusetts. South Carolina is a 15-hour drive without rest stops and traffic. We don’t do that drive very often. Meanwhile his mom wants us there for every holiday, while I lurk in the corner, insisting that Thanksgiving was just last week and I am not celebrating a Christian holiday, when no one attending will be able to explain the significance of the winter solstice.

It isn’t even because I hate my in-laws. I don’t. I hate socializing in nearly all of its forms.  In recent years, adding in two screaming nieces, one of which has taken to hitting, pinching, and other violence to get her way, and you can see why Montréal, though farther than Maine, was a perfect choice for the holiday they call Christmas.

You see, I took French for five years in junior high and high school. We won’t calculate how long ago that was (ahem) but sure, I could survive Quebec. Right? I pulled out an old book of French idioms and replaced the Placebo playlist with CDs called French for Dummies. I listened to the CDs, repeating phrases such as L’imprimante ne fonctionne pas wondering why I’d need to mention a broken printer on holiday. Between that and learning that Je suis optimiste, I quickly found new sparkly distractions. The book of idioms waiting in the bathroom, teaching me little, narrowly avoided the water as I splashed out of the shower in search of a new bottle of facial cleanser one morning.

When it comes down to it, Montréal is a French speaking city, but it is also a tourist city. Ninety-five percent of the guests at the hotel we chose were Americans. If my weird accent when I said bonjour didn’t key in any particular person, a frantic wave of my hands and non, non, parlez anglais, per favor usually worked.

Si, per favore. I kept slipping Italian words into my French sentences. When I was reaching for the right thing to say, the Ital would help out, while the French stood aside and turned up its nose. Go figure. My mom called it a romance language when I signed up at the impressionable age of thirteen. I’m not sure I agree, but in the spirit of everything, Buon Noёl, maman!



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