Pierre the Nationalist Dishwasher Salesman

by Jonathan Sterne on September 12, 2004

Ok, so one of the things that\’s totally weird to me here is that tenants (at least at the end of the rental market we\’re at) are usually responsible for their own appliances. Our landlord (who is pretty cool) left us a stove, a fridge and a dishwasher. The dishwasher had a \”trick\” to it to make it work, and of course, the \”trick\” stopped working. We tried to fix it to no avail, and so — since we are hopelessly bourgeois about these sorts of things — we found ourselves in need of a new dishwasher.

We hear tell of $250 dishwashers at a place called Brault and Martineau. (Remember, American friends, all prices in this blog are CANADIAN, so your American dollar goes further. I routinely annoy Carrie by converting things into American dollars in my head to see if we\’re getting a \”good deal.\” That\’s a story for another time.) So we drive out east to a surburb called Anjou. Total Francophone land, where we learn that we want the \”scratch and dent\” place, which is in the REAL east of Montreal. \”Est ou ouest?\” I ask the saleswoman in my best Franglais; \”est, est!\” she says. And so we drive east on the main drag, further than we\’ve ever gone, past this heavy industrial corridor, past oil refineries and into a strip-malled, suburbanish part of the island.

there, we find scratch and dent heaven, but predictably, the $250 dishwashers are gone. We wound up dropping a lot more than that, but the real story here is Pierre. We are in the Frenchest of the French part of town, and as he is illuminating us on the finer points of dishwasher technology, he slips in a few political references. A few more come after we seem not to mind. Eventually we encourage him and all hell breaks loose. First, our new dishwasher is Quebecois Nationalist Approved because it was made in Quebec. Also energy-efficient. But we got a serious education on language politics and everything else. He\’s the first person I\’ve met where the conversation has gotten far enough to say \”yes I voted for independence and I think it would be a good idea\” (nb: the polite term is \”independence\” — if you say \”separation,\” it\’s a loaded term. Like \”pro-life.\”). So, I asked him what he thought would happen if the nationalists actually won a referendum here.

I actually can\’t recount everything he said because it was so complex and made little sense to me (especially the part about the \”special deal with the United States\” which I just think would be bad news for the Francophones if they already dislike Canada\’s language politics, since Americans are like 10 times worse). But I did come away with a takeaway point that I found quite enlightening. It is eminently clear that althoguh Canada professes to be a bilingual nation, the Anglos have a better deal on the language front than the Francophones, especially outside Quebec. I can walk into my local Loblaw\’s (Pittsburghers: Loblaw\’s=Giant Iggle) and even though almost nobody speaks English as their first language, if I have a question, they\’ll go out of their way to find someone who can communicate with me. At least to hear Pierre tell it, if I\’m a French speaker in a grocery store in Toronto, I\’m screwed. thee are lots of resentments back and forth on this score, and no easy answers. But what would REALLY happen if Quebec won a referendum for independence? Probably, the province would be in an amazing strong negotiating position with Canada, since Canada needs it. And if you speak French and are worried about the assimilation of your culture into Anglo Canadian culture, it seems like you\’d need to keep the pressure on.

Anyway, that\’s what we learned. As for me, I\’m still planning on French lessons once school settles down a bit (haha, I know, but it\’s really bad right now). And it seems like a little politeness (apologizing for not knowing French) goes a long way.

Sorry for all the typos, if there are any. This just won\’t be any fun if I have to proof it. So my semiliteracy will be exposed.

Oh, and I should apologize in advance for exposing my cluelessness about Canadian politics. Watch me learn.

J.Wu September 13, 2004 at 6:29 pm

This desciption is priceless. I\’m so glad you\’re finding McGill and Montreal thrilling. I moved here five years ago from the US to become a permanent AHCS fixture and still bore my US friends and relations with tales from north of the 49th parallel. And so, welcome! Once I get over my annual case of back-to-school campus avoidance, I\’d love to say a proper hello in person.

andrew cantrell September 27, 2004 at 4:34 pm

it\’s not uncommon for tenants in the milwaukee rental market to provide their own appliances. what is *depressingly* uncommon is rental properties that either entirely or partially waive heating bills for tenants; accounts from other winter-heavy cities indicate this practice is more common elsewhere than in wisconsin.

ah, well. fightin\’ joe v. fightin\’ bob: extremes battle!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: