I took rideshare through the company Allo Stop to travel between Montreal and Quebec.
On the way to Quebec, my driver was an eccentric older man and we were riding in his boxy black minivan decorated with purple decals on the sides. I shook his hand and said my name. That was easy. Then he said something to me in French – I shook my head embarrassedly and smiled nervously – “I’m sorry. I don’t speak French.”
“Your bag?” he says.
Oh! I should have known. I thought he might have said “bagages” (bug-AWJ). He asked to take my bag and stuffed it in the trunk.
I introduced myself to the other guy standing around. He was Asian but seemed to only speak French. They continued to chat with each other. Another guy arrived – same deal.
I try to break a quick silence – “So, you speak a bit of English?” I say to the driver. He says he speaks a little. He asks if the others speak English and it seems like they mumble and shake their heads, but later the Asian guy asks where I’m from. It turns out he speaks English really well. He’s from Madagascar and is studying law at Laval – he also speaks Cantonese!
Nevertheless, they preferred to speak French so I spent the 2-hour trip to Quebec falling in and out of sleep in the back seat, noticing at times that someone would turn around to see if my eyes were still closed and I’d overhear a comment about “dormir.”
They were nice enough. I made sure to wave and smile after I was dropped off and they all waved back.
On the way back to Montreal, I had a different experience. This time I was in a luxury SUV with a large, muscular African Canadian man as the driver. I noticed that he didn’t seem very chatty – the girl who sat in the front with him was trying to chat him up for the first 20 minutes but realized that he was only giving one word answers so the rest of the trip was mostly in silence. She was a backpacker through and through with her hair up in an elaborate bandana, handmade bracelets, odds and ends hanging from her backpack, smoking weed at the rest stop. She would turn around randomly during the trip and give me a goofy smile. (I think it was more because I was sitting in the middle in her line of vision and also because I was the only one that smiled back).
I didn’t feel so bad this time because it wasn’t so much like everyone was talking in French and I couldn’t understand; it was more like no one was talking to each other.
At this point, I was proud of what little French words I had picked up and also of my resourcefulness. I had overhead the guy beside me ask the girl behind if the window was alright open as it was (I understood this mostly from his gestures). The girl responded with “c’est bon”. Later, when the driver turned around and said something to me, I was able to pick up the word “bagages” (which I took to refer to the backpack I had in my lap) so I responded with “c’est bon” strategically when a truck was passing by so that my non-French accent would be muffled by the noise. Pat on the back, me!
There was another moment, after the rest stop, that he turned around and asked something similar, this time pointing to the hand rest in between himself and the girl. I assumed he meant that I could put my backpack there if I wanted to. “Ah way?” I say. I had noticed that a lot of people here pronounce “Oui” (French for “Yes”) as “Way” instead of “Wee.”
“Merci!” I say and put my bag up on the handrest so that I have more space.
Aren’t I just so fake Quebecois?