Once Upon A Time In Quebec

A Short Story

Ice Cream In Old Quebec

On a spectacular Autumn day we spent hours walking around Old Quebec. It’s a beautiful city with winding streets and lots of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants.

The first thing that hits you is there are literally no signs in English. Dealing with local merchants took me back to the sixties in Paris. Even if they understand you they pretend they can’t understand. If you tried to speak French mostly they continue to act as if they don’t understand. Someone should tell the good people of Quebec that the world has changed. On a recent visit to Paris I was amazed at how friendly most people were and everywhere we went we found people that understood our English and often replied with no sign of an accent.

One evening at a sidewalk cafe on the Rive Gauche I complimented our waitress and asked if she had learned English in America. “No” she replied “we all watch more American movies and TV shows than French. Almost all the younger people speak English – American English”.

So back to Old Quebec. Early in the afternoon we passed an ice cream shop with a window on the sidewalk. The first person at the window was just leaving and ahead of us was a middle aged man. He steps up to the window and in English asks for two scoops of chocolate chip in a cup. The stern woman in the window just stares at him without speaking. Again he asks for two scoops of chocolate chip in a cup. Again silence from the woman but now she seems to glare. The man shifts his approach and even I can tell he is now just asking for simple two chocolate in very bad French. She glares back silently.

I tell my wife that we probably won’t be getting any ice cream and the woman in the window now talks over the middle aged man as if he wasn’t there and in heavily accented English asks what we would like. The man shrugs and turns away and walks on down the street. We place our order without difficulty and as we are paying I ask why she wouldn’t deal with the man in English. She replies “Him. He lives here, he needs to speak French!”

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