Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Lovely Awkward: A Year of Wine, Romance and Life Among the French

Monday 18 July 2011

Bullying at the beach -- Constance Bay

Our time at an Ottawa beach was cut short yesterday because of the pending storm (the same one that blew down a stage at Bluesfest, injuring some of the people at the concert), but also for another reason: One of the property owners at Constance Bay had begun to yell at us.

The woman was complaining about us and another family sitting in the sun nearby. She said that we were on private property, that we weren't allowed to be on any part of the beach (even though I was sitting in the path of the public water access route), that we were only allowed to use the public beach down the road, that we weren't allowed to eat food (we had snacks), and that she was going to call a By-law officer on us.

She kept saying, "I'm not going to argue, it's 100 degrees out!" which meant that she wanted us to stop disagreeing with her and leave the beach.

The odd thing is that she had no argument. We were in the right place, as indicated by the signs. She just didn't like us being in a public area near her house.

The fact that this argument happened at all bothered me, of course, because arguing isn't pleasant. But what surprised me most was that the argument stopped after she got to me -- the only adult on the beach that day without a foreign accent.

The woman had already pushed out a family that was speaking Polish (I think) and she'd begun to shoo the Spanish-speaking couple and French people I'd come with. And then when she got to me, her first question, amidst some shooing, was "Where are you from?"

I told her that I was from "here" and that I knew that we were in a public area (again, because of the signs). I wasn't trying to fight her or teach her any lessons, but I found it odd that she'd come out to yell at people when we were clearly beyond her property line. We had one towel outside of the public access route, but I've since confirmed that it wasn't on her property either. Although, we still moved it over into the water access route. (Some info about the battle for beach ownership in Constance Bay is here and here.)

Anyway, this is really just a story about a grumpy neighbour and I know those people can exist anywhere. The woman didn't like the foreigners, but she didn't like me either. The difference is that the foreigners couldn't defend themselves by saying (and demonstrating) that they were from "here" -- even though some of them were -- so she pretended her own wishes were regulations when she spoke to them.

As someone who has spent a few years being a foreigner in another country, I know how easily a foreigner can be bullied. And this woman's bullying yesterday, frankly, was embarrassing -- especially since I've spent the last two years telling the French that Canadians are considerate rule followers who like people from other countries.

I get that the people of Constance Bay want to defend their beaches against drunken bonfires and rowdy, dangerous parties. I get that they'd like to own their waterfronts, that this woman doesn't represent the entire community, and that identifying the public accesses with signs might draw a few visitors that the adjacent property owners hadn't expected. But this isn't the fault of the visitors -- including the ones with foreign accents. We weren't making a political statement on either side of this land issue, we were just following the signs.

If the sign telling us we'd found the way to the water was wrong, maybe someone could put up a different one?

UP WEDNESDAY: More on the wonderful, amazing, and inspiring experiences we've had since landing back in Canada!


  1. That's odd! I find most people here super polite, I rarely have to argue with anyone.

    When we were at Canada Day, a booth was giving away free coffee. I told my family I'd get one. No one was lining up properly but people weren't exactly fighting for coffee (it was about 40C) so no worries. And this woman behind me yelled at my family and I because she said we cut the line blah blah blah. I hated the passive-aggressive way she argued especially considering there was NO issue. Idiot. When I started to argue with her in English (something like "well, go ahead, get your precious coffee!) she backed off.

    I was in Montreal on Saturday and went to Starbucks. I'm crap at ordering in French at Starbucks because I'm used to order in English and the name of the drinks is tricky enough. Anyway, I ordered in French but I guess I didn't sound local. The guy totally messed up the order, over-charged us, gave us the wrong drinks. I tried to at least get the right things, I wasn't going to argue over 50 cents. He treated me like an idiot because I wasn't from here... and I really disliked that.

  2. Zhu: I agree that people here ARE normally polite. Maybe that's why the grumpy ones leave such an impression?

    Arguing with someone when there's no issue is the worst, isn't it? And getting treated like you're an idiot is something I always find so shocking! Just because someone has an accent, or doesn't understand a job-specific 15-letter word, that doesn't mean he or she comes from a different planet!

    I hope you have some better coffee experiences this week...

  3. I'm now free this week, I'll email you later today :-)

    Meanwhile, I wanted to tell you I tagged you in my last post, feel free to do it when you have the chance!

  4. I'm scared to step on private area accidentally, I'm afraid they thought me as a thief, then shot me.

    Zhu brought me here :D and this is really a nice blog!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Martin: Thanks for the comment! That sounds terrible. So confusing for kids. I'm re-posting your comment without the exact house description. I hope that's OK. I'm sorry you had to go through that!

  6. Martin wrote: I had same experience today. Owner of the property to the left of public access was drinking and came out to yell at us. We left as he was saying very bad words and we had our children with us.