New Old Customs

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April 3, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall

This past Wednesday I was at my bank to make a deposit. When my turn came, I stepped up to the counter by the next available teller. We exchanged the usual pleasant greetings and then got down to business.
I handed her a small stack of cash and said, “I’ve got a thousand dollars to go in my chequing account, please.”
The teller put the cash in the money-counting machine, watched it all flutter through, making that brbrbrbrbrbr noise (the machine, not the teller), then she turned to me and said, “There’s two thousand.”
This befuddled me for a moment because I knew how much money I had given her and that wasn’t it. I said, “Pardon?”
Smiling, she pointed at the cash in the money-counting machine and said again, “There’s two thousand.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
With an even brighter smile she replied, “It’s the first of April.”
Phrased that way, rather than with a declaration of “April fools!” it took me a moment to realise what had just happened. Then we laughed, enjoyed a shared chuckle, deposited my money in my account and that was that.

Now, you could make the argument that this was not an acceptable venue or situation for an April Fool’s Day prank, but I chose not to dwell on that, and here’s why…

Judging by her accent, I would make a (wildly random) estimate that the teller has been in Canada for maybe five years and that English is her second (or possibly third) language. I would also guess (based purely on just my interest in, and experience with language) that she was not terribly fluent in English when she arrived here.

(This not my point, but it’s worth noting.) Consider for a moment the blind courage and nervous bravery involved in learning a language by immersing yourself in it entirely, leaving yourself no option but to learn it in order to survive, with your efforts being met with everything from smiling, encouraging support to angry derision and resentment.

Then on top of that, there’s a whole new set of customs and traditions to learn. Certain voices in North American society often express ideas along the lines of “you live here now so forget your old customs from where you used to live; we’ve got our own customs here and you should learn them.”

But here’s the thing… From an outside perspective, a lot of our customs are insane.

I checked the Canadian government’s Citizenship and Immigration website. There is no section at all explaining what the hell is going on every April 1st. No helpful hints on how to responded when disguised children show up at your door on October 31st. No anecdotal explanation of why people suddenly become obsessed with eggs and rabbits on the weekend that they celebrate the execution of Jesus. No apology for disrupting your understanding of the language by making Labour Day a time when people don’t have to work. (And it’s got nothing to do with childbirth, either.)
There’s no one at the airport handing out brochures with any of this information for people as they arrive in the country.
These things are unlikely to be discussed during a consultation with an immigration lawyer.

The only way to learn any of these weird, nonsensical customs is to just watch them happening and then try to duplicate the practice a year later. Having grown up in the bubble of this behaviour, we all seem to have the attitude that everyone already knows what {fill-in-the-blank} Day is all about, but there’s really no logical reason to hold that stance.
It’s likely you don’t actually remember someone sitting you down and explaining the whole concept of “Trick of Treat” and the relevance of the costume and pay off of candy. It just happened every Hallowe’en and as a child you watched it happening around you while your parents dragged you into the middle of it all. Eventually it was just something you understood.
Now, imagine going through that sort of learning process as an adult.

Seems a little daunting from that perspective, doesn’t it?

So, while a bank teller pranking someone about their own money may seem a wee bit mean or inappropriate, it is forgivable since April Fool’s Day doesn’t come with a multi-lingual handbook.
And she made me laugh, which is the whole point.

Try to be nice to each other.


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