Lately, the question of perception has frequently been on my mind.
It is well documented on this blog that I am perceived as being vanilla by the non-accountants in my life. However, that is not the case amongst my accounting posse. Two stories stand out recently, in my mind.
Story 1: where a love for boxing is incompatible with an appreciation for classical music
This summer, as I was working alongside a few co-workers, someone noted that they could hear the music through my earbuds. I apologized, and shared my observation that classical music (especially trumpets & violins) seems to carry more than hip-hop, assuming constant volume settings, and from there, the conversation devolved into a comparison of various earphone brands, with several of my co-workers suggesting I switch to a less cheap brand, both for their sakes and mine.
A few minutes later, one of the coworkers messaged me, “YOU listen to classical music?! I would have never guessed.” Which is funny, since my ratio of classical music concerts to all other types of concerts is skewed heavily towards classical music. I only discovered Michael Jackson at the age of 17.
Apparently, membership at a real boxing gym precludes any interests other than hip-hop.
Story 2: where I discovered living in the same city does not imply similar experiences
Growing up in Montreal (West Island), I’ve always lived in multi-cultural world, except for a 2 year period in an elementary school in Ile Bizard, a purlaine Québécois community, where there were only 2 other (white) anglophone families in the entire school, and there was 1 (francophone) black kid. The morning after the 1995 referendum, and Jacques Parizeau’s infamous “money and ethnic vote” quote, I was met at my locker by a dozen boys from my grade who surrounded me, jostled me (despite me being on crutches), and yelled that it was my parents’ fault that “they“, the separatists, had lost. Luckily, these kids were making such a racket, that a teacher came out into the hallways and broke it up before it turned any scarier. I’ve never forgotten that moment: boys I’d played with and talked to every day before that referendum, almost overnight, strongly identified themselves with a cause that they weren’t of age to vote for.
The rest of my schooling was in very multi-cultural settings. I attended an all-girl French Catholic high school, run by nuns, where the running gag was that the French Catholic population of the school had the smallest representation: Armenians, Middle-Eastern, Asian, African immigrant families all sent their daughters to this school, and we all were fairly and kindly schooled by the nuns. This melting pot continued throughout college and university.
It is only when I started working in an accounting firm, that I found myself in an environment with minimal diversity. One of my accountant friends recently admitted to me that she “doesn’t encounter many black people, unlike you“. She was referring to my gym, as my source of exposure to other cultural backgrounds; whereas I consider the gym as the latest layer in my culturally rich experience. I’d always assumed that everyone living in Montreal has had a similar reality to mine. Naive!!
Story 2b: where I discovered that not everyone has dated someone from a different background
Amazed, I asked my accountant friend further details about her life in Montreal. One of the things that struck me the most was that she’d only ever dated Québécois boys, except for one dude who’d been American, and how that had been an (understandably) big culture shock.
My first serious boyfriend’s parents’ were Guyanese and Canadian. (Funny story: growing up in small-town Alberta, he and his brothers were the only black kids in any of the neighboring high schools. His football coach always put him on the starting line, because he knew the most of the kids on other team would be scared, never having seen a non-white boy, in the flesh.) Unlike my accountant friend, I’ve only ever dated one Québécois boy; the others have been from all kinds of backgrounds. I don’t seem to have a “type” other than a marked preference for tallish and funny.
Conclusion: the bar is set pretty low for accountants
It’s slightly damning if I brought an element of diversity to an accounting firm, through my unusual choice of hobbies. It is a ridiculous concept, and yet, that is the strong impression I have of my former co-workers’ perception of me. While I don’t buy into the accountant stereotype, I suspect many of them have lived sheltered lives. Seems a pity, given that we live in a city that is famous for its diversity.
I wonder if they would be as taken aback in my perception of them as I was in their perception of me?
My dear June, I am so glad you write this blog which I read with attention and joy. I have not been in Canada for almost two months and hope to see you at my return.