So Elaine Dubow Harris from Westmount got quite a shock. Imagine her anger: for the first time in her long life, a Montreal shopkeeper refused to serve her in English! From a baker of French origin and more, no, what a nerve! It is truly an unspeakable tragedy that once every 50 years, in Canada’s only French province, a merchant decides to affirm the common language of the Quebecers…
But it’s strange when I think about it: During all those decades of linguistic dormancy, when Miss Dubow Harris flaunted her thunderous English like a banner all over Montreal, my linguistic zeal made me thrive in Montreal as much as Montreal linguistic rejection to bully Ottawa, Moncton or Toronto.
The language of the master
Indeed, for the French speaker that I am, Miss Dubow Harris’ English privilege remains unattainable. In cities that nonetheless have significant French-speaking minorities, I have to put up with switching to the master’s language in three out of four cases and four out of four in English-speaking cities. And for the last twenty years, even in downtown Montreal, on every visit I’ve encountered merchants who at best refuse to speak French to me, or at worst perceive it as a foreign language.
They don’t care as much as Tagalog, Swahili or Catalan…
In Ottawa, home to 15% of Francophones and more than 22% of bilinguals, hoping to be served in French is tantamount to living in the land of rainbows and unicorns. It means exposing yourself to answers like “Oh, you must be from Quebec” from an interlocutor who, of course, continues in English, in a city and country where the steamroller of “Anglonormativity” triumphs. Yes, for example if we assume that English is the only authorized and valued common language.
In Moncton, the presence of 33% of Francophones does not prevent the desire to be served in French from being an obstacle course. I happened to be called a racist by a waiter for trying to place my order in French. Like Rhodesia in another time.
In 1995, in a dorm room at the University of Toronto, a history master’s student the size of a mirrored closet got scared when he heard me speaking French. He came up to me threateningly and shouted: “Are you a separatist? “, disgusted. To my assumed yes, he replied (I translate): “If Quebec separates, we will burn down all your houses, rape your wives and destroy everything”. Reine Poutine.
Undoubtedly, Miss Dubow Harris, speaking the Great Language confers upon you remarkable privileges, such as the opportunity, like Air Canada President Michael Rousseau, to live in English all the time, even in Sâinte-Lâmbeurt, Pi Quiou. But I’m afraid you’ve grown accustomed to those privileges because you’ve lived in Westmount, where the median income is 3.6 times higher than anywhere else in Quebec…
You should bless your privileges, ma’am, rather than complain on a full stomach: while you’ve bathed in English monolingualism in the predominantly French city of Montreal, no French-speaking Quebecer can boast of having always been served in French. Outside of Quebec, it’s even worse: Francophones, a minority everywhere, are yielding willingly or by force to English as the common language. Anglo-Quebecians, although a minority in Montreal and Quebec, should sometimes agree with French but do too little. Thus, Bill 96 will somewhat even out the coast-to-coast dynamics.
What do you want: In your contact, we finally learned to assert ourselves with our clogs.
Jean Francois ValleeLa Pocatiere