Looking for a job is never easy. You can’t always be as choosy as you would like to be. I know I wanted to use French at my work, both written and spoken. However, job markets require that we all make a lot of compromises and consequently, we accept things that stray from what is better suited for us. I am certainly not an exception to this. For a few years, I worked in a large multinational in Ville-St-Laurent with colleagues that were about 80% anglophone. That bothered me, as I didn’t come to live in Québec to end up in the same environment I had in Minnesota.

I suppose it could be considered normal that it was so overwhelmingly anglophone, since the written documentation for the project on which we were working was to be produced in English. So I rather begrudgingly went to work, often saddened on the inside that I had to listen to all these anglophones drone on and on all around me. I would ask myself : “What am I doing? Why did I come here? I might as well have stayed in Minnesota where I was comfortable and knew my way around, because this office environment is exactly the same as one in Minnesota (or Ontario, or Manitoba, or Texas, or anywhere else).”

On a more mundane level, it was weird hearing things called the Champlain Bridge or Nun’s Island (instead of how I was used to calling them, le pont Champlain and Île-des-Sœurs). On a level a bit more complex, because I talked in the same language and accent, these people usually thought I was one of them. So they spoke rather freely around me regarding Quebecers : “Anne-Sophie is stupid and makes so many mistakes in her English” or “Quebecers are racist” or “Pauline Marois is cunt who should die”… At some point, one of them put up a huge Canadian flag on the office wall. I talked about putting up a Québec flag, which was greeted with a “oh, I didn’t know you were a separatist.” Something tells me that putting up a Franco-Ontarian, Catalan, Scottish or Norwegian flag would have been just fine though.

One time I got into something of a discussion with this second-generation-says-she’s-Greek colleague of mine about how little she knew about Québec popular culture (Québec media personalities/actors/singers/authors). Actually, she couldn’t name any (though she had heard of Mitsou…). Despite her complete lack of knowing anything about the cultural life of Québec and Montréal, in her own little head, she is a true Montrealer, much more so than I could ever hope to be. She also thought that Quebecers were racist.

Another person I worked with was a second generation francophone/allophone whose parents were Hungarian. She is what the media calls an enfant de la loi 101—with no allegiance to the Québec nation. Like most of the enfants, she views English and French languages as exactly the same and does whatever is the easiest while out in the world. Unfortunately, the French Language Charter, law 101 (or bill 101 as the anglophone media calls it, even though it hasn’t been a bill since 1977) hasn’t been as successful at making francophone Quebecers instead of bilingual Canadians. They can interact without any problems with their host society, to the point of getting all the societal codes and unsaid aspects, but they refuse that society’s grand ambitions. And this colonized reflex to celebrate and applaud those who despise their host society (such as Sugar Sammy), without paying any attention to the facts, makes them look down upon Quebecers as a conquered people with the confidence of the dominant, dafault party.

Then there was the anglophone Annabella of Italian origins, a huge busybody, always organizing Panini lunches and collecting money for this or that social gathering, a third of the time speaking in a English-heavy franglais, the rest of the time in English, all the while claiming to be perfectly bilingual, telling me that Montrealers say “Park Avenue” and not Avenue du parc. Another Montréal stereotype could be found in the actually-from-China Chinese dude, always purring in a sing-song accented English, not knowing a word of French and being very impressed that I could speak it. That however is less common than the self-flagellating francophone.

One francophone woman spoke with an accent in English as well as making plenty of mistakes in both written and spoken English. However, she prided herself on her English identity and considered herself anglophone, with a French side, because as a sickly child, she spent a considerable amount of time at the anglophone Montréal Children’s hospital (as opposed to the much larger francophone children’s hospital Sainte-Justine) which, in her mind, made her an anglophone. Other whipped francophones coming to mind was one who particularly crushed his French origins in a very Trudeau-esque way, which I found more heartbreaking than infuriating.

The angryphones were the funniest though. Sometimes, when the subject of Québec or the French language came up, they got so hysterical that you’d think francophones were drowning puppies and torturing kittens. At a team spirit building get together one evening, some months after the 2012 Québec elections, Mitch was spitting fire about how the province was still filled with a bunch of racists who still vote for that racists party (the PQ). When I questioned his own integration, he said he was from a generation where people didn’t do that. Okay, whatever… what about your two kids? Why don’t you send them to French school and speak English to them at home? Oh, the horror! He said they would never learn to read or write in English at the French school, never mind that our allophone second generation Hungarian immigrant colleague was able to do it, along with countless others. Besides, he had heard that the French schools were of inferior quality.

There was the banal and formulaic James, who barely can muster a sentence or two in French, but was always spouting hockey metaphors (“I want this mandate to be a puck in the net”). Can’t forget that oaf Ben, a Homer Simpson type who wanted Madame Marois to “suffer a horrible death” or that dreadful Ontarian woman, now living in NDG (it’s too much work for anglophones to say Notre-Dame-de-Grâce) with an aggressive, anti-Québec attitude, however married to another one of those self-erasing francophones.

Of all of them in that office, Natalie really took the cake. A rather dull and silly Ontarian, married to what she called a “Franco-American” (whatever that means—I could be considered a Franco-American, being that my mom’s family comes from Québec and I grew up in the United States). She took herself very seriously and was always touting her Concordia education (?) and expertise in the work we were doing. When talking about protecting French in Anglophone North America, she retorted in a tone of profound wisdom: “why can’t Francophones just be bilingual?” That way, she reasoned, they can have the best of both worlds. She didn’t have anything wise to say about herself though, when I asked about her own missing out on the best of both worlds (she didn’t speak French either).

I did have a soft spot for one of them though, a certain Dorothy, about 20 years older than me, living in Montréal-Ouest with her husband and young son. We got along really well from day one. Had we worked together outside of Québec, there really wouldn’t have been any problem between us. Nevertheless, when it came to Québec and French, she fell into the same trap as the majority of anglophones. To give her credit, she did speak it a little, with a heavy accent and hardly any vocabulary. She was sending her son to French school and hired a tutor to help him with his written and spoken French. She was more open than other people of her ilk, she just naïvely believed in the idea of “Canada”. Her husband was a nice person too, from New Brunswick. He too fell into that tired old anti-francophone trap, talking about how Acadians kept their distance and “wanted nothing to do with us”. Probably a gross exaggeration, especially when the Acadians are all bilingual and are used to working with Anglophones. He is just another unilingual soul in the anglophone mass culture. Seriously, who’s got a bad track record regarding hostility—Acadians or anglophones?

Now I must add that Montréal’s anglophones, as people, are not bad. They are ordinary working folks, trying to make ends meet and to get along in the hectic modern world. It’s true that they live in a bubble and if you remove the fact that they are contributing to the slow but sure destruction of Québec, whether they can see it or not, they are nothing more than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill populace found all over the North American continent. They could make themselves at home just about anywhere in North America. What about Quebecers? Aside from Montréal, what other important metropolis is there for the North American French speaker? Anglophones have their English language mass culture everywhere. Why do they think they are special and under attack from a nation of 7 million when they are over 300 million? Isn’t it plain as day that what deserves protection are the francophone institutions?

Why don’t anglophones take an interest in their surrounding community? Do they not realize that without French, Montréal would be just another North American anglophone city? If they valued Montréal’s difference, why don’t they help contribute to that said difference, instead of indirectly destroying it? They harp on and on about diversity and accepting everyone. Why can’t they see that North America’s French-speaking society is real diversity?

Anyone who isn’t a hysterical anglophone living in Montréal, frothing at the mouth when spoken to in French, can see that.

An American in Québec
‘Québec through the eyes of someone having grown up in the United States.’


Sorry, I dont speak French!

ÉMILIE DUBREIL, Urbania, 16 Mars 2009

Je vis dans un quartier branché, habité par des redingotes hassidiques, des robes de deuil portugaises et les jupes à «raz le plaisir» de filles venues de Toronto pour flâner indéfiniment dans nos rues accueillantes.

Il y a cent ans, le Mile End était une petite ville indépendante avec son hôtel de ville, son église et une population majoritairement canadienne française. Au détour de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les Juifs sont venus s’y installer en si grand nombre que la langue parlée par la majorité était le Yiddish. Au cours des années 1970, les Italiens et les Portugais y ont peu à peu remplacés les Juifs partis s’installer dans l’ouest et ont ouvert des commerces. Si bien qu’on retrouve, chez nous, les meilleurs cafés Italiens, des épiceries portugaises, des boucheries hébraïques et les meilleurs bagels au monde. Un quartier formidable donc et qui attire, pour cette raison même, une nouvelle ethnie toute blanche : le Canadien anglais. Mais attention, pas n’importe quelle sorte : l’alter mondialiste/écolo/ conscientisé/ artiste/et curieux de tout…sauf de la société québécoise. Il y a quelques années déjà que j’étudie cette ethnie avec attention et je m’étonne encore de l’incontournable : « Sorry, I don’t speak french » prononcés par des êtres aussi scolarisés qui disent avoir choisi de vivre à Montréal, P.Q., parce que la ville vibre distinctement de Toronto, Halifax, Calgary ou Vancouver.

Dans notre inconscient collectif, dans le mien du moins, l’unilingue anglophone de Montréal est incarné par une vieille dame de Westmount qui fait du bénévolat au Musée des beaux arts. Elle parle très bien le français à Paris, mais jamais ici. Son mari est avocat et membre du Parti libéral du Canada. Le couple se lève plus tôt le matin pour détester plus longtemps le PQ et la loi 101. Ils lisent la Gazette et croient que les francophones sont tous xénophobes. J’ai travaillé au Musée des beaux arts de Montréal pendant mes études et cette race-là, je la connais bien.

Cet unilinguisme-là ne me dérange pas le moins du monde, il me fait sourire par son anachronisme attendrissant. Il nous rappelle pourquoi le Québec a connu des luttes linguistiques, il est le symbole d’une époque révolue, celle où ma mère exigeait qu’on lui adresse la parole en français chez Eaton. Leur « Sorry I do not speak french » est imbriqué dans la culture québécoise, alors que l’unilinguisme de mes contemporains du Mile-End traduit une indifférence que je ne m’explique pas et qui m’insulte. Ils sont aussi incapables de discuter en français que de nommer le Premier ministre du Québec ou le maire de Montréal, et ne savent pas si Hochelaga Maisonneuve se trouve à l’est ou à l’ouest de la rue McGill.

La première fois que j’ai rencontré cette indifférence linguistique et culturelle, c’est il y a à peu près dix ans. Une amie m’invite à une fête, chez Amy, une cinéaste torontoise qui vit à Montréal depuis sept ou huit années. Elle vient de réaliser un documentaire sur les femmes lesbiennes en Afrique noire. Devant ses amis, elle est fière de dire qu’elle a dû apprendre le swahili pour entrer en contact avec les gens du pays. Impressionnée, je lui demande en français si l’apprentissage du swahili a été ardu, elle me répond : « Sorry? » avec l’air perplexe de celle à qui on adresse la parole dans une langue inconnue. Je lui repose la question en anglais avant de m’étonner : « You’ve been living here for seven years and you don’t speak French?! », complètement incrédule devant cette curiosité linguistique paradoxale. Elle me répond, sans saisir à quel point sa réponse est ironique : « French… It’s really hard for me! »

Débute alors une conversation animée. La plupart des convives vivent au Québec depuis plusieurs années et ne parlent pas un christ de mot de français ! Le fait que je veuille comprendre pourquoi, s’ils ne peuvent communiquer avec 85 % de la population, ils sont venus s’installer ici, les exaspère. Rapidement, l’un d’entre eux s’énerve : « Les francophones sont racistes, nous avons le droit de parler anglais ici, etc. » Manifestement, ça le dérange d’être confronté à un manque de curiosité intellectuelle qu’il refuse d’admettre. Le type est musicien, a fait le tour du monde, mange de la bouffe indienne et, pourtant, l’ethnie et la langue québécoises ne l’intéressent absolument pas.

L’amie francophone qui m’avait invitée à la fête était verte de honte. Elle étudiait à Concordia et était gênée de moi comme une adolescente qui ramène ses amis à la maison. Elle ne voulait surtout pas qu’il y ait de chicane, que ses amis unilingues l’associent à une lutte linguistique qu’elle désapprouvait. Stéphanie aurait souhaité qu’on admire son amie qui parle swahili sans soulever le fait qu’elle ne parlait pas le français puisqu’après tout, c’était son choix et qu’il fallait le respecter.

Depuis, cette histoire se répète inlassablement. Et je continue le combat. Pas plus tard qu’hier, dans un café, rue St Viateur, un type me drague. Il me déclare, en anglais, que j’ai des yeux magnifiques et qu’il aimerait beaucoup m’inviter à souper. Le gars vient d’Halifax, vit à Montréal depuis cinq ans et suit actuellement des cours de chinois… But guess what? Il ne parle pas français! « French is a very difficult », me dit-il. Je lui renvoie alors que le jour où il sera capable de me demander mon numéro en français, je considèrerai son invitation. Il me répond dégoûté que je ne suis qu’une hystérique : « I guess you are P.M.S right now… », se lève et part. Mon amie Nadia, francophone, demeure interdite devant mon intransigeance et me sermonne : « Voyons t’es ben pas fine ! »

Alors que j’ai rencontré, lorsque je vivais à Toronto ou à Vancouver, de nombreux Canadiens anglais curieux du Québec, de notre langue et de notre culture, je ne cesse de rencontrer à Montréal ce genre de francophones qui se nient eux-même et ces anglophones déconnectés qui ont élu domicile in the Plateau. And I just don’t get It.

Well, ce n’est pas pour me vanter, mais à la suite de notre conversation, Amy s’est inscrite à un cours de français intensif à Baie-Saint Paul. Elle parle français avec un accent très mignon et s’est trouvé un job à l’Université du Québec à Montréal. Le musicien, aujourd’hui mondialement connu, est le seul à pouvoir donner des entrevues aux médias francophones lorsque son groupe est de passage à Montréal. Il en est très fier. Chaque fois que je les croise dans le Mile End, ils me remercient, en français, de ne pas avoir été fine. Anyway.


L’invention d’une minorité: les Anglo-Québécois (1992) de JOSÉE LEGAULT (May 31, 2015)
Identité culturelle, sept septembre MMXII, St-Henri, Montréal p.Q. (September 7, 2012)