Shut Up and Learn French
Mar 1 2013
Suspiciously British-looking postcard
The Office québécois de la langue française, Quebec's “language police” caused a stir earlier this week by telling an italian restaurant in Montreal that its menu had too much italian—in other words, not enough French. The media and the public have rightly pointed out that this is bullshit. However, the absurdity of the Parti Quebecois' kind-of racist language paranoia does not excuse Montreal anglophones from learning basic French, also known as the language of the majority.
First of all, it's not hard to learn French in Montreal. The province balances its excessive language laws with basically paying you to take french classes. That deal is too good to pass up because Montreal's french culture is fucking rad. There are movies, television books, comedy, raves, and beautiful, well-dressed people, all of which are available to you if you manage to learn the goddamn language.
If some anglophones refuse to learn French, that's their choice. They just can't complain about relatively petty issues like language on signs. They can't grumble when they encounter people who don't speak English. Instead of complaining and grumbling, they should ask themselves: is Quebec oppressing me and my language, or have I failed to keep up with the expectations of living in a bilingual city?
There are many English-speakers who remember a time when no one expected them to speak any French. To grossly simplify Montreal's history: up until the 1960's a wealthy English minority had a disproportionate stake in business and power. In the 1960's there was a movement called La Revolution Tranquille, or The Quiet Revolution. Quebec rapidly modernized and the francophone majority asserted control over Quebec's education system, politics, business, etc.
Its also silly to complain about “anglophone rights” because anglophones have more “rights” than speakers of any other language, in terms access to people, places and culture. Thanks to Hollywood and colonialism, an estimated nine hundred million people speak English in the world. Anglophones can read pretty much the entire internet. Anglophones can travel almost anywhere and find someone to give them directions to the nearest massage parlour, snack bar, tavern, or cyber cafe. French people don't have that luxury.
If you can read this, and you aren't colorblind, stop complaining.
Yes, these “language police” bureaucrats have a warped sense of their own self-importance. However, bureaucrats have always run hog-wild within the constraints of their comically limited power. Refusing to learn French escalates the problem. It's not unreasonable to ask the minority to learn the language of the majority.
Do you know why else anglophones should learn French if they live here? Because not only am I an anglophone, but I'm an American, for fuck's sake, and even I'm making an effort to learn French.
Me, being an anglophone and enjoying a Quebecois winter tradition: going to a Cabane à sucre and pouring maple syrup over all of that food
Us Americans tend not to travel well. We also do not tend to know much about other cultures and languages. Although this is a stereotype, at the heart of every stereotype is a grain of truth. And in this case it's a giant mother-fucking bowling ball of truth. We wear jorts to dinner and ask if the waiter if he has a menu in “American.” We compare everything we see to “how it is in America.” We're loud and fat.
'“WAIT, get the camera ready, I just had a brilliant idea.” –Everyone in this picture.
I grew up in a town called Hoboken, in Hudson county, New Jersey. To give you an idea of how “Jersey” the Hudson county area is, a girl I dated in high school lived in Tony Soprano's neighbourhood and my next-door neighbor owned a “towing company.” Neither the public schools nor the private school that I went to gave a rat's ass about whether or not we actually learned any spanish in our spanish classes. So I had a relatively unremarkable American upbringing.
Anyway, when I moved to Montreal, I decided that I would feel more comfortable living here if I were learning French. Two-and-a-half years later, my limited vocabulary makes me sound like an unusually inarticulate five-year old. But if a stupid, ignorant American like myself can make an effort to learn a little french, then so should anglophone Quebeckers and other Canadians who move here.
The fact of the matter is that becoming more bilingual will improve your life. Attempting to speak French has helped me not get ripped-off by taxi drivers, communicate with Quebecois drug dealers, and most importantly, make friends! Some of my best friends are Quebecois. My French isn't as good as their English, so we speak English, unless of course I'm drunk. And everyone knows that drunk conversations are usually better than sober conversations anyway.
Follow Noah on Twitter: @NoahTavlin
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