Thursday, November 26, 2015

What are Anglophones in Québec really like ?

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 the United States.

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 the US where I was comfortable and knew my way around, because this office environment is exactly the same as one in back home (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 an 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 racist 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.