Lately thinking about all things problematic going on in Québec, maybe it might be too petty to pick on the allophones. But then I run into one or two of them throughout the day and I’m reminded how silly the whole thing is and feel compelled to have my say. Ever since I came to Montréal, I had been surrounded by a species of people who only seem to exist in Québec—I am talking about the allophone! Now, if you’re not from Québec, you may be wondering what in the world is an allophone? Short answer is this: an allophone is a person in Québec whose mother tongue is neither French nor English.
Here’s the way I see it.
Having always disliked the politically correct term allophone, as it doesn’t do much besides distort the Montréal’s linguistic statistics, I suppose that you’ve got to say something for addressing the phenomenon of anglophones who are the children or grandchildren of Italian or Greek immigrants running around claiming to be allophones. These allophone shenanigans especially come up when you ask them why they don’t know anything about Québec, despite having spent their whole lives here. What's more, on the statistics side of things, certain allophone groups can be considered, for all intents and purposes, francophone or anglophone.
Think of people from the Maghreb, Haiti, or even the Vietnamese from a few decades ago—these people function in French in Québec. As far as I am concerned, they are francophone. On the other hand, you got these “allophones” from India, Pakistan, Nepal or Jamaica who function in English in Québec—and usually only in English. For all practical and every day purposes, they are anglophones. But they get counted as the elusive “allophone” in statistical counts. I wish these people would just own their anglophone-ness and stop referring to themselves as allophones.
It has been my experience that many of the faux-allo anglos, when spoken to in French, will freak out and tell you that they pay their taxes and therefore don’t need to be integrated or whatever. They will tell you to not patronize their businesses if you have the audacity to speak in French, all the while claiming to be speakers of some other language. They do this thinking they will be forgiven for acting like the historic Québec anglophone stereotype. Perhaps from a strict libertarian point of view, one could justify such assholery. But I, for one, would like to see Montréal keep its uniqueness as a francophone city. Furthermore, it’s really just common courtesy and only normal to speak French. Most of them are ill informed and will repeat the old “Canada is bilingual” line. Doesn’t matter what the laws really are, they will continue spouting that excuse for their own laziness, lack of interest and closure to the world. The worst part is that many francophone Quebecers have internalized this way of doing things and just let it keep happening.
Then there are those faux-allophones who were “born and raised in Montréal,” (they just love saying the “born and raised” bit) with real immigrant family members from a generation or three ago. I usually find myself coming back to the faux Greeks and Italians. Montréal is full of them. I used to know a guy named Mike, who claimed to be Italian. He didn’t speak Italian. He had never been to Italy. He did speak French as a second language though, with English as his first. So that being said, what makes this dude an Italian? With that logical output, I could claim to be a Quebecer-Norwegian, since my mother’s ancestors were something around 80% from Québec. However, I am always referred to as American. But anglophone Mike from Montréal, he’s an Italian, as illustrated by one of his silly friends on the street who referred to Mike as “that Italian guy!” WTF? Similar stories abound in offices that I used to work at where this other anglophone girl was referred to as that Greek girl.
When I bring all this up to them, they usually come back to me with some sob story about how they or their parents were refused access to French schools and how the Québec people were mean to them or something like that. They act like the pre-loi 101 reality of 1968, when 40% of Montreal’s Saint-Léonard were Italian immigrants, most of whom sent their children to English school, had nothing to do with it. Some say the French schools refused the Italian immigrants, but I find that suspicious when everybody knows that the vast majority of immigrants wanted the English schools, not the French ones, as was typical of immigrants of the time.
They act like there was never any good reason for the existence of the Mouvement pour l'intégration scolaire. They ignore that the Italian reaction to francization was by opening clandestine English-language schools schools in private homes that lacked basic supplies (although Montréal anglophone networks were providing some financial assistance). People in crass coffee shops on rue Jean-Talon near métro Fabre will tell you stories about how much they wanted to go to French school, but the mean francophones wouldn’t let them and the civilized Protestant (English) school board would. Anyway, none of that matters anymore. When the faux-Italians and faux-Greeks don’t speak French or don’t want to, they just use their “I’m Italian” or “I’m Greek” to justify their worldview of Québec indifference. After all, like that crazy dépanneur dude from India said in the link above: they pay their taxes, so shut the eff up and spend your money elsewhere!
The most annoying thing is when they use it as an excuse for not knowing how to speak French, despite many years and decades of living in Québec. Once, I was at one of those Chinese restaurants on rue de la Gauchetière in Montréal and, while paying for the meal, the woman at the register spoke to me in English. I responded in French. She responded in some Asian language. I then asked her in French if she spoke French. She retorts by asking me if I speak Mandarin. (WTF?) I told her that we are in Québec, not China, so why the hell should I speak Mandarin Chinese? Eventually, she ended up serving me in French. Aha! The old bag did speak some French after all. Lady, why didn’t you just do it from the get go? Maybe the stereotype that some people in Asia think that all European languages are the same is true in her case? But it does go both ways. I once asked some silly guy in Minnesota what language his asinine oriental-language-character tattoo was and he told me it was “Asian.” Then he got upset when I told him there is no language called “Asian.”
It’s weird, because in the grand scheme of things, these “allophone” people end up being not much of anything, blended as they are in the Canadian/North American multicultural feces-brown blob. They don’t want to be Quebecers and keep saying they are from this or that nationality—even when they are not. No real Italian would consider Mike a fellow countryman. They might say that they are “Canadian” in some way—whatever that means. When I lived in Minnesota and met Canadians, I asked them how they distinguished themselves from their USA counterparts. They usually repeated the tired old socialized healthcare bit. And they can’t even use that one anymore, cos those lucky Americans have now got the likes of Obamacare!
Anyway, the allo-anglo situation isn’t getting any better in Montréal’s climate of anglophones telling stories about how awful they got it in Québec. Sometimes the STM tortures them. Sometimes there are stories that will make you think paramedics are eating children like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Sometimes their brethren from other provinces chime in. Could you imagine the reaction in the anglo media if a francophone talked like that guy?
Now before all the anglophones send me a bunch of negative comments, talking about their rights and blah blah blah, take note that I am merely pointing out that all you fake allophones should just fess up, stop calling yourselves allophone and say what you really are—an anglophone, none too different from any other, usually oblivious to Québec and all that goes with it, while using the language of your ancestors to justify your mediocrity.
To end on a positive note, there are some anglophones in Canada starting to wake up and recognize that Québec was right all along regarding language, identity and society.
Let’s hope more of the “allophones” will take heed.