Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mean-Spirited Bus Driver Typical of Language Zealots

Last week's incident wherein a Montreal City bus driver got into it with a visiting student from Pakistan is not atypical when French language zealots decide that confrontation is a good way to defend the French language.

If you missed the story, read about it here.

On a city bus passing through the predominantly English community of Côte Saint -Luc, a visiting Pakistani student studying at McGill, asked the bus driver an innocent enough question- 'What time is it?' in English.

She replied in English, "I don't speak English."

To which he replied, "But you just spoke to me in English!"

The driver became annoyed and stopped the bus and called the police claiming that the passenger was 'aggressive'

To make a long story short, the cops came, emptied the bus and sent the grouchy driver on her way.
Passengers who were put off the bus complained that the next bus skipped the stop, obviously on instructions from the first aggrieved bus driver, further extending their ordeal. As result some were inconvenienced and even late for work. More evidence that the driver was mean-spirited.

Now the driver was within her rights not to speak English, it isn't part of the job description, but....

Clearly she was a xenophobe or a language zealot, looking for a confrontation, rather than satisfying a customer and doing her job, which is serving the public as best she could.

50% on Francophone Montrealers are bilingual and for those that deal with the public, the percentage is much, much, higher. There's every likelihood that the driver could very well have answered the customer's question, had she made the effort.

But let's us assume that she truly didn't understand English. What would a reasonable driver do in that situation?

There were a least a dozen bilingual people on the bus and all she had to do was to call out in French for someone to help out this guy who spoke only English. Easy as pie!

Instead, she chose to pick fight and for that she should be censured.

Her case is rare but not unusual for the minority of French language zealots who validate their existence as language crusaders through confrontations such as these.

Most francophone Montrealers who work with the public are keen to use their English and proud to offer service in English when required. This story shouldn't tarnish the vast majority of Montreal bus drivers who do a good job and try their best to help out customers in both English and French.

I guarantee you that for every negative French/English story as described above, there are thousands and thousands of incidents where francophones offer superb service in English.

My 80 year old plus mother was recently rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night by the publicly-run Urgences Santé Ambulance service. The francophone attendants did a fabulous job of ministering to her and they did so in English, as a matter of routine. Bravo! Fantastic!

Unfortunately, there's a small group of French language militants who religiously seek out violations of the language law and 'illegal' use of English with a dedication and passion that would make a Spanish Inquisitor blush.

My first experience (rather my future wife's) with just such a language zealot was over 35 years when she bought a train ticket in Montreal's Central Station.

When she asked for a ticket to the 'Two Mountains' station, (a railroad stop near Ste. Eustache), the ticket agent turned surly and lectured her harshly that even when speaking in English, the station is properly called 'Deux Montagnes.' "Proper names" he sneered, "are never translated literally."

"Great!" I thought, when she told me the story "A language lesson from a ticket agent!"

I told my wife to pay no mind, the agent was just another language crusader who exemplifies the principle that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He was not only rude and disrespectful, but also dead wrong in his assertion.

"You should have asked the idiot ticket seller, if he admonishes francophones when they request tickets to "LES ETATS UNI", because in accordance to his own criterion only "THE UNITED STATES" is proper!"


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