Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Be a Good Quebec Citizen

Here's two pieces written by Réjean Labrie, from Québec City, the first one  Qu'est-ce qu'être patriote en 2010 (How to be a patriot in 2010.) I picked it out to reprint because I thought it was kind of corny. 
"Patriotism is a sense of shared belonging to a country, a homeland. It's a sentiment reinforced by a set of common values. It drives us to feel love and pride for one's country. A revival of the affirmation of a Quebec identity begs the question: How can we manifest the commitment to our country on a daily basis? How can we demonstrate our commitment to our great motherland?
  • Buy locally- (Quebec products, stores, restaurants).
  • Vacation in Quebec rather than outside the border.
  • Fly a Quebec flag in your yard.
  • Embrace Quebec culture: entertainment, music, theatre, visual arts, literature, comics, dance, television, newspapers, magazines, etc..
  • Encourage debate within your entourage about the need to create an independent country
  • Write letters to the editor to defend the cause of Quebec.
  • Work to improve the quality of the spoken and written language.
  • Have more than 2 children for survival of our people.
  • Participate in events with a nationalist flavour: Fête St. Jean, Moulin à Paroles, traditional events such as storytelling evenings and peaceful demonstrations to defend the cause of Quebec.
  • Speak spontaneously to your neighbours, people who you meet in public, store cashiers, people sitting next to you, these are our brethren. Remember the ad: "We're 6 million, we should interact."
  • Restrict the influence from outside Quebec. For example, don't seek approval in France or the United States.
  • When addressed on the street, answer in French.
  • Demand to be served in French, everywhere
And you, gentle reader, how do you translate your love of our Quebec homeland, on a daily basis, your faith in the realization of your dream?"

Here's the second piece "On the Slippery Slope to Anglisation" (Sur la pente glissante de l’anglicization)
"You'd be surprised to see how easy it is to succumb to Anglicization without realizing it and this despite a conscious effort to resist the temptation.
 It happens a thousand times a day;

  • When reviewing a product label  in a store, your eye is attracted to the English and you continue to read on.
  • You attend a movie shown in English because the theatre is close to home,  rather than going to the theatre that presents the French version.
  • When news breaks, you watch CNN instead of RDI and LCN.
  • You rent a movie and buy the latest volume of Harry Potter in English rather than waiting a few weeks to read the French translation.
  • You read an instruction manual in English, "to practice".
  • On a bilingual store display in Montreal, you look at the English instead of focusing on the French.
  • You watch your favourite TV series in English because the French version is only coming out next year.
  • You "forget" to set up your video equipment to display in French.
  • When you visit YouTube, you fail to click to view the page in French, "to go faster."
And that's how, without quite realizing it, we end up spending too much time in the language of Mordecai rather than that of Felix. It is a question of determination and a little risk of becoming too much. That everyone to remain vigilant and to show determination in her choice to live as possible in French..."

While the writer isn't aggressive or particularly offensive and clearly writes from his heart, it's unfortunate that  he uses an offensive euphemism for the English language- "the language of Mordecai." which of course refers to Mordecai Richler, who is reviled in nationalist circles for writing disparagingly about Francophones in many of his Montreal books, particularly in "Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country."
The term is pejorative because it links the English language with a hated stereotypical personality as opposed to "the language of Felix,"which refers to Felix Leclerc, a Francophone personality who is revered. The phrase is as offensive as "Shylock" and when the phrase is used, the writer is using code to say that English s oppressive and contemptuous.

Reading the two articles made me a little sad to think that such incredible paranoia exists among some Francophones. There's nothing wrong with Francophones demanding public services in their own language as well as being served in French when shopping or conversing with strangers in public, at work or even in private.

That being said, the author's second article begging Francophones to reject English unequivocally rather than becoming bilingual is more than sad, it's downright backward. If Mr. Labrie wants to live exclusively in a Quebec Francophone world, that is his prerogative. For those Quebeckers who want to live in the rest of the world, English is a necessity. Becoming proficient in a second language is not just a question of schooling. One must practice what one learns and one of the best learning tools is watching television, movies and reading books in the language to be learned.

The latest position "de jour" pushed by language nationalists is the notion that  Quebec Francophones don't  need to learn English at all, because while it's nice to speak a second language, like Spanish or English, it's entirely unnecessary.
This attitude permeates the snobby language nationalists and sovereignist elite, the school system and government itself. It's dangerous nonsense.
And so the level of English language training in Quebec is pitiful, with high school graduates unable to hold the most rudimentary conversions in English. All this is fine until the student takes their first foreign field trip and are shocked to learn that worldwide, almost nobody speaks French and that it's the kids who speak English are the ones who are advantaged.

The saddest part in all this is, is that Francophone Quebeckers have an incredible talent for language.

Francophones have the ability to speak accentless English, a feat no Anglophone can mimic in French. I once interviewed a young lady for a job in our company and spoke to her in English because it was clear from her accent that she was an Anglophone. Halfway through the interview I asked her how her French was and she blushed. I switched to French only to find that she was a Francophone to begin with. Wonderful! Last week I listened to the Marc Garneau (the former astronaut, now a sitting MP)  being interviewed on the radio and was stunned by his faultless and accent free command of English.

Discouraging Francophones from exploiting a natural gift is criminal.
Those who watch English media to improve their command of English are to be commended. I don't understand how watching a dubbed version of "The Bachelor" contributes to the strengthening of the French language.
Since when does learning a second language diminish one's mother tongue. Hockey players who spend their whole career in the Anglophone communities have zero problem slipping back into French when they return to Montreal to play the Canadiens.

Let the language fanatics do what they wish with their lives. Encouraging people to avoid English is akin to the Southern plantation owners keeping their slaves barefoot, pregnant and stupid.

Come to think of it, the advice offered by the writer is eerily familiar to that rejected doctrine pushed by the Catholic Church on Quebeckers for 350 years- Pump out babies, remain faithful and avoid contact with outsiders.
Hmmm. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


  1. "Réjean Labrie, from Québec City"

    This guy is probably the same as the Astidastineux alias Anti-Pollution on the "Bon blogue bad blog" blog. Except this one is probably coming from Beauport.

    For the "bilingual stuff", this guy must be freaking out when he realizes nowaday that most products come in around 10 to 20 different languages: latin derived, arabic derived and asian derived.

    It's not as if English is some kind of far remote language like japenese or chinese for instance (no offense to those people). As a matter of fact around 50% of English vocabulary is derived from old French as the bourgeoisie and English elites from the 15th to the 19th century spoke French amongst each other.

  2. "Quebec Francophones don't need to learn English at all, because while it's nice to speak a second language, like Spanish or English, it's entirely unnecessary."

    No, the most extremists don't want us (the French Quebeckers) to learn English or any other language as a matter of fact because like any totalitarian regime, their ultimate goal is to subjugate people while maintaining them in total ignorance of what's going on around them.

  3. "No, the most extremists don't want us (the French Quebeckers) to learn English or any other language as a matter of fact because like any totalitarian regime, their ultimate goal is to subjugate people while maintaining them in total ignorance of what's going on around them."

    Et vlan en plein dans les dents, you're bang up, it allways feels like they need us francophones to be in a isalnd blissfully unaware of anything other than Soirée Canadienne ;)

  4. -- Officiellement, je suis «allophone» parce que mon père est venu au Canada de Pays-Bas et a épousé ma mère canadienne en 1940. Ancêtres de ma mère sont venus au Québec principalement d'Irlande, avant la grande vague d'immigration irlandaise. La plupart des Irlandais n'aiment pas être confondu avec les Anglais. Donc, je suis Québécoise allophone, 5ème génération, impure laine de vielle souche.
    -- Parler français dans ma province de Québec est normal pour la majorité: franco / anglo / allophones. Si j'été pure laine de vielle souche, je tiens à être bilingue, apprentissage l'anglais comme 2ème langue. La langue des
    affaires, de la science et la technologie partout dans le monde est l'anglais. Je pense de qu'il est une bonne idée d'être à l'aise dedans. Le point de vue PQ est l'anglais est nécessaire pour l'Elite - ou pour être précis, pour les personnes supérieurs du gouvernement qui
    décider pour le reste de nous - la hoi poloi - que le français est suffisante. Cela limite les Québécois. Les francophones devenons une population captive, semblable à l'époque de Duplessis, partenaire avec l'Eglise catholique lorsque le gouvernement et l'église gardé Québécois dans "la grande noirceur".
    -- Je ne suis pas intéressé par la séparation du Québec Canada parce que pour moi cela signifie que nous faut remonter à la grande noirceur!
    -- Le français n'est pas ma langue maternelle et quand j'écris en français, il n'est pas fluide que ce serait si elle était ma langue maternelle. Par conséquent, je m'excuse s'il ya des erreurs dans mon opinion écrite.

    1. This is an interesting point a view, one which we rarely get to hear. Thank you for having written in French. I do not get however how partition should lead to a Grande Noirceur. The Catholic Church does not have the grip it used to on the province. If anythig, Quebeckers are mostly relativists. Plus, liberalism and separatism are not antithetical. I do read a fear expressing itself, but no rational argument to back it.

  5. Interesting article but for this unfortunate slip : "Let the language fanatics do what they wish with their lives. Encouraging people to avoid English is akin to the Southern plantation owners keeping their slaves barefoot, pregnant and stupid." I believe we all agree here that being unilingual does not amount to uncivilsed backwardness.

    To me, the author is mistaken about what he qualifies as "language fanatism". From what I gather by talking to people, the idea is not to keep anyone in the dark (unilingual dimwittedness), but not to spend energy encouraging what happens quite naturally nowadays, that is mostly every francophone teen picking up English quickly from it's being all over the place.

    In short, disregarding pleas like Mr Labrie's simply does not fall as easy to me as it does to the author. I have felt how haunting it is to know the frailty of your own mother tongue. It is a humbling perspective, not a racist one.