Monday, April 19, 2010

Quebec's "SPEAK WHITE" Fantasy

I read yet another tedious story by a blogger complaining that his mother was subjected to an unacceptable ENGLISH assault while lying dying in the Montreal General Hospital. To make matters worse, her medical records were in English! HORRORS!

Another complained that his doctor in a Dollard des Ormeaux clinic refused to speak to him in French as well. All these stories have a common thread running through them, one that portrays Anglo doctors as not only unable or unwilling to communicate in French, but acting arrogantly and rudely in the process. Its amazing how entrenched this urban myth has become.

The stories are all fit neatly into a fantasy created by language militants whose agenda is to cast Anglophones into that neatly preconceived notion of 'oppressors.' Most of them wish to recreate the good old days of English domination and continue to invoke the name of Lord Durham at every chance to characterize modern Anglophone attitudes.

The stories are of course impossible to prove or disprove, like the infamous story of sales clerks in the old Eaton's department store who abused Francophones by telling them to speak English. The poem "SPEAK WHITE"  entrenched the idea of English language oppression and has given birth to a whole genre of creative writing based on this dubious urban legend.

This has led to many cases of  French language crusaders 'looking' for fights by trolling through Anglo districts hoping to find that English only sign or that English speaking employee, so that they can ramp up their infernal complaint meter.

Years ago my wife was berated by a train ticket agent who informed her that there was no such place as "TWO MOUNTAINS" and told her to refer to the town by its proper name- "DEUX MONTAGNES."

Language lessons from a ticket agent? I bet he didn't finish high school. I wonder when he sells a ticket to Boston whether he refers to the country south of Montreal as the "ETATS UNIS" or  the "UNITED STATES." As they say in French "Deux poids, deux mesures" (a double standard.)

I take these "SPEAK WHITE" stories with a grain of salt. One of the most hilarious fabrications that I read this year was that of a man who confronted a Hasid (ultra-religious Jew) in Outremont over the former's  request for directions in English. According to the story, the Hasid launched into a verbal attack and even told the intrepid French language defender to "Fuck Off!" Anybody who has the slightest of knowledge of Hasids knows that the story could never have happened. A Hasid seeking a confrontation over language is just about the most ridiculous thing I've heard of. A Hasid seeking directions from a stranger? Never, that's what cell phones are for. A Hasid swearing, not a chance. But it's an entertaining story anyways.  LINK

One of our readers,"Mitch" sent me a Montreal Gazette article  entitled "French exam keeps doctor out of Pierrefonds clinic" detailing the story of a GP kept from practicing because he failed his mandatory French exam.
All members of professionals orders in Quebec are required by law to speak French before being licensed. Foreigners are required to pass a written and oral test. (Anglos who graduated high school in Quebec are not required to undergo testing, the assumption being that after eleven years of French classes, they are bilingual.)

Another story, this time in the McGill Tribune details the plight of a newly minted dentist, an American who graduated from McGill and wished to practice in Montreal. Because of another failed French exam, she was refused a permit and is forced to work in Plattsburgh, New York... Another win/win situation for Quebec.

A lot of doctors taking the test, complain that the written portion is completely unfair. One said that the test required him to write a business letter, terminating someone's employment in French, something completely unrelated to their profession. Given the average pass/rate fail in Quebec French universities for the written French exam is only 50%, is it any wonder that the doctors do so poorly?

Keeping doctors from practicing, especially desperately needed family doctors, is the height of folly.

Surely the government could find a compromise. I'd suggest that a doctor unable to pass the French test be given a provisionary license which would provide for mandatory weekly French classes. If after a year the doctor is still unable to pass, then perhaps he or she could be subject to a sliding deduction of salary with continuing classes mandatory.

Doctors are certainly not dumb. They have studied thousands of hours to get their diplomas and are high achievers. If they need a little time to learn French on the job they should be provided the opportunity without penalizing patients desperately seeking a family doctor.

Since the government cannot provide enough French speaking doctors, patients who have no family doctor should be afforded the option to choose between having a doctor who speaks French poorly or having no doctor at all.

Sometimes compromising your ideals is necessary to survive, but it seems that language militants prefer to have no doctor, rather than an English-speaking doctor.
After all principles are principles!


  1. "Language lessons from a ticket agent? I bet he didn't finish high school."

    Highly judgemental this time...

  2. C'est hautement ridicule cette histoire de medecin.

    On en manque en plus.

  3. "I read yet another tedious story by a blogger complaining that his mother was subjected to an unacceptable ENGLISH assault while lying dying in the Montreal General Hospital. "

    You hyperlink doesn't go anywhere.

    Are you talking about this blog?

  4. a naughty moose said:
    if it is indeed that article you are referring to, one part caught my attention.

    "The day shift doctor who showed up in the morning didn’t speak French either. I don’t speak French I’m from Brazil, he told me, almost proud of himself.

    I made him speak to me in Spanish. He got the point and dropped the grin."

    Is the author suggesting that Brazilians speak Spanish ? Made he was speaking to him in Portuguese and he thought it was Spanish. Maybe the other doctors were speaking to him in French and he thought it was English. Or maybe this doctor who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese never learned to speak French, he was just too busy. MAybe he thought learning a fourth language was just too much for him. Or maybe this is all bull crap.

  5. I have fixed the link to the post by Angry French Guy.
    Thank you to "a naughty moose"
    Wonderful pickup on the "Portuguese" thing!

    If anyone has other interesting "Speak White" type of stories, send in the links to and I'll put something together,with attribution, of course!

  6. "Or maybe this is all bull crap."

    I read that blog once in a while and quite often I have an impression that he makes up a lot of personal anecdotes. Surely, he twists and distorts obvious facts in a truly Goebellian fashion, so they fit his political agendas and personal paranoias.

    "Is the author suggesting that Brazilians speak Spanish ?"

    No, it was his of getting back at the doctor. In his mind, Brazilians have the same attitude to Spanish as some Francophones have towards English. It is obviously not true. Brazilians do not hate Spanish, nor are they threatened by it. So if this really happened, the doctor probably didn't even get his insinuation and the attempt to make the doctor feel bad totally backfired.

  7. ",,,the good old days of English domination,,,"

    This seems strange to me. Hasn't Quebec ALWAYS had a Francophone premier? Has there EVER been a non-Francophone premier of Quebec? (Canada has elected Francophones to be Prime Minister, but I doubt Quebec will ever elect an Anglo to be Premier, even though the respective size of each group is not too dissimilar). Don't Francophones determine all governments in Quebec? Hasn't big government in Quebec always been French-controlled? What is this "English dominance"? How could the Anglos "dominate" the far larger Francophones in an open democracy with such sharply drawn lines of ethnicity and culture as is found in Quebec? I think people need to understand that language is a COMMODITY and not just an instrument of culture also. And the free market determines the value of it.

  8. For Anonymous at 7:09 PM:

    I would argue that John Jones Ross, Edmund James Flynn and Daniel Johnson Senior are not entirely Francophone. And my definition of Francophone is one who speaks French as his mother tongue, his first language, not just one who is able to converse fluently in French (cf.

  9. "Years ago my wife was berated by a train ticket agent who informed her that there was no such place as "TWO MOUNTAINS" "

    I have to admit that it annoys me to no end people changing original names from their original language to another whether it's a French person unable to pronounce properly a name or an English person translating stuff to suit his needs.

    It reminds me of one of my Spanish course were I was told that Spanish people would refer to New York as Nueva York or just like in French where someone would call New York Nouvelle York.

    It's f*cking New York, learn it in its original language and don't try to adapt it to your own.

    Best regards,


  10. "What is this "English dominance"? How could the Anglos "dominate" the far larger Francophones in an open democracy with such sharply drawn lines of ethnicity and culture as is found in Quebec?"

    It's a very important myth for underground nationalist culture, it reminds Quebec people that just like in some other places throughout history it's always "la faute aux juifs".

  11. Great article. I have only been in Montreal for 8 months. This is my first experience with "French" Canada - a world that only existed for me in the news really (and when it was shoved down my throat in grade school). I have lived in Sask. Alta, BC. and Ontario and during that time I never really came into contact with French people or their "culture". Bottom line is, it's weird here. Yup it's a totally bizarro world of different values, morals and attitudes. I have taken a French course it takes a long time to become bilingual - which is why although I am a trained accountant...I can't get a job...

    Anyway, onto my comment. I am without a family doctor and I think that denying me access to a trained professional just because their French grammar is a little off is quite barbaric. Isn't access to healthcare a right? Can I sue the Quebec government for infringing on that right?
    New Slogan for Quebec:

    "Lots of people sick and dying but hey all our doctors speak French! Proud to be a Quebecer!"

  12. Growing up in the 1970s the water tower in Deux Montanges also read Two Mountains.

  13. I'm a family doctor- did 10 years of french immersion, a year in a French university, half of my university of ottawa courses in French and I did my residency in a french program in Quebec... They are making me write the french exam.. (My 3 years of post secondary schooling in French was not consecutive so apparently that drastically affects my abilities). once every year I will write the exam--- In the mean time I continue to work in French (occ English)... I have 3 years to pass... I kinda want to see what will happen in Three years time when I fail to pass (given that the majority of my QUebecois collegues would also not pass the written component)... WIll they tell my 1000 patients do go find a new doc cause the one they have been seeing for 5 years in French is suddenly no longer qualified to practice medicine cause she can't pass a french written exam??? I call shannanigans on the Quebec gov when I practice in an area where more than 40% of the people do not have access to a family doctor to tell me to go to ONtario and make more money.

    Signed: They can make me write but they can't make me try:)