As you may know, the genre originated back in the 1960's, when stories circulated popularizing the myth of matronly white-haired Anglophone clerks in the old Eaton's Department Store in downtown Montreal, demanding that francophones address them in English, using that mythically famous put-down of "SPEAK WHITE!"
Over the years, stories like these continued to make it into print, largely based on the ever popular notion that anglophones are oppressors. These stories can always be recognized by the absolute callousness and cruelty displayed by the Anglo antagonist and the absolute innocence of the put-upon francophone.
Richard Martineau is a popular writer for Le Journal de Montreal and has delivered some hilarious examples of the genre in the past. I wrote about one such story he spun once before.
At any rate, Mr. Martineau weaves another unlikely 'SPEAK WHITE' story, this one about his trip aboard an AIR TRANSAT flight to Greece and his 'intolerable' treatment at the hands of an anglophone cabin crew.
As he tells the story, his wife asked for "Un jus d’orange, s’il vous plaît" and was rewarded with a blank stare and an arrogant "What?" from the agent. LINK (French)
"Don't you speak French?" his wife demanded.
....and away we go! --- SPEAK WHITE!!!!!
First of all, I imagine that most of you non French-speaking readers perusing this article can figure out what she wanted- Orange juice, right? (Un jus d’orange.)
Maybe you didn't, but for an air hostess, even a unilingual one, who pushes a food cart around for a living, not to understand this phrase is quite a stretch. I assume that any air hostess of experience would know the term for orange juice in at least six languages.
I bet she even understands such complicated French words like Scotch, Whiskey, Vin, Coca-Cola, Seven-up, Gingerale, Chips, and perhaps even the tough ones, like café and thé.
Now answering anyone with the familiar and somewhat rude "What?" instead of the polite "Excuse Me?"or "Pardon me?" is another tell that this story is highly coloured. Airline people don't talk like that, even on AIR TRANSAT. This is what happens when people embellish their stories and put words in other people's mouths.
Now the fact that this certain employee couldn't speak French doesn't surprise me that much, what does shock me, is that AIR TRANSAT actually provides orange juice!
After all, when you fly a budget airline, you've got to make a few allowances.
I'm sure that somewhere on the plane there was a couple of members of the cabin crew that spoke fluent French. It certainly isn't a rule that every crew member speaks both English and French and to assume so is arrogant. But I'm sure Air Transat, if asked, would confirm that they didn't send a plane out of Montreal without anyone who could speak French. It is beyond the scope of credulity.
The story gets more and more unlikely with another member of the AIR TRANSAT crew purportedly haranguing the francophone family in Greek. When Mr. Martineau responded that he didn't speak Greek, the attendant told him;
" Oh no ? You don’t speak Greek ? Well, I don’t speak French. What’s the problem ? "
Nope..... it didn't happen....Not a chance........ Cabin crews do not engage in wars of words with passengers, they usually fight back by ignoring you.
It's quite likely that the family simply took offence that the agent didn't speak French and instead of asking for someone who did, or speak English themselves, they decided to make a fuss. Some people are like that.
I remember an incident in my youth, as a retail clerk being confronted by a customer who complained that an article in our store showcase window was ticketed at a cheaper price than similar items on the rack. He was quite angry and complained about the misleading advertising, quite vociferously. When I offered him the product at the same low price, he told me he wasn't interested in buying anything, he just thought we should know! Hmmm!!
I remember thinking to myself- "GET A LIFE!"
Instead of bitching and moaning, perhaps Mr. Martineau's companion should have thanked the cabin crew for the practice, they'd be landing in Greece in the next few hours and they'd be well-served to brush up on their English, because, trust me, French ain't cutting it in Greece (I know, I just returned, myself.)
What's interesting about all this is the amount of interest the story generated, the hundred plus comments attached to the article attest to the power of these fairy tales.
Most commenters were understandably shocked and dismayed at the ultimate humiliation that the French language was subjected to, once again. Quebec's most active defender of the language faith, Louis Prefontaine instantly organized a boycott of Air Transat via Facebook, but for those travelling on budget airlines, paying double or triple on Air Canada doesn't seem like much of an option.
Perhaps it would be better and cheaper to practice just a few English phrases, when travelling on the likes of Air Transat;
"May I have some orange juice. please?"
"Can you help me, I can't feel my legs anymore?"
"Can I pay extra for an arm rest?"
"Is that smell normal?"
"What do you mean, the seat doesn't move back?""There seems to be something wrong with my...light....tray...seatbelt...earplug..etc"
Or you could try these handy Greek phrases;
Thank you............ Ay gamisou, vlaka!
What did you say? ...........tea less ray malaka?
Orange Juice.......................Fila mou to kolo
Can you help me........Kane mou pipa
My favourite comment from these French language militants is this pearl;
- To what extent do people from other places not understand that the only official language in Quebec is French, while Canada is bilingual.
But not everyone was so convinced, here are some 'other' translated comments.
- ....at wages that Air Transat pays its employees, I don't know many people who want to work at $20,000 per year to go about flying day after day ... especially in those old aeroplanes. If all the agents had to be absolutely bilingual it would be hard to find Quebeckers to fill the jobs.
- I hope you had a good trip in Europe speaking French.(sarcasm) You are criticizing for criticism's sake, Mr. Martineau.
- I believe you either exaggerated or invented your story. Accusing a crew member of being a 'DAMN ENGLISH' demonstrates a lack of etiquette and civility and the smallness of your mind imbued with hatred and malice, and reminds us of Don Quixote who tilted at windmills which he mistaked for monsters.
- What is with this obsession of always demonizing Anglos? Some of you are like "Dan Phillips", crying racism at every opportunity ... You have the same credibility