Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Air Transat "Speak-White" Tragicomedy

Nothing gets certain Quebeckers riled up faster than a good "Speak White" story, one where the Francophone protagonist is thrashed around rather cruelly by an arrogant Anglophone imposing the language of Shakespeare on the innocent and down-trodden.

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.
  • 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


  1. Ironicly, Préfontaine once assured me that, as far as he knew, Québecers abroad are respectful and speak local languages unlike English-Canadians. Having traveled more than him, I remain certain that not.

    In any case, I'm siding with you on that one: it's impossible no crew spoke French on a flight out of YUL, there's even French on US or European companies. This is called adapting to your market.

    Personally, I am certain that my wallet is a bigger incensive for companies than 101 :)

  2. Le Journal de Montréal is the biggest rag in the country if not the continent. Maybe the National Inquirer is worse. When my book comes out, it WILL infuriate French Quebec to be sure. I will not address to the French media about it because they are the biggest bunch of media manipulaters on the continent, esp. when it comes to bad mouthing Anglophones.

    They will dub and edit the oral media, and "accidentally" misquote in the written. Howard Galganov won't address the French media anymore because of that. He was labelled the «anglo-juif» amongst other derogatory racial connotations.

    Richard Martineau sounds like one of those antagonists of whom I write. While the Roman Catholic Church advocated its Francophone parishioners (flock) to be the "small bread" of society, this yutz appeals to the Francophone "small brains" of society, and of course the media never lies, does it? To be fair to your readers, I also know a plenitude of Anglophone "small brains", esp. the likes of the KKK in the U.S. of A.

  3. Québécois inferiority complex, as said.
    By the way, the story has completely been made up: Air Transat crew are completely bilingual.
    Advice to Martineau (He is not a Mr. at all), Louis Prefontaine and other similar mentally impaired unilingual pricks: instead of inventing these stories, get a full-time job, pay taxes like everybody, be useful to the world, help the others, offer a smile to the others and stop spreading around the misery of your life.

  4. ''First of all, I imagine that most you non French-speaking readers perusing this article can figure out what she wanted- Orange juice, right? (Un jus d’orange.)'' I think the same for the anglophones in Québec ! They are all able to understand ''jus d'orange'' or ''café'' ! What's the problem ? Maybe another big rag is the Gazette,the Globe & Mail and La Presse that lost all their objectivity in political opinion !

  5. Ok ! Une chance que le Canada anglais est là pour contenir cette presque dérive totalitaire qui s'opère au Québec ? You bunch of hypocrites, you spread all your beautiful values on the media, you never stop to backstab the Québec and his majority Francophones ! If your wishes are to make respect the right of minority, I suggest you to join all the Francophones of the ROC, this beautiful land of justice, equality and respect of the difference ! It's funny why Anglophones zealots of Québec don't make pression with the Francophones in the ROC for the respect of their rights ? Hypocrisy ! Continue to read the Sun and listen CNN or Fox News !

  6. ''Nouveau-Brunswick - Le français s'affiche et sème la discorde
    L'affichage bilingue obligatoire voté par Dieppe soulève l'ire de l'Anglo Society''

    Le tout se passe de commentaires !

  7. Thanks for the laugh. When people like Mr. Martineau tell such ludicrous, vitriolic stories, they discredit themselves and their pathetic cause. Keep it up all you crazy ass language zealots; as you voice you’re old world insanity you expedite your demise faster than any one could hope for.

  8. For the part time resident of Berlin:

    "It's impossible no crew spoke French on a flight out of YUL, there's even French on US or European companies."

    Unfortunately that is not true. I took short flights to the U.S. many times, and particularly for smaller aircrafts with just 1 or 2 attendants, simply none of their crew speak French. That happens with United, American and Northwest.

  9. Hey editor,

    Again, your first link does not go anywhere.

  10. @ Anonymous at 8:37 AM and 2:04 PM
    "Nouveau-Brunswick - Le français s'affiche et sème la discorde
    L'affichage bilingue obligatoire voté par Dieppe soulève l'ire de l'Anglo Society"

    I wonder how Quebec Francophones would react if some Anglophones passed a law requiring all signs to be bilingual in an English Quebec town? Oops...I's ILLEGAL! They would be harassed and fined by the Office quebecois de la langue francais until they fell in line with Bill 101.

    "Anglophones zealots!"

    No, a zealot is someone like yourself who supports bans on languages and who spends his time attacking almost every posting on a blog.

  11. Don't Forget a zealot is also an anonymous coward unless ge us with other zealots of the same kind. Gid maybe one day the media will brush aside comments from such idiot.

  12. I doubt the story is true. I don't think a flight attendent would say something like that in this day and age. Note how no proof is offered. No name of the flight attendent for example. The Toronto guy.

  13. @Troy

    You're speaking of a regional flight with 1-2 CM, this is a special case I am ready to deal with but at the same time, I will confess that I wouldn't bother with French on a US carrier. In fact, even if available, I have never used French on flights operated by airlines from non-French speaking countries.

    And, to be honest, I have had only two language issues on flights that were probably non-issue to anyone from outside Québec: no Italian on Swiss between Zurich and Mtl, no Danish on British Airways betweeen London and Copenhagen.

  14. To Anglo Bashers said July 21, 2010 5:06 PM : Did you know there's only one province bilingual in the Canadian Constitution: New Brunswick. After that Québec is french, Nunavut territory: inuktitut and english, and all the ROC is english ! Québec is french, do you know french ? not bilingual ! And for your information, Dieppe is 74 % francophone !

  15. To Anglo Bashers. Don't make a wrong interpretation of my writings ! YOU're a anglophones zealot ! I just answer to all your venom spend on the back of the Québec population ! Vous avez également du temps à perdre à écrire des faussetés et des insinuations douteuses ! Vive le pays du Québec, on l'aura !

  16. I encourage everybody learn the greek phrases in the article. Ha Ha Ha
    I encourage everybody to use them when dealing with a-holes.

    Also, If New Brunswick is bilingual, then why did the city of Dieppe demand bilingual signs with french being placed on the sign at a superior position to English? Also, there is a small town in Eastern Ontario that has also demanded bilingual signs. This in a province that is suppose to be English only!

    Francophones in this country (okay some francophones) are nuts. And it will take the francophones that are not to get them to stop this nonsense.

  17. Patriote oui, nationaliste non ! Vive le Québec ! Vive le français !

  18. Reply to anon at 9:52 AM:

    "Francophones are nuts. And it will take other Francophones to get them to stop this nonsense"

    DEMOGRAPHY will stop them. I predict that very soon Francophones are going to fall below the crucial 20% threshold. Outside Quebec French is being steadily eroded. Note how 30 new seats are being created in the house of commons - all of them outside Quebec. This is just a taste of things to come. The Toronto guy.

  19. To Anonymous at 22 July 2010 08:20 who says:

    "To Anglo Bashers said July 21, 2010 5:06 PM : Did you know there's only one province bilingual in the Canadian Constitution: New Brunswick. After that Québec is french, Nunavut territory: inuktitut and english, and all the ROC is english !"

    Sorry, but you are wrong. Nowhere in the Constitution of Canada that says that Quebec is a Francophone PROVINCE and the other provices (except New Brunswick) are Anglophones.

    New Brunswick is the only province whose language characteristics are specified in the Constitution of Canada.

  20. 1974- Français langue officielle du Québec- Loi sur la langue officielle (Loi 22)- remplacée par la Charte de la langue française (1977) ! Dans votre pipe ! The power in Canada is divided between the central or federal government and the provincial government ! In their own jurisdiction !

  21. @ Anony. at 6:09 PM:

    Federal powers always trump provincial powers. The federal government can shred Quebec's language laws anytime it wants to...hopefully it will do so one day. If Quebec reacts badly then the Feds can send in the army again like Pierre Trudeau did in 1970 and throw the separatist leaders into prison.

  22. Someone will have to explain me a couple of things.

    It makes sense to me to oppose 101's prohibition of English signs and I'm ready to defend this, "despite" being a native Francophone. And I also want the letters in the same size, like federal government stuff.

    However, I do not understand how you can both object to bilingual signs in Dieppe and protest the absence of English in Québec.

    Unless, well, you are simply opposed to the existence of two languages in Canada.

    Sadly for you though, I'm not certain you'll see the end of this in your lifetime.

  23. @ derteilzeitberliner at 3:11 AM:

    What you're missing is the fact that Francophones can post as many signs in French (and French only) in New Brunwick as they want without concern for government intervention. They can do this across the entire country. This is a luxury that Anglophones in Quebec do not have.

    I don't have a problem with the French language in Canada but I am opposed to having it FORCED upon me. I believe in freedom of choice and freedom of expression. If someone wants to put up a sign in French only in New Brunswick - fine. That's their business. But bilingual signs should be optional.

    This is the key to the Anglophone opposition to bilingual signage in New Brunswick and eastern Ontario. They don't want to have French forced upon them. There is probably also a backlash caused by the bans and restrictions placed on English in Quebec, which you referred to in another post. Francophones have eliminated English signage in Quebec and now they want to force French onto signage in provinces with Anglophone majorities. If they could find a way to restrict English on signs in other provinces I'm sure they would do so.

  24. I think what people are objecting to is COMPULSORY bilingualism. If somebody wants to put up a sign in French and English, or Chinese and Bulgarian, for that matter, fine. But this should be a private decision arrived at freely, not by compulsion. The Toronto guy.

  25. Ok, I get your point though I'm not sure that separatists can put in the same basket as Franco-Ontarians and Acadians.

  26. Last year I was waiting for a connecting flight from Montreal in Toronto airport and overheard a somewhat heated discussion at a magazine stand. Finally I heard an exasperated "I DON'T SPEAK FRENCH" and shortly later saw a pot-bellied man with a moustache and a baseball cap strolling away from the stand with a smirk on his face and a spring in his step. I looked closer and there was a tiny (and by now quite upset) Chinese woman tending the magazine stand. Toronto airport. Chinese woman. French. Somehow Monsieur Beliveau and his bottle blonde wife spoke enough English to get on their connecting flight, the same as mine, to Calgary. Harassing Chinese newsagents, though, that's fine.

  27. To Anonymous July 23, 2010 11:56 AM ''This is a luxury that Anglophones in Quebec do not have.'' It's normal because, first N-B is the ONLY officially bilingual province and second in Québec official language is french (You know the horrible Charte de la langue française ?:)). Third, anglophones are 10% of population in Québec !

  28. To Anonymous at 9:56 AM:
    "It's normal because, first N-B is the ONLY officially bilingual province"

    The officially bilingual status of New Brunswick does not apply to commercial signs!

  29. This story is true, not sure of all the contents but the story did happen, not as the journilist claims it did but I just find it funny it has gotten all this publicity.

  30. "All this publicity"... Aside from his blog and the JdM as well as zealot blogs like Louis Préfontaine, it didn't raise much eyebrows.

  31. Aha-ha, you should check your source on the Greek! Although, were I an Air Transat employee I would likely use the very phrases on the asshole and spouse.

  32. Ok so they were going to Greece, how are they going to communicate once there if they are hard headed French speaking quebecors. Air transat flight attendants speak French, I'm sure it's because the journalist probably mumbles or just ignorant. She is based in Toronto and was probably hired because of her other languages... Plus flight attendants must pass a french exam if they can't speak it properly. He should come to the west island, it's the English part of Quebec, English first then French .

    Love it how they lie, ppl in the media always think they deserve everything. I'm sure he probably wanted to be upgraded but was refused and decided to be arrogant!

  33. The whole idea is to get people angry on the language issue from time to time so the separatist vote goes higher in the polls. It doesn't work that much anymore.

  34. What the real Franco-supremacists want is not even Quebec separation, but rather an iron-fisted hermetically sealed unilingual French Quebec in a compliant fully bilingual Canada, at every level, from sea to sea.

  35. "Now answering anyone with the familiar and somewhat rude "What?" instead of the polite "Excuse Me?" or "Pardon me?"

    The use of "Pardon" is the single greatest linguistic sin for the upper and upper-middle classes. It is considered far worse to say "pardon" than to be heard uttering a four-letter word. Lower middle and middle middle classes will use pardon. Upper-middle say "Sorry?". Upper and working classes tend to say "What?"