French Canadian or Canadien French?

Bilingual Canada - Yes. Bilingual Quebec - No.

Shortly after landing in Canada I decided to take two old people’s courses at the local college. They are called Encore Courses, which is a fancy name for ‘let’s give these old farts something to occupy their feeble little brains and they won’t dwell on the fact that their next stop is the knacker’s yard.’

I put my name down for Creative Writing and Conversational French. The reason for the first course is obvious. There are four reasons for the French course.

1) I feel guilty at dropping French at 13 because I would never, ever, ever need it, not in my wildest dreams imagining I would leave Scotland and eventually live in a bilingual country. (I dropped Latin as well, never thinking I would ever be speaking to any Romans, but, believe this or not, one of my new friends in Canada is a retired teacher – she taught conversational Latin - can you believe that?).

2) When our boat broke down in the middle of the St Lawrence, the only people who paid attention to our screams of help were a Quebec couple. They couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak French. We managed to communicate, but I vowed to learn some everyday French, like perhaps. ‘Can you give us a tow into the dock?’ Or ‘Just how exactly how are you supposed to start a 3 cylinder 70 hp outboard when you have a dead battery, then?”

3) Our friends have a daughter who is 9 years old. Her mother is French and her father is Canadian. That doesn’t sound right? Ah yes. Her mother and father are bilingual Canadians. When the daughter speaks to us, you can see her mind working as she computes and translates. I find it fascinating and I want to be able to say more than. ‘Oh yes?’ to her when she asks me ‘Your woman she is well?’ and ‘You will die soon at your old?”

And the fourth and last reason:-

4) Montreal! What is with that city? I’ll give you some advice about driving through Montreal –Don’t. I appreciate Quebec trying to keep their language and culture alive but they shouldn't push it. I know, I know, the Official Languages Act 'ensures respect for the English and French languages and ensures equality of status and equal rights and priveleges as to their use in Federal Institutions.' That's about as daft as the new Scottish Parliament having to ensure their members of parliament have to speak Gaelic and English.

Canada is supposed to be a bilingual country, but I haven't noticed any bilingual signs in Vancouver or Newfoundland. Certainly, in Eastern Ontario, where the sensible Quebecers escaped to when there was talk of Quebec seceding, the road signs are bilingual - they are printed with English first and a French translation underneath or to the side. You would expect a slight difference in Montreal, perhaps French first and then English. But what is there? French. A word of advice to the highway maintenance guys…..this is not France, it is Canada. This is a dangerous practice.

Imagine If I lived in Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland and I wanted to erect a sign that said. ‘Don’t drive any further or you will go off the edge of the country and your car will get damp’. Would I print it in Gaelic which hardly anybody can read? No! I would print it in Gaelic and English. (And so would everybody else…except of course, Jock McGillivary, who is actually responsible for said signs and can’t speak English, but then he already has the boats in the Pentland Firth, each one equipped with heavy lifting gear. Apart from that he has the scrap metal dealership and four heavies to ensure that nobody messes with him.)

Mmm Just been talking to our 9 year old friend. She says that as I drive through Montreal I should remember road numbers and destinations, just as her daddy does. How does her daddy do this, I asked her?

“He keeps saying, ‘Route 20, Route 40, or Toronto’. He sings it out loud.”

I asked her when her father chanted this mantra. “Just when he gets to the start of the city after he crosses himself.”

Out of the mouths…

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Comments 8 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Loved this, very enlightening! Luckily we don't do signs in Geordie or nobody would understand 'em.


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Ta for visiting, lass. There is a simmering animosity in this part of Canada against the Quebecois and the Mohawks. Isn't it strange how a large number of people can be disenchanted by another large group of people, but in small groups we all get on famously. I play billiards with Quebecois/Americans/French-Welsh-English-Scots Canadians, and Mohawks. We slag each other off about our nationalities/religions/languages and other oddities, but we don't look upon our banter as either racial or religious slurs.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

People are odd about their territory aren't they? Look at Sunderland and Newcastle supporters? Or Celtic or Rangers or Arsenal and Spurs - sport can divide people, never mind land ownership. It's great though that you've got a great mix in your part of Canada between ex-pats on the one hand and Canadians (Canadiens?) on the other - in programmes like 'How I Met Your Mother', one of the characters takes the pee out of the Canadians constantly but there's nothing 'vanilla' about the country - it seems to thrive on its diversity and difference, though I still don't get the violence of ice hockey where they're allowed to take off their gloved to finish off their fights - imagine that in footie?


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

When it comes to ice hockey - only 'hockey' here - I just suggested last week that all the world's countries disband their armies. Instead, replace them with ice-hockey teams. I think I'd support the 'Royal Hockey Fusiliers of Ontario.'


JessBraz profile image

JessBraz 3 years ago from Canada

I enjoyed your hub!

I'm from Ontario, also along the banks of the St. Lawrence River and very close to Montreal.. I know enough French to be able to read the signs for the most part (thanks to being forced to take French from Kindergarten straight though high school) but I usually refuse to attempt to speak French when in Montreal.. beyond "Merci beaucoup" .. It is a bit of a sticking point for some of us here in Eastern Ontario... I have to be able to speak French to the French people that come here, (there are lots of jobs you won't get here, if you're not fluent in French.. even though we're in Ontario) but when I go there, they don't have to speak English for me... We're in a weird little spot on the map, caught between two languages..

Cheers on the great hub!


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 3 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Again, Jess, thank you for the visit and comment. We don't live very far from Montreal either, in fact a friend of ours who passed away a couple of years ago, was an escapee from Quebec in the 80's.

It is odd that although we live in Eastern Ontario, we have to know French to obtain an official job. There is one very good thing about living on the edge - the weather systems - apart from the ice storm, seem to pass us by. We can see the weather over the Adirondacks, and as long as it stays there to give us a spectacular view, we are quite happy. Thanks again Jess.


JessBraz profile image

JessBraz 3 years ago from Canada

I definitely agree with you about the weather... It was quite gloomy this morning, but now, nothing but sunshine over the mighty St. Lawrence.. Being so close to two major cities (Montreal & Ottawa) plus a hop skip and a jump away from upstate New York is quite nice... It makes for lots of places to visit in the summer.. Sometimes I feel like our neck of the woods doesn't get the recognition it deserves for being such a nice little nook of Canada.


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 3 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Jess.

Let me tell you a story - one of the reasons why Cornwall is not recognised. At the gym a few years ago, a new arrival to the city was raving about it. He was becoming a bore about how wonderful Cornwall was. I said to him, "I suppose you've told all your Ottawa compatriots how magical this area is?"

"Not on your life," he replied. "And have them moving here? No danger. I keep telling them what a crap, smelly city it is. I'm not that silly."

And this was long after the smelly factory closed down.

The city needs a better marketing manager than him.

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