Friday, 5 October 2012

Here we speak...

Every once in a while, as an Anglophone living in Montreal, you end up having to talk about language. It's part of life here, and I've come to accept it. Lately, the subject has been coming up more often than usual.

We had a provincial election here in early September. In the months leading up to the election, the politicians dusted off their old diatribes. The Anglophone community was warned if they didn't vote for the federalist Liberals, Québec would separate and we would lose all our rights. Meanwhile, the sovereingist Parti Québecois played up to the hard line nationalists. It was an exercise in cynicism, with important issues such as health care, education, economy, and the environment taking a backseat to the politics of language identity. And it all ended in a horrible tragedy on election night.

The election rhetoric of separation has stirred up emotions in a way I haven't seen since the 1995 Referendum (and yes, I was living in Montreal at the time.) Yesterday, an employee of the Société de Transport de Montréal decided to post a sign on the inside of a ticket booth window. The sign, written in French, informed people that "Here in Quebec, things are done in French." The ticket booth was at the Villa Maria metro station, in the NDG neighbourhood, which has fairly large Anglophone and Allophone populations.
                                                                                                                                                     photo by Jessica Rodrigues

I have lived in Montreal for nearly half my life. I chose to stay here, rather than move back to Ontario after university. My husband and I have chosen not just to raise our children here, but to raise them to be fluently bilingual. We speak French with our neighbours. We encourage our children to speak French when we're out with them. We even chose to send Ruby to a school in the French school system, despite having the option to send her to an English school. Oscar is at a French daycare, and he too will go through school in French. Obviously, I see how important it is to respect the French language and culture of Quebec. More than that, I care about it.

But I hate what this sign represents. I hate the callousness, the self-righteousness, and the small-mindedness of the person who thought he had the right to post a sign like this in a public place. What I would like to know is why. What was the point of the sign? To make other people feel small, or intimidated? Most people who live in Montreal already know how to ask for a couple of metro tickets in French, even if they have to stumble over their words, or they have an accent.

The hatred this sign represents worries me. When Ruby and Oscar grow up, they will speak French without an Anglophone accent. We've given up a lot to make sure of that, in terms of passing on our culture and language. But will they feel accepted as part of Québec society? Most of the time, especially in Mile End, people seem to get along with each other, regardless of language. You hear a lot of Anglophones speaking French, and Francophones speaking English, and a lot of Franglais in between. But once in a while, the language debate flares up in Québec. After a while, as an Anglophone you just get tired...Tired of apologising, tired of carrying the weight of history around with you, tired of the trouble stirred up by politicians who would rather discuss language politics than tackle bread and butter issues.

But c'est la vie, as they say. I chose to make my life here, knowing full-well that being an Anglophone would make me a target for some people's antipathy. I wasn't born here, and have no family ties here. I could move back to Ontario tomorrow. But I would miss Montreal. It has become my home. I suppose that's the problem for many Anglophones. This is our home, but every once in a while, someone makes a point of telling us we don't belong.

I'm meeting a friend for coffee later...a francophone. As usual, we'll talk about our kids, what we've been up to, plans for the weekend. As usual, we'll end up speaking mostly in French, with a bit of Franglais thrown in, and a smattering of English. And, as usual, we won't talk about language at all. I'm looking forward to it.

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