This fall will mark my twentieth year in the Eastern Townships. (Watch for parade details; it’s going to be stupendous.) Add another three years in Montreal and that’s nearly half my life in Quebec. In that time, I’ve been a productive member of society, contributing tax dollars, several tons of newsprint and four darling anglo babies.
Yet I will never be a Quebecer. I get that. It’s okay. But if you believe some of the recent media bunkum, I’m not much welcome here at all.
Last month’s issue of l’Actualité, with its skewed survey served up by a known Parti Québécois operative, did a great job of what I call xeno-baiting by suggesting that anglos, especially in Montreal, are (gasp!) speaking too much English and, worse, committing the New and Improved Sin of not vociferously embracing – nay, defending! – French language and culture. In the new xeno-speak, if you’re not avec us, you’re contre us.
In other language news, last week Quebecor-owned website Canoe implied that 850 businesses in Montreal’s NDG were in violation of Quebec’s sign laws, based not on official documentation but on the say-so of an 18-year-old sign-hunter from the Société St-Jean-Baptiste. This raises unsettling questions, not about fair-minded journalism or the precarious state of our hard-earned linguistic peace but why the heck is a kid measuring letters when he should be out binge drinking and blocking traffic like a normal 18-year-old?
All of this has led some in the English media (The Gazette’s feisty Don MacPherson, for example) to complain that anglos – even those anglos who have done their utmost to adapt to la vie québécoise – ain’t nothin’ but a country song: we’re not truly welcome until we finally go away.
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 20-plus years in Quebec, it’s that you can’t tar an entire group with one brush. Not all French media, for example, are agenda-wielding propaganda-mongers. Likewise, not all anglos will react to cultural provocation by gnashing their teeth and pulling the hair out of their gloriously square heads.
If you’re like me, you might decide that the days of the angryphone are past. After all, today’s anglos have stuck around, the kneejerks having long since skedaddled. Some of us even chose to move here. Imbued with the wisdom that comes through struggle and referenda, Quebec’s English population is mature, one might even say a parental figure.
And so, I’m not angry, just very disappointed.
The saddest part of these insinuations is the hinting at ulterior motive, that Quebec’s anglos are somehow purposely trying to erode the French fact. Le phooey!
For example, just because I’ve never truly mastered the language doesn’t mean I’m anti-French, just shy. If I’ve consistently gravitated towards members of my own linguistic community, it’s not obstinacy; it’s human nature.
If I’ve failed to have (as l’Actualité described it) a “meaningful” conversation in French, it’s nothing personal. I’ve never had a meaningful conversation in English either; we anglos are funny that way.
At the same time, I’ve fully embraced the prominence of French in the culture. My wife and I have sent our children to French elementary school, despite implications by some in the English community that we’re somehow traitors for doing so. And even though I bristled when our children’s teachers suggested we watch more French television, speak more French at home, we kept sight of our goal, which was to enable our children to work and live in Quebec – should they so choose.
Instead of denouncing us, I wish these influential factions of the French mediacracy could see the benefits of having a partially immersed English class – none of us hogging the front-row seats for the Marie-Mimi Momo concert, for one example; filling all the crappy jobs because we don’t have the meaningful conversation skills to hold down an executive position, for another. But I’m too content in this life, too proud of the huge strides the English community has made in recognizing the reality of this belle province to bother getting angry about it.
Instead, the best response to those who cast aspersions on the English community isn’t anger, but the same as when an attention-seeking child lashes out – simply ignore the immature behaviour.
But if there’s any monkey business with our institutions or roughhousing with our rights, someone’s going to get grounded, buster!