Canada's former largest city has great people and great culture, just don't get stuck speaking english
Montreal, Quebec is know throughout the world for it’s video game companies, it’s successful hockey team, smoked meat and a thriving porn industry. But is Montreal a true international city? No. Montreal will never be a true international city because of xenophobia and language wars.
Racism in Montreal has never been a huge problem, at least when it comes to the color of someone’s skin or religion (although certain religions are frowned upon in the province.) No, the hate you hear about in Montreal derives from the language we speak. French vs. English.
The language problems in the province are centuries in the making. Since the French separatist movement elected it’s first Premier (governor) in the 1970’s, English people have been on the run. It’s not unheard these days in Quebec for an English speaking individual to run into the same prejudices that a black man would encounter in Mississippi.
Putting politics aside, I would like to focus on a few separate language issues that have to change for Montreal to be considered a true international city.
The Language Police. Quebec isn’t the only area that has French as an official language – France does too. The difference between the two is how they treat other languages. I’ve heard the arguments: “If we don’t keep our language, then how can we keep our identity?” and “We can’t thrive like France because we are a small community surrounded by Anglophones!”
French people I know look at Quebecois as some sort of backwoods hillbilly version of their French language. France also, even though a bit xenophobic itself, does have a lot more patience when it comes to dealing with those not of the their tongue. Is the identity of Quebecers so fragile that they will lose it if English is given equal weight? What sort of identity needs that much protection?
How many places in the world require a language police? Quebec needs cops to enforce laws that require businesses to have French names, French signs and they even need to conduct their business in French. You can actually get a fine for paging someone over the PA system using only English.
Anything that is in English must be translated into French. That’s fair enough, but anything in French does not have to be translated or made available in English.
These laws were seen in its full futility by Xavier Menard who started a business and named it with an acronym created by French words, but, unfortunately for him, the acronym sounded too Anglophone “Wellarc”, so he had legal action brought against him by the language police.
The laws strangulating English school boards. One way to be an international city would be to allow the students to choose the language they want for an education – English or French.
The older law was this: If you had one parent who was a Canadian citizen and educated in an English school, you could enroll your kids into an English school. You could also enroll your kids after spending time in a private English school.
Then that changed to Bill 104: that stopped children of francophones and immigrants from using the English system. This was eventually ruled Unconstitutional, but the damage was done.
In has led to an immediate loss of 400 English students a year and a decrease from 27,000 in the year 2000 to 19,800 this year in the English school’s enrollment. Estimates state the actual drop will be over 10,000 students or 30%.
The game is simple; if you make it harder for the schools to enroll people by decimating their student body pool, then you will force the schools to close. Sure, people will lose their jobs, but hey, those people are Anglophones. Who cares, right? Why even have them in the community? Sure, they dedicated their lives to the pretty selfless profession of teaching and helping the youth of Canada, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to put food on their table.
They are trying to keep the English horde down by destroying the school system. If people don’t learn English and all the jobs for Anglophones are removed, then why would they stick around? This all makes it easier for the French separatists to achieve their goal.
Transportation and hospital services. If you ever travel on the Metro with me you will know two things: Almost nobody wants to sit next to me. Seriously, I’ve seen people stand for 12 stops while I was sitting near an empty seat. Maybe it’s my smile? Whenever the Metro doesn’t run smoothly (e.g. daily) I will look like a stunned duck trying to figure out just what the PA announcer is saying over the speakers. Usually, I can pick out the words enough to know which metro line is being affected.
I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it was running slow, stopped, a terrorist threat or Jenna Jameson having a sex party. Why can’t I tell those things as a traveler? Well, because everything is in French only and is piped through a speaker that would make most McDonald’s drive-throughs seem like cutting edge audio technology.
This awkwardness extends to the booth people. Some are nice, but others can be extremely rude if you don’t speak French. English people in the city are running into these problematic persons more frequently in the last couple years. Imagine be talked down to like that if you’re just a tourist.
I am thankful the STM is just the equivalent of a mall cop with a better outfit. I would hate to have a guy with a gun yell at me in French. I have to say that I have witnessed the yelling at an Anglo in French by STM guards, but it has not happened to me yet.
The lack of communication on public transit can be pretty scary for a traveler, but not being able to communicate to your doctor or hospital staff is damn right frightening. It takes a matter of life and death to a whole new level.
Let me tell you a quick story. As some of you might know, I had to take last week off from writing for Quiet Mike. As most of you don’t know, however, it was because I was being seen by a Cardiologist. I have been in and out of the hospitals and clinics for a few months due to this.
Usually, my treatments are great. The nurse starts in French and switches to English with ease. That’s great, but for medical care “usually” doesn’t cut it. I had the experience of trying to hunt down my Cardiologist at the hospital last week. The front staff insisted on speaking only French to me even though every reply I gave was either in English or my broken French, pleading for them to switch to English.
One became upset with me because I wasn’t giving her something. I again asked for English instructions. Eventually, I just gave her my wallet and hoped what she needed was in it, but she tossed it back at me. Did I mention I needed to see my heart doctor?
The appointment went worse from there to the point where my name and a room number was being called a few times. I walked around like a chicken with my head cut off because I couldn’t make out the full number. I saw a woman go into the waiting room and look around, but when I asked her if I was the patient she was searching for she ignored me. Eventually a woman on the phone took pity on me and showed me where to go. Guess what? I was that patient the hospital worker was looking for. Apparently she didn’t feel comfortable speaking in English so she ignored me.
My father is an immigrant, I’ve taught English as a second language, I’ve spent time overseas, but my life was on the line here. I was paying full attention, but near tears because the French only policies have corrupted what this city has become and this time it was affecting my life in a very serious way. Again. I was in for my heart.
Listen, I am from an area in the US where there was a push for “English Only”. I thought that movement against the Spanish speaking immigrants from Mexico was asinine in the US. I think the movement against the Anglophones in Montreal is also asinine. Language superiority of any kind is pointless and it goes against a true international community. Las Vegas handled it by embracing all of the cultures and it became a better city for it.
Montreal was a city of possibilities whose future was stolen by intolerant people trying to break up the country. If Montreal chooses to be an international city, it will first have to stand up to the provincial Government and its hate mongering politicians trying to put a Ziploc bag over its English citizens. The only thing that comes out of putting a Ziploc bag over something as living and vibrant as Montreal is a slow suffocation and death.