Thursday, October 4, 2007

The struggle between French and English

Not only do I live in a bilingual part of Canada, I am completely bilingual myself. My French is almost as good as my English, and I move easily between the two languages without giving it a second thought.

My parents hailed from Ontario, a VERY English part of Canada, so although they could not speak French themselves, they insisted that my brother and I enter the bilingual education system at the tender age of five, and for that I will always be grateful.

Because I have always been bilingual, I never really thought about what it was like for a uniligual anglophone in this area, until I moved back here in 2001. My Ex-husband's (he was my husband at the time, mind you) career as fire chief of our old town, and security manager to a major corporation, had been very successful, so neither of us anticipated the closed doors we would find here. Yes, his resume and credentials were flawless, but, umm, do you speak French? No? Well, nice to meet you, good luck.

It took my very talented (ex)husband a YEAR to find a job, simply because he couldn't speak French. Never MIND that he is razor sharp, has been trained within an inch of his life to help others, and is, quite frankly, brilliant. No French? No job.

I remember what a slap that was to us, but in particular to ME. I had dragged my family here in order to move on with my career, and my own ignorance to what faces "English people" almost destroyed us. I tell you truthfully that he is bitter about the bilingual movement to this day.

I further remember that, thirteen years ago, he and I drove from one side of Canada to the other. It was an amazing trip, a chance to see our glorious nation. And then we hit Quebec, that bastion of French pride and "distinct society".We needed gas, and pulled in to a service station. Ex-husband was driving, so he had to deal with the attendant. Ex-husband had asked me along the way to give him useful French phrases, and so he tried, my God he TRIED to be respectful of where we were and to use the prevailing language. I will never, as long as I live, forget him saying, "S'il vous plait remplir??" The syntax was wrong, the accent was horrible, but he TRIED.

And the seventeen year old FUCK, who thought we were just ignorant English, turned away, making fun of us under his breath, never dreaming that I understood every word. I was so ashamed by this person, showing such comtempt for an English person who was TRYING to converse in the local language. Tell you what, Jean-Marc, how 'bout you fuck off and speak English to ME? Who's the person struggling NOW, you dick???

That was the very first time I ever felt that underlying tension between French and English, and I did NOT like it.

All of this is simply a preamble to what happened to me in the grocery store today. Yes, I live in a bilingual area, but within that area, some cities are definitely more French, and some are more English. I happen to live in a predominately English area.

So I'm in line at the grocery store, and Matthew, the 17 year old clerk, is going thru his drill with the lady in front of me, "How are you? Did you find everything you were looking for? Do you have an Airmiles card?"And the lady in front of me keeps answering him in French. She clearly understands English, because she answered every question he asked appropriately, just in French. And everytime she spoke, she raised her voice juuuuussst a little bit more, as if to point out to him that She Was French, By God.

And here's this poor highschool acne victim, just trying to earn his $8 an hour while Whore Face keeps screaming her right to the language of her choice, and clearly aware that this poor teenage boy CAN'T speak French. She tortured this child to make her point.

I'm sorry, sweetheart. If you want the government to serve you in the language of your choice, fine. If you want ME to serve you in the language of your choice, fine. But how 'bout you lay off the CHILD and take your ridiculous posturing in to the parking lot with me.

1 comment:

Mare said...

Right on ma soeur