Quebec, Ink: Pardon my French, Pauline

For anglos like me, speaking French has become just as difficult as writing it, because now I have to think carefully before talking, lest I give away my mother tongue by using the wrong gender for a fucking pamplemousse.

Pauline Marois was in the Gaspé when she announced that a Parti Québécois government would introduce a “new Bill 101” to strengthen the French language. She complained that French Quebecers still have trouble being served in their own language.

Mais, Pauline, that’s just the way they speak in the Gaspé. It’s mean to make fun of their accents.

Personally, I’ve always had trouble with service in French, even when I was doing the serving. As a teenager, I worked at a hardware store called Pascal’s (go ask your dad) in the département des attachés (nuts and bolts). One day, this francophone in his 60s arrived at the counter and asked if I had “des lag bolts quart de pouce par six pouces.”

“Yes, sir,” I responded in West Island-accented French. “Combien de tire-fonds voulez-vous?”

His face screwed up at my response. “What da fuck is a tire-fond?”

“Bien, c’est le bon mot en français pour un lag bolt, monsieur.”

The guy looked like he couldn’t decide whether to laugh or punch me. “I’ve been working 45 years in construction,” he said in perfect québécois, “and this is the first time I’ve heard it called a tire-fond. Now go get me a box of lag bolts, chalice.”

That was 35 years ago, when the first incarnation of Bill 101 was adopted. And although most anglos didn’t want language laws back then, few of us can deny that Bill 101 was necessary, and that after its adoption on Aug. 26, 1977, its effect on Quebec society was revolutionary, empowering francophones while shaking anglophones and allophones out of the complacency that had allowed us to ignore a language spoken by 80 per cent of our fellow citizens.

We’ve come a long way, bébé.

Bonne fête, Bill.


When you run out of ideas, you often dust off your old favourites. Especially when they are as popular as something like Bill 101.

The problem is, Pauline, you’ve pretty much milked that cow dry.

About the only people who have trouble being served in French these days are those with English accents. For anglos like me, speaking French has become just as difficult as writing it, because now I have to think carefully before talking, lest I give away my mother tongue by using the wrong gender for a fucking pamplemousse. Because as soon as the server detects my failure to master la langue de Lévesque, BOOM! She switches to English. Because she’s a selfish asshole who wants to improve her English because you, madame Marois et cie, teach it to her poorly and infrequently in your schools, and now you don’t even want to let her attend an English CEGEP.

So when the barista’s English detector goes off, forget about trying to get her to speak French again. I’m like an English-immersion course for her, an American sitcom she can actually converse with. Next thing you know, she’s inviting me to bring Rachel and Chandler and Monica to hang out at her café and give it that suave sophistication that comes from a room of anglos speaking French to each other while all the francos speak English and Spanish.

Another “problem” the PQ deplores is that the proportion of French mother tongue (FMT) folks on the island of Montreal is falling. Since we’re talking mother tongue, not language(s) spoken, there are only two ways to reverse this trend: increase the FMT population and/or decrease the non-FMT population.

So how, exactly, do you do that? I’m pretty sure those bleeding-heart human rights people would protest if you tried to vote the non-FMTs off the island, creating an allo-anglo exodus to rival the flight of the Acadians in the 1750s.

And, in any case, where would they go? To Saguenay, where they’d be treated as an exotic species with unpronounceable names, like Smyth and Singh and Shaloub? Saguenay mayor Jean Tremblay would never tolerate such an affront!

That leaves just one solution: busing. Round up one in every 10 FMT Quebecers living in the Gaspé, Sag-Lac, la Malbaie, la Beauce, l’Outaouais, Côte-Nord, Quebec City and Abitibi-Témiscamingue and put them on an Orléans-Express bus to Berri-UQÀM. Offer them free apartments if they agree to have at least five kids and, voila, problem solved.

Oh, you don’t like that idea, Pauline? Do you have a better one?

C’est ce que je pensais. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His satirical observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter at @quebecink

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