When Bambi migrated to Canada in 1990, she was disappointed by only three Canadian realities (and winter is still not among them :)):
- She naively thought that, in Canada (“sold” abroad as a bilingual country), each citizen speaks both English and French. Not the case. Not realistic also.
- She had trouble imagining a world (OK precisely its washrooms 🙂 without a “bidet” (see picture). There is even a funny French song for the bidet, shown below.
- Well, although Montreal is an island, the Saint Lawrence river water around it was not salty obviously. Bambi loves salty waters, like the Mediterranean sea of her childhood or the Atlantic Ocean of her current times.
OK, seriously now, this post is specifically about the first point.
It is one thing to be unilingual (French is harder to learn when we are an anglophone than vice versa). It is a totally different matter to having a disrespectful attitude toward the language of French-speaking people (or with speakers of English or any other language, of course).
Bearing the above in mind, what happened in Montreal recently was an expression of an arrogant attitude, which is surprising when it comes from a clever businessman, leading one of the largest companies of our country, namely Air Canada. At least this man (ironically with a French name, Rousseau) apologized. After the insult, he is now telling us that he will work on learning French. Mind you, this is what our Governor General also told us (by the way, did she find the time to start her courses :)?). At least in her case, she showed more respect than this businessman (https://www.qub.ca/article/le-bureau-du-pm-a-aussi-averti-air-canada-1060030199). Thanks to her. At least, in his case, he expressed his regrets and this wise move must be saluted, even if it does not erase what he said the day before (and how he said it) and no need to go into the details of the wording. It is a question of attitude, not of specific words or lack of them. The main point is that he refused to give a bilingual talk to the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain, although requested by the province’s Commissioner of Official Languages, the office of the Prime Minister François Legault, and the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, new federal Minister of Official Languages (thanks to her!).
Sadly, Mr. Rousseau’s actions speak volumes about some of the widespread attitudes of many across our country. Indeed, the only socially acceptable discriminatory attitude seems to be toward Québeckers. If you do not believe Bambi, do a quick tour of the mainstream English media or just think of the moderator’s horrible and misleading question to Mr. Blanchet in the English federal debate. Ironically, her question was stating how Bill 96 on the French language is racist and discriminatory. One must keep in mind that although Air Canada is a private company, federal laws of bilingualism apply to it. Why can’t its CEO have a minimum of respect for the beautiful language of Molière, especially after 14 years in Montreal?
Luckily, there are defendants of French in Québec who are immigrants or children of immigrants and who chose Québec, precisely because of its language (just like Bambi’s family). They worked hard to learn or master its language and they respect it. Bravo to Mr. Antoine Robitaille who highlighted the Québec politicians, Ms. Ruba Ghazal and Ms. Marwah Rizky, fo their responses to this story (https://www.journaldemontreal.com/2021/11/06/inspirantes-ruba-ghazal-et-marwah-rizqy). It is moving to hear their family stories (their parents took the time to work hard to learn French, including one mother with a disabled child). Mr. Robitaille is right: They are living proof of the success of immigration into a nation that still respect itself, that is its language and values (how refreshing nowadays!).
To conclude this post devoted to the French language, why can’t we be respectful for all the minorities equally? Why should we always seem to have double standards in life? Luckily, for those of us who are not talented in learning languages, we do not have to speak the same language to show the universal attitude of respect. The latter does not need much time and energy to be learned like French. It is widely available for free to those who chose to have the agency to resort to it. By apologizing, Mr. Rousseau showed us that he can be much talented in learning the respect of Québec (and by extension Francophones and Francophiles across Canada and even the world). There is hope in life and, because of that, he deserves the beautiful song below about the French language, as a gift from Bambi… of course in the language of Voltaire and Molière.