Friday, May 30, 2008

Thorn In My Side

Some of my unhappiest moments in high school were spent in French class. Our teacher, a thin and beautiful, if middle-aged, Parisian French woman did what she could to make the class interesting. However, she was fighting a battle she could not win. We lived in far Northern BC at the time, and French was the most purposeless subject ever. Who the hell spoke French in Northern BC? No-one who didn't want a sound beating by a bunch of farmers and ranchers, that's who. School should have been about learning relevant, useful things. I hated French with a burning passion and resented every single minute I was in that classroom.

Skip forward twenty years, and over a few provinces. I now work for the Feds, in the Politically Correct Capital of Canada, and French is as much a thorn in my side as it ever was. My career is dictated by how well I can, or can't, parley-vous, despite the fact that the working language for every unit in Canada except the ones in Quebec is English (and believe you me, I'd work at Mickey-D's before I allowed myself to get transferred to La Republique.) My future career in the public service will also be determined by how well (or not) I speak a language I will never use.

What I don't understand is how it came about that roughly 23% of the total population of Canada can dictate how the other 77% of us live our lives and do our jobs. For the number crunchers, this is the total percentage of the Quebec population compared to Canada's in general. I know that only 50% of that 23% are unilingually French and the rest are bilingual or English... but there's no easy way to separate the lunatic fringe of Language Zealots from the rest of 'em.

Yes, I understand their society is all unique and wonderful, that their cheese curds are yummy and I love the convenience of buying wine at a corner d├ępanneur rather than the liquor store. I love the European feel of Quebec City, the flair that Quebecers tend to show in the matters of personal grooming and attire. I love the fact that roughly 83% of the exotic dancers throughout Canada come from La Belle Province. (Don't ask me how I know that.) It kinda takes the heat off the young women in the rest of the provinces, you know?

Most every French person I have met has been lovely. They did not personally beat me on the head with their Larousse, or act with the overbearing arrogance that the French language laws suggest the province in general suffers from. They are generally witty and warm and don't hate me because I refuse to speak their language, whether I can or not. (Mostly, not. Unless I'm drunk. Then I'm fluently bilingual.)

Yes, Quebec is great and all that. French people, nice. Most of 'em. Just get your freakin, over-reaching, meddling fingers off my career. I'll make you a deal. You keep your language laws in your province, and I'll stay in mine. Let me do my job without having to speak another language. Hire me, rate my performance and judge my career progression by how competent I am at my job, not by factors that are completely irrelevant to my job performance.

If I lived in Greece and spoke Greek, then moved to Italy, I wouldn't expect the country to legislate that everyone else had to speak Greek just so I'd fit in and feel all special. I'd damn well learn Italian and get on with it. You may make the argument that Quebec is a part of Canada, not (yet) a separate part, thus the example doesn't hold. Hasn't Quebec been screaming "distinct! different! nation!" all these years? They can't have it both ways. Well, actually, they can, because they have the rest of us in a political stranglehold and everyone is too afraid to call it like it is.

I'm sick of it. Truly. And I can't wait to move out of this sterile, God-forsaken city, the source and prime example of all that's wrong with the great Canadian bilingualism experiment. I long to be back out West, where my ears and eyes aren't assaulted with the constant doctrine that I'm a second-class citizen because my only tongue is English.

My brother had the stones to pull his son out of the mandatory French classes they were jamming down his throat back on the West Coast. The school board was horrified but my brother, in one of the acts I admire him most for, stood his ground and had his son taken out of French in favour of a more useful subject. Which is anything, really. I wish my parents had done the same when I was a child; perhaps I wouldn't still be sitting here getting furious all over again about the lost time twenty-some odd years later.


~V said...

my hubby feels the same way you do...

Five Ferns Fibreholic said...

When I lived in Quebec there were several articles, in the Gazette, about the new "The French words have to be twice as large as any other language on the sign" law.

One woman wrote about how her uniligual French children didn't stand a chance against the Italien kids who spoke Italien at home, learnt French in school and English with the kids on the street.

One man wrote that while people were whining about having to learn two languages, his daughter, spoke several, worked for the UN and traveled all over the world.

Another man wrote that he couldn't understand what the big deal was about learning two languages. In other parts of the world, you are embarrassed to only know two languages.

All that being said....DH's career is limited as well for having only limited (very limited) French even though his position means that he only deals with English speaking Nations. Go Figure!!!