Une minorité anglophone dans une minorité francophone? Inception! On vous présente le quotidien parfois surréel de ces communautés isolées, de Québec à Grosse-Île, en passant par Rouyn.

Ce texte est extrait du Spécial ANGLOSdisponible sur notre boutique en ligne

Nina Lauren, Quebec City

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself walking through the streets of New York City. You’re on vacation and you’ve called a friend back home in Quebec to talk about the excitement of the city, and about the parks, museums, and hustle and bustle. Now imagine someone, a New Yorker, taps you on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me. This is America. Speak English.”

This doesn’t happen in New York. But it does in Quebec City.

As an anglophone growing up in the predominantly French neighbourhood of the Quartier Montcalm, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable moments where I felt as if I were trespassing on someone else’s property instead of living in the city in which I was raised.

Growing up in Quebec City in the ‘80s and ’90s, Bill 101 obliged my American parents to send my brothers, my sister, and myself to French-language schools. I never once heard my father complain about the Bill. In fact, he once explained to me how it was an important way for the French to preserve their language and culture. In addition, one of the main reasons my parents moved to Quebec was for their children to have the opportunity to learn French. My father understood the strategy of assimilation that was behind the Bill. He believed in in it so much that he established his own version of the Bill in our home. The rule was simple: English could be the only language spoken in our house. This also meant no television, further limiting the reach of French into our family. We fully embraced French culture outside our home yet his protectiveness of our English language heritage made me understand the fragility of culture and language and how easily they are lost.

Still, my understanding of the situation didn’t relieve any of my struggles as an anglophone teenager trying to define myself in a population trying to find its own identity. At times it was brutal, so much so that I decided to leave Quebec City in my early twenties and move to New York City to pursue an acting career.
New York City’s ethnic diversity astounded me. When my friends would visit from Quebec, I felt reassured, knowing nobody would stare at them in Central Park for speaking French, and no one would ask them to speak English instead.

While I’ve never been attacked for being anglophone in Quebec City, at times I’ve been made to feel shame for speaking my native language. Now, when people say, “Euh? Allo? Scuse, mais t’es au Québec, tu devrais parler Français!” my reply is always, “How rude of you to barge in, you are not included in my conversation.” I say this in English because a little humour eases the sting of conflict, I find.

Today my dad, who still lives in Quebec, and who once obliged his own children to communicate solely in English, no longer chooses to speak to me in English in public. If he wants to say something to me now he speaks to me in broken French. I assume it’s because he’s uncomfortable with the accompanying stares. For me, the looks can be intimidating, but I stubbornly keep responding to him in English. I insist on it because if there’s one thing I learned from my experience growing up in Quebec, it’s to preserve your heritage.

My father is the only person in my family who remains in Quebec. My mother has moved to the States. My sister moved to Australia, and my brothers have also left.  I’ve never spoken about it with them and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that they all chose English-language countries to settle in, if they felt the same alienation I sometimes do in Quebec. They all love to visit Quebec, although they never stay for long.

When I eventually settle permanently in New York I’ll never forget my Quebec City roots, but I’ll go knowing that I’m moving to a world-famous city that is vibrant for its music, culture, art and education centres, not in spite of the influx of diverse cultures and languages but because of them.

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  • Kim

     »Imagine yourself walking through the streets of New York City. You’re on vacation and you’ve called a friend back home in Quebec to talk about the excitement of the city, and about the parks, museums, and hustle and bustle. Now imagine someone, a New Yorker, taps you on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me. This is America. Speak English.”

    This doesn’t happen in New York. »

    I rolled my eyes there. Yes it does.  »This is America, speak English » or  »This is Canada, we speak English here » are all things I heard in the few trips I made to Toronto, New York and Boston, while having a private conversation in French with my friends. Poor alienated anglos seem to fail to realize that what they feel as anglos in Qc is what francos feel on the rest of the continent.

  • DV

    « Now imagine someone, a New Yorker, taps you on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me. This is America. Speak English.”

    This doesn’t happen in New York. But it does in Quebec City. »

    Hmm, yeah, maybe it doesn’t happen in New York. But I’ve lived in the Midwest and I got this all the time: « This is America. Speak WHITE. »

  • Philippe Blanchard

    Of course, the problem here is the false equivalency, and thinking that one can apply the same standards to every locale regardless of the reality on the terrain.

    English as a language is not threatened in New York City, or anywhere else in North America. Whereas French is De Facto threatened in Quebec.

    New York can afford to be so generous and free-spirited.

    But what about all the cities in the United States who have passed laws restricting the use of… Spanish because they fear the influx of Latinos?

  • Danielle

    When I read this I didn’t think the author meant for New York to stand in for the whole United States any more than Quebec City was supposed to represent Canada. There are places in the US where even the wrong accent in English will cause problems. I think the point was that New York was such a cool place because it was more accepting.

    Secondly, as someone who has lived in New York since 2005 you’re dead wrong if you think English isn’t « threatened » here. One no longer needs to be fluent in English to survive. Government agencies, public transportation, hospitals, schools, private businesses all provide information and services in Spanish. And the number of Spanish speakers grows each year. I’ve noticed with increasing frequency that I need to instruct people on the pronunciation and spelling of my traditional English (and French) name in my own country.

    The difference-and this is where the equivalency is relevant and important-is that in New York (not Mississippi, Arizona, or Kalamazoo) most people accommodate. I don’t care if my children grow up bilingual English-Spanish. In fact, that would be great. And if my grandkids don’t speak English at all, only Spanish. Guess what? I’ll speak Spanish.

    There are many reasons why New York is such an important city, (London is similar in this regard), one of which is the ability and foresight to move forward when necessary and not use fear of change to force out anyone who doesn’t think the same way.

  • Julie Blaquière

     » “How rude of you to barge in, you are not included in my conversation.” I say this in English because a little humour eases the sting of conflict, I find.  » This was the right thing to say. End of discussion. There are narrow minded people all over the world. I personnaly was very accomodating to an anglophone husband, I even bought my first encyclopedia in English. Result: he never learnt French « in Québec »!!! How could that be possible in Québec that is the question to ask? He lived here most of his life!

  • c

    Is it so hard to read the personal account of an anglophone without defensively shutting down every comparison made? And are you mentioning that parts of the US are backwards and racist as some sort of justification for similar behavior here in QC? My friends and neighbours, I believe you are better than that.

    Just because there is systematic racism and xenophobia in backwater US states, or because a few isolated assholes in big cities make you feel shitty for speaking your mother tongue in private, doesn’t mean we should aspire to it here. I think we can aspire to protect our language and culture in other ways.

  • Jacques Leduc

    Permettez que j’écrive en français? De toute façon, tout le monde parle, lit et écrit le french au Québec, n’est-ce pas?
    Bravo 1 000 fois pour ce numéro sur les Anglos. tout à fait réussi. Et je suis sûr que vous auriez eu de la matière pour une parution de 500 pages. Parce que ce sont des opinions, impressions personnalisées, factuelles, ponctuelles. ( Les Anglos, vous suivez toujours? ). Recensement 2001: 327 000 Québécois unilingues anglophones. Recensement 2006: 357 000 Anglos unilingues. Je cherche dans le recensement 2011, mais je ne trouve pas les éléments correspondants. Bizarre, n’est-ce pas?
    Les porte-parole usuels, Dennis Trudeau, David Birnbaum, Mme Machin-Laforge, n’ont pas été sollicités pour votre thématique et j’en suis heureux. La réalité montréalaise est tout autre.
    Mon expérience personnelle sur le phénomène anglo se situe dans 2 pôles: dans HOMA, où des employés doivent se fendre en 4 pour servir in English des unilingues anglos ( pas tous, ne paniquez pas! ). Des touristes au Marché Maisonneuve, plusieurs fois par mois??? Give me a break! Et à l’international: la thèse, voulant que comme l’anglais est la lingua franca permette à tous les Anglos du monde de ne parler…qu’anglais, est tout simplement puante pour bon nombre de citoyens du monde. À Casablanca, Hanoi, Istanbul, c’est souvent avec mépris que l’on sert ces Anglos qui ne sont tout simplement pas capables de marmonner un SVP ou un merci des plus élémentaires dans la langue du pays.
    Et c’est ce qu’on vit de plus en plus à Montréal: cette incapacité à pouvoir ou vouloir parler un minimum de français.
    Quand on a un Carey Price qui est à Montréal depuis 5 ans et qui ne parle français que lorsqu’on le paie pour des pubs, on comprend où on est rendu. Alors, de grâce, rendons nos Anglos fiers de vivre dans un Montréal différent: parlons-leur en français!

  • James

    Je suis anglophone et j’ai habité 3 ans au Saguenay (plus francophone que ça, tu meurs). Je n’ai JAMAIS vécu aucune expérience négative due au fait que je suis anglo ou que je parlais anglais avec un(e) ami(e) en public. De surcroît, je n’ai jamais connu aucun autre anglo en région qui en a vécu non plus. Ça ne veut pas dire que cela n’est jamais arrivé à personne, mais je me doute bien qu’une bonne partie de ces histoires-là sont exagérées, pour ne pas dire inventées.

    J’habite actuellement à Sherbrooke, une région à 90 % francophone. Ma langue maternelle est toujours l’anglais, à ce que je sache, et je n’ai toujours aucune histoire d’intolérance à rapporter. Vive le Qc !

  • dave

    Sorry, Kim, I call bullshit. Spent my whole life in New York City except for the past eight years when ive been stuck in Montreal. You can roll your eyes all you want but this ridiculousness doesn’t happen in NYC only in podunk Quebec.

  • mL

    I am from the U.S. and I admire Quebec and it’s language law(s). I am from the southern part of the U.S. and I can say that it is an ongoing debate whether or not English is our official language. We don’t have an official language. Everyday I hear people saying, This is America, learn English!! » and for some reason all Hispanics are somehow « Mexican » regardless of their country of origin. English is, by no means, in threat of being eliminated, but one would think so by most Americans reactions to hearing a language other than English being spoken. I lived in Mexi co for 6 months and married a Mexican. We have lived in the U.S. for the last 6 years. Ispeak Spanish fluently, whereas he only speaks a minimal amount of English. It doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t speak English as well as I speak Spanish. We watch tv mostly in English & he listens to music mostly in English. The sad thing is, when we go places, people always remind us that we should be speaking English. That frustrates me! We live in the 5th largest city in the U.S., so it’s a little disappointing to endure the xenophobic attitudes of Americans. Because of Quebec’s language laws and our desire to reside in a French speaking country, we have decided to move to Quebec. There seems to be so much pride in the language & culture compared to the other French speaking countries where we have traveled. I am enthusiastic that Quebec has implemented those laws. Most allophones (that I know & have met) don’t bother learning another language because « everyone likes English ». [smh] I wish the rest of Canada could embrace the « Frenchness » of Quebec. You guys have such a wonderful country. I love the French music more than that of France. I admire the tenacity of the Québécois & I hope to never see it diminish. It would be a shame to lose such a jewel amongst the allophones. Vive le Québec et la langue française!!!! J’adore le Québec!!!!!!