The Québécois don't really speak French

While studying at Bishop's University, I was bemused by fellow students from outside the province who believed French Canadians didn't really speak French. I didn't think much of it at the time, but I later found out that this belief was shared by a somewhat representative minority of Canadians.

There's obviously no denying the fact that French in the Americas is spoken differently than in Europe. So are English, Spanish and Portuguese. Are today's American variations faithful to how each language was spoken 500 years ago? Most probably not, nor are their European counterparts. The centuries have left their mark. Still, to imply that these American variations have no bearing on their European counterparts is rather simplistic.

I've had several encounters with Francophones of different origins here and abroad over time. Of course, there was the occasional sterile encounter, but most of them were agreeable; some were downright amusing. While traveling in deep Brittany, France, I met with a few locals who had never experienced the Québécois accent. We didn't have any real problems understanding each other, but they just couldn't get over how weird my accent sounded to them. They really didn't know what to make of it and were laughing their heads off. We ended up exchanging quite a bit.

Going back to my university years... some fellow students were complaining that they couldn't learn French because of the way it was spoken in Québec. Well... learning a second language isn't easy and shedding the burden of a failure is a lot easier than facing your own limitations. While on vacation in New-York City with my family, we stumbled on a young Mexican couple who noticed our accent. They instantly identified it and engaged in a conversation. Having taken French lessons in school, they had spent a whole summer in Lac Saint-Jean to perfect it. Hearing Québécois regional expressions spoken with a light Spanish accent in a New-York train was truly an eye-opening experience.

I've witnessed a few situations where Québécois were being intimidated for not pronouncing words the "right" way. I've also witnessed some Québécois making fun of French tourists who were having a hard time pronouncing some English words that our North American reality has rendered so familiar. One could take such incidents personally and build resentment... I don't. Anecdotes like these simply give me an indication of the ignorance of the parties involved. The way someone speaks simply tells you a little bit about her/his background, origins and education. It says nothing about her/his opinions and values.

There's no doubt that Canadian French sounds quaint to the European ear and that it may occasionally require a little getting used to. Similarly, a Texan and an Irishman may have to work a bit to communicate. But above all, overcoming these slight differences is nothing that cannot be tackled by educated individuals with an open mind and a taste for sharing differences.

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