Asymmetrical bilingualism

This is the story of Ms. Tremblay. She's wealthy and likes the good things in life. Ms. Tremblay is fond of Champagne Lacroix, an independent French producer who sells locally almost exclusively, and wants to import some of this fine champagne for a private reception.

Anyone can do this, provided he, or she, goes through the proper governmental agency and is willing to pay the pertaining fees. Ms. Tremblay thus goes to the SAQ to make appropriate arrangements and orders a few cases of the renown bubbly. There's plenty of time for the shipment to arrive and be processed for the reception. All is fine... so she thinks...

Once at the SAQ's processing facilities, there's a legal imbroglio; the labels are in French only and federal laws require them to be bilingual. The independent French producer doesn't have the volume that would justify translating the labels. The only solution is for the SAQ to add another label, with yet additional fees. Ms. Tremblay insists that the bottles are for private consumption, not for resale. Still... the law is clear. Sounds fair?...

A quick look at Ottawa's largest LCBO store shows that the federal law isn't applied equally in Ontario. Wines with an English only label can easily be found on the shelves, including Canadian wines.

Click here [Google translation] to read the whole story.


Canadian vs. European French

As any other language, French comes in all kinds of varieties. Most of the French spoken in North America is inherited from the early Norman settlers of the 17th century. Many of these men and women still spoke the Norman language, one of many Oïl languages that were used in northern France prior to French becoming the country's official language in the late 18th century. Some of the expressions that characterize Canadian French have simply endured centuries while forgotten in the old countries.

As a young adult traveling Europe, I always got a kick out of mixing with the locals. I met an Italian who spoke very good French. We had been chatting for a while when he inquired about my accent. He was new to my particular brand of French. During a conversation with a Parisian and a Swiss, I mentioned that the difference between their respective accents wasn't obvious to my North American ear. They looked a bit startled by my statement. Well... I added... "both your accents are closer to one another than to mine... right?" They had to agree and asked me if I could speak French in a more European way. When I did, they asked why I didn't simply keep on. Well... I said... "that's not the way my speech was trained and maintaining it requires a constant effort that becomes tiring after a while."

Learning a new language is a challenging task. Tackling local expressions on top of it can be a major hurdle to the layman. Many who lack the desire to do so will rationalize their frustrations by concluding that the person with whom they experienced these frustrations simply didn't speak properly.

Parisian argot comes with its own set of expressions that may represent a challenge. Click below [in French only] to compare it with Québécois joual.

Click here for a full-screen view of the animation.


Victoria Day in Québec

Today is a national holiday in Canada. For most of the country, it's Victoria Day; some readers write me it's just another opportunity to get plastered. For the Québécois, it's la Journée nationale des patriotes. It was instated in 2003 by the Péquiste government to underline the importance of the struggle of the patriots of 1837-1838.

The Rebellions of 1837 were a pair of Canadian armed uprisings that occurred in 1837 and 1838 in response to frustrations in political reform. For many Canadians today, the Patriots' doing was an act of heresy, a somber episode associated with today's sovereignty debate in support for the French language. The fact that Québec's response to Victoria Day was instated by the Parti Québécois even furthers this line of thought. There's more than meets the eye.

Most are aware of the fact that the rebellion in Lower Canada was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. But it also should be noted that it involved other leaders such as Thomas Storrow Brown, Wolfred Nelson and Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan. In Upper Canada, the rebellion was led by William Lyon Mackenzie. A key shared goal was the allowance of responsible government; it was a movement against the British colonial government.

The rebellion of the Patriotes Canadiens of Lower Canada is often seen as the example of what might have happened to the USA if the American Revolutionary War had failed. Today, the Québécois are remembering people who felt Canada would benefit from more autonomy. Other Canadians are commemorating... well... officially... the monarchy of Canada.

Reworked from a previous blog entry "Victoria Day in Québec", originally published May 23rd, 2010.


Comment of the day

Despite his political stance, Gilles Duceppe was considered an honest man by many Canadians outside Québec. Here's a reaction to the sovereigntist leader's resignation that captures the essence of this respect:This is bittersweet news to me as I saw Gilles Duceppe as a very honest, credible man with strong convictions and loyal leadership abilities for the people, province and things he believed in. This was a loss regardless of how much he was disliked or by how many, he was never accused of lying, obscurity or deception as his replies were always given with direct eye contact with no reservations regardless of who he made his replies to. The same cannot be said for all politicians, liked or not and this is the sad, unfortunate part of his political exit from politics.

No, I'm not French Canadian, wasn't born in Quebec, never resided in Quebec and never voted in Quebec, but I recognize a good leader in spite of their political convictions and he deserves recognition for the man he was and still is. I didn't agree with his stance on Quebec separating with Canada or his determined stance on putting Quebec first and Canada second but he stood for the things he believed in and that deserves the honorable respect he deserves.

He made me laugh, gave me some insight into the life and culture that led to his beliefs and political position and the Bloc chose a good leader that many outside of Quebec liked for the man he was and most likely will always be. I will always admire and respect Gilles Duceppe.
Click here to read the comment on the Globe's forum.


Federalism's last chance?

Québec is a different political beast. After having flirted with a right-wing provincial government in 2007, it's now giving massive support to a left-wing party in Ottawa. One thing's for sure... the Québécois want change and it's not Harper. But are they set to get the change they want?

Now, Québec is left with even less possibilities for cabinet representation and an MP delegation at the House of Commons that will defend the province's interest within the context of a united country. Is a reconciliation going to happen or is it just the worst of both world? Isn't the province now simply reduced to contemplate the leverage the Bloc had been giving it all these years?

Canadians have been complaining that the Québécois had been voting themselves out of the federal system. The Québécois are back in.


The last neverendum

How much time does it take for a "united country" to enshrine the distinct character of a quarter of its population in its supreme law to make it feel at home?... ten years?... twenty years?... thirty years?... who knows... How many referendums does it take to call them neverendums?... two and the possibility of a third one.

The Québécois were offered the possibility to create their own country twice, in 1980 and 1995. On both occasion, the answer was "No". Yet, the Parti Québécois is alive and well, working on a third referendum. When will the last referendum take place?... or has it already taken place?

In the aftermath of the narrow results of 1995, Lucien Bouchard referred to the "winning conditions" as a prerequisite for the holding of a third referendum. He never got to explain what these conditions are, but he knew they had to be there. You see... after losing the first referendum with 40% of the votes and losing the second one with 49%, anything below would leave the sovereignty movement with nowhere to go. Regardless of the outcome, a third referendum would be the last one.

But what are these "winning conditions"? Do they involve some secret plot by the sovereigntists? In fact, they simply call for a faux pas in Ottawa while there is a sovereigntist government in Québec... no more... no less...

What kind of faux pas?... think of the Meech Lake Accord failure in 1990. By the end of that year, support for sovereignty neared 70%. Think of the AdScam. By the end of 2005, support for sovereignty broke through the 50% barrier. Had there been a sovereigntist government at the helm of the province to pop the question, you'd have had "winning conditions".

What can the Parti Québécois do? Apart from getting elected and being on the lookout for an opportunity, it can't do much. Don't look up to the sovereigntists to tell you if the last referendum is behind or in front of us. They won't admit it, but they don't know.

Imagine... Québec said "Yes" twice to Canada... Ottawa is the one controlling the agenda... offering nothing to unlock the constitutional status quo... hoping for the issue to go away.