Posted in Montreal, Opinion

More commercing en français

Quebec government ad at Peel metro

Remember that “Ici on commerce en français” campaign from the Office québecois de la langue française, that thought it could get businesses across the province to put little stickers in their windows to make non-francophones feel unwelcome?

Well, it’s back, and either because it was unsuccessful or because it was, the office is taking a different approach this time, targeting the consumers instead of the businesses. They’re handing out reusable bags this weekend with the goal that everyone will use one when they go to a business and the business owners will realize that it’s a good idea to serve them in French.

(They promote the bags as “un moyen … écologique”, which might carry more weight if those same bags weren’t being advertised using a giant ad trailer being hauled through the streets by a gas-guzzling SUV)

My point about how this is a waste of our taxpayer dollars remains – businesses in Quebec still have to provide customer service in French, and the number that refuse or are unable to do so won’t be swayed by this campaign. But, fortunately, I’m a bit less peeved about this idea than the last one.

The right to be served in French is one that I support. It is just common sense to speak the same language as your clientele (which also means being bilingual in heavily anglophone areas like the West Island or Hampstead). And it makes sense to codify this right into law, because there are assholes out there who think they should be able to live here without communicating at all with French Canada.

But what I actually like about this campaign is that it will facilitate communication between businesses and customers. I recall a while back I was in a store, giving short or non-verbal answers to the person serving me, and after a few exchanges the person got frustrated because he (or she, I don’t remember) couldn’t figure out what my preferred language is.

This bag, while intended to satisfy the small part of the Quebec population who feel that anglos are constantly planning an invasion and will wipe the French language off the face of the Earth at any moment, makes that uncertainty go away. If someone walks into my store with that bag around his or her shoulder, I’m going to speak to that person in French.

The next logical step is to start producing similar bags that indicate the wearer’s preferred language is English.

But somehow I don’t think the OQLF would go for that. After all, bags that identify someone as an anglophone might offend francophones and make them feel unwelcome.

UPDATE: Kristian Gravenor has his own take on this at Coolopolis.

36 thoughts on “More commercing en français

  1. Guillaume

    This is the equivalent of “Thank you for paying your taxes” or “Thank you for stopping at red lights”. It’s simply crazy it has to be done in 2010.

    Fagstein gets it wrong though. The problem isn’t simply that sales clerks approach you in English at first, is that they simply refuse to switch to French or serve you badly because you requested to be served in your language.

    Reply
  2. Shawn

    Steve, you’re obviously bilingual. Do you generally refuse to speak French, over and above a few words and gestures, if someone cannot serve you in English? I’m not judging, just surprised.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do you generally refuse to speak French, over and above a few words and gestures, if someone cannot serve you in English?

      No. Generally I speak in whatever language the person who is serving me seems more comfortable in.

      Reply
      1. Shawn

        That’s what I thought. I had misunderstood what you meant by “after a few exchanges the person got frustrated because he (or she, I don’t remember) couldn’t figure out what my preferred language is.” I thought it was an oblique way of saying you preferred to be addressed in English. But I get it now.

        Reply
      2. Maria Gatti

        I’m glad to hear that Steve, because I would have found a bilingual anglophone insisting on being served in English while living in Vileray a bit over the top. (For people not from the area, it is a neighbourhood in which French is definitely the common language, but not a unilingual, unicultural Québécois-francophone area).

        Neu and mtlgirl, it isn’t only anglophones. I remember, living on the northteastern Plateau (near Laurier and Papineau) before it was gentrified, a “québécois de souche” insisting on speaking English to a “Chinese” lady who owned a little dépanneur. Lady was Vietnamese, spoke fluent French and very, very little English. It is a strange way of refusing to welcome “others”.

        Reply
  3. J-P

    You really believe that a common language needs to be legislated? And, as you point out, it’s common sense? Hm. Talk about wasting money then – legislating common sense.

    I like this campaign too. The last one helped me choose which business to not spend my money at. This one – well it’s like offering lapel pins that say “Look at me! I’m an asshole!”. Not that I really expect to see very many bags in use. But, as you point out, it could be useful for shopkeeps to know at a great distance who the problem customers are going to be.

    Thanks, OLF. How would this society function without you?

    Reply
  4. Singlestar

    I got called by Leger and Leger last week with a long questionnaire about when I speak English first and French first and to whom and why. Something more is in the wind

    Reply
  5. Omi-san

    Why would a Québecois by thankful when spoken to in the official language of the province?

    What’s next? A campaign against crime where people are encouraged to thank criminals for not robbing or stabbing them?

    Reply
  6. mtlgirl

    As an anglo I don’t mind the concept at all – in fact I kinda like it. If anything, maybe the sight of this bag will help prevent service people from lapsing into English upon hearing a customer speaking accented French – a gesture likely intended as polite but that can actually be quite disconcerting. :-)

    That said, I must wonder why these bags are so darned ugly and unfashionable. I haven’t picked mine up yet but they also look uncomfortable, like the straps might dig into your shoulder. I’ll give it a try but there’s only so far I’m willing to go to make a political statement. ;-)

    Reply
  7. matt legroulx

    I gave a tour today down St. Catherine to to some Toronto tourists and we ran into some people giving these bags away.

    “Oooo, is that propaganda? I must have one!”

    The stickers in the window creep me out, though. They remind me too much of the Nazi practice of labeling Jewish businesses but backwards, labeling by omission. Not that I think that we’re heading for concentration camps or anything, I just find it creepy.

    Reply
    1. snowy2004

      I’m certain that if a similar “Here, we serve you in English” campaign was done here in Toronto, Quebec would flip out. Not to mention the Franco-Ontarian community… and every other linguistic minority community. Its kind of sad that stuff like this flies in Quebec but would undoubtedly annoy Quebec if done against the French language somewhere else.

      Reply
  8. Neumontréal

    Welp, Mr. Fagstein I Beat you to the punch this time.

    I have to agree with mtlgirl. Because of the essentialism of certain people, English- and French-speaking, which I describe in my article, we anglos are forced to speak English even if we are trying to learn French in the French metropolis of the Americas.

    And yes there is a conspiracy against French, from every cost-cutting multinational corporation such as the large café chain I was working at, who would rather not bother translating its signs, hiring people who speak French, etc. etc. but has to be dragged kicking and screaming by the theoretical enforcement Québec’s language laws.

    Yes, Matt Legroulx, this rather free-market, volontarist approach to enforcing minority linguistic rights is totally comparable to Nazism and the holocaust.

    Reply
        1. J-P

          “Montreal |= French”

          Never exclusively, anyway.

          That leaves dynamic, engaging, productive, urbane Quebec City as the truly ‘French metropolis of the Americas’.

          Reply
    1. Matt LeGroulx

      I certainly do not mean to offend! I also don’t remember saying anything about the Holocaust. I should have just said it was practiced by Fascists who labeled businesses as being “something” or “other.” I shouldn’t have been so specific and I do apologize very much if I’ve upset anyone. Governments labeling businesses as “something” or “other” so, I assume, that people can avoid or frequent the businesses labeled or not labeled makes me uncomfortable, though. Are there any incentives offered by the government? Admittedly, I don’t know everything about the subject but, even as someone who’s bilingual, who’s actually French even though I’m much better in English having grown up in Ontario, I would feel uncomfortable in a place that insisted on serving me only in French. What if I’m just visiting? It’s just a matter of manners. In fact, at work the other night (I work in a depanneur) I was berated by a man for serving him in BOTH French and English, first French then English. Serve only in French, he insisted, because this is Quebec. I serve people in both languages, I said, because there are people who live here or visit who speak English first and foremost. Nuts to them, he said, we were here first ans screw the tourists. We don’t want them here, anyway. By your logic, I said, we should be speaking Iroquois or another of the Native languages. Je suis d’accord! he said, and I have to give him credit for that. He seems to feel that immigrants who don’t come over already speaking French fluently have no place here. I tend to feel that if people do something so drastic as to leave their home to make better lives for themselves, we should cut them a little slack, it’s very hard to learn a new language as an adult and often these people speak three or four languages. During the period I spent working at Jean Coutu I’ve seen countless employees yelled and screamed at for not speaking perfect French. They’re trying! Ignorant people of any language or background, people who refuse to adapt themselves to their surroundings shouldn’t be welcome anywhere, anyway.

      Anyhoo, I’d like to reiterate that I did not mean to offend anyone, I realize that Nazism is a touchy subject and I apologize sincerely. My wife, who’s Jewish, didn’t find it offensive in the least when I had mentioned it to her and she’s a pretty good gauge of what’s offensive or not. I only meant to highlight the business labeling practice and obviously I worded the whole thing wrong.

      Sorry about the mega-comment!

      Reply
  9. Mike

    I’m sorry,- I don’t see this as green or anything else positive. I see it as more money being spent on unnecessary & unappreciated projects when basically our health care and education systems are close to bankrupt. I see this as more poppycock to take us off thinking about Charest burning out & the economy going to hell.Tomorrows budget will say we spend to much — but today;we’re wasting people,product, and OUR bucks.

    This whole project may have cost a life that if it’d been in health care may have saved one.

    Mike

    Reply
  10. Daveyy

    Growing up in Mtl in the 60′s, virtually all Asians spoke English only. This situation has changed radically, and I can illustrate with an incident I witnessed a couple of years ago in a Chinese restaurant in NDG. The family running the restaurant, of Asian descent were all obviously very fluent in French with distinctive French accents from the other side of the Atlantic.

    Service in impeccable French was always top notch. In came a young Québécois couple , most probably not Montrealers lets say, and in their broken English insisted on ordering, the waiter, following the age old rule that the customer is always right,answered in heavily accented English as well. The meal was consumed and I was left with that funny feeling that communications had broken down. What rule or regulation could possibly prevent this ? Maybe the customer should have worn a dunce hat, but again maybe he was trying to impress his girlfriend that he could order a complete meal in English.

    Only in Mtl you see.

    Reply
    1. Homer

      You’re right, it’s ONLY in Montreal.

      Having travelled to spain recently I can tell you that language and identify are much more fluid there. You see tunisians speaking 5 different languages. I ran into a pakistani, business owner, who spoke french, spanish, italian, arabic, english and probably could dabble in german.

      It seems to me, in the rest of the world (I have traveled a bit), people seem ready to learn a language to do business. In the end, the $ rules. In quebec, we’d rather have people who speak french than people who cater to customers. It’s just nutty.

      -Homer.

      Reply
      1. Jean Naimard

        You’re right, it’s ONLY in Montreal.
        Having travelled to spain recently I can tell you that language and identify are much more fluid there. You see tunisians speaking 5 different languages. I ran into a pakistani, business owner, who spoke french, spanish, italian, arabic, english and probably could dabble in german.

        And ONLY in Montréal you will find a somewhat native population of englishes who are somewhat indigenous to Québec, but by still being english, will think that other cultures/languages do not matter and gleefully attempt to shove their idiom down other people’s throats.

        Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Ho-hum. After all those tax dollars, hours spent handing out bags, and SUV tailpipe emissions, when a customer approaches me at work and asks me a question in French, I’m *still* going to answer them in French. When a customer approaches speaks to me in English, I’m *still* going to respond to them in English. No amount of ass-ugly reusable bags I see around town will overrule common sense.

    Seriously, yawn.

    Reply
  12. Mtl'er

    On Tuesday, the Quebec Liberal party will release the Quebec budget. We are all awaiting bad news because this province can’t manage its accounts. So what better way to prove that they can’t govern properly by wasting more tax payer money, and upsetting minority groups that usually vote for them. Minority groups that make up about 21% of the population in this province. And to do what? To satisfy a hard core separatist population that makes up about 30% of the population that will never vote for them. Oh I forget, they’re bad a math. That is why the budget on Tuesday will be a mess!

    Reply
  13. wkh

    Still waiting for your post on how you’re the reason Bill 101 exists… Srsly every time someone is all OMG BILL 101 IS EVIL! I am all “Steve Faguy is the reason Bill 101 exists.”

    Jesus what problems we have here, forced bilingualism, my god, our lives SUCK!

    Reply
  14. Marrrie

    The bag campaign might not be a good solution, but there IS a problem! Some downtown stores or restaurants just won’t serve you in French, at all. I’m not talking about complex requests, I’ve had coffee house employees not understand when all I was asking for was a glass of water…

    Reply
  15. Kevin

    There is a way to ensure you get served in English. Grab a tote bag from The Gazette or CTV and go shopping ;)

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It’s funny, I’ve been in many places holding what is obviously a copy of The Gazette and still people talk to me in French. Not that I mind that, but if I see someone holding Metro or the Journal de Montréal, I’ll probably speak to them in French.

      Reply
  16. Jean Naimard

    On Tuesday, the Quebec Liberal party will release the Quebec budget. We are all awaiting bad news because this province can’t manage its accounts. So what better way to prove that they can’t govern properly by wasting more tax payer money,

    It’s not so much that they “waste” money, it’s more like they tax stupidly; that is, they tax less than the wealthier people can afford to pay, hence the deficit.
    There are ooodles of money out there, ripe for the plucking, to be used for the betterment of the Masses. For example, all those expansive mansions in the West-Island are indicative of immense wealth that is improperly taxed. And all those executives and company owners who drive $120,000 cars when they could do very well with $80,000 cars.

    and upsetting minority groups that usually vote for them. Minority groups that make up about 21% of the population in this province.

    That’s called “pandering to the ethnic vote”, a perfectly useless gesture because the “ethnics” will vote for them no matter what.

    And to do what? To satisfy a hard core separatist population that makes up about 30% of the population that will never vote for them. Oh I forget, they’re bad a math. That is why the budget on Tuesday will be a mess!

    They don’t do this to satisfy the “hard-cores”, but the floppy, wimpy, willy-nilly segment of the acting electorate that has been dumbed-down by professional hokey to the point of being unable to see the Big Picture™.

    Reply
    1. Fassero

      “It’s not so much that they “waste” money, it’s more like they tax stupidly; that is, they tax less than the wealthier people can afford to pay, hence the deficit.
      There are ooodles of money out there, ripe for the plucking, to be used for the betterment of the Masses. For example, all those expansive mansions in the West-Island are indicative of immense wealth that is improperly taxed. And all those executives and company owners who drive $120,000 cars when they could do very well with $80,000 cars.”

      Since Quebec’s tax regulations basically treat anybody earning more than $50,000 a year or owning a house valued at over $200,000 as “wealthy”, I’d say they’re plucking plenty.

      That being said, your “sources” make no sense at all. Those “expensive mansions” on the West Island are just as UNfairly taxed any other house on or off the same island. Leaving aside how those properties are actually financed, house owners pay property taxes based entirely on the “market value” of the house, even though that value is illiquid and irrelevant until the house is actually sold. Also, I guess you really have it in for older people who committed such silly crimes as living in the same house for 30 years or more and are property taxed out the wazoo even though none of that greatly increased “wealth” actually went into their pockets.

      As for execs and owners and their cars, practically always those cars are company cars leased in the name of the company and, as such, the drivers are subject to standby operating charges which are treated as income. On a $120,000 car, that charge is in the neighbourhood of almost $20,000 of which the driver will pay over 50% of to the taxmen. Thus, downsizing to an $80,000 car is actually detrimental to tax revenue.

      If any government wants to seriously rake in the big cash, they could simply combine raising consumption taxes (like the QST) and combine it with, heaven forbid(!), reductions in the marginal tax rates. See, reducing income tax rates translates into actually putting more money into people’s pockets (and makes it far less tempting to engage in tax avoidance) which allows people to afford to consume more which increases sales tax revenue.

      Reply
      1. Mat M

        Exactly! I remember, way back when, an economics teacher telling me the same thing. Decrease income tax. Increase the amount of available income, and thus increase spending. Even if the sales taxes and such are left as-is, this will guarantee an increase in government revenue…unless people actually start saving their money.

        Reply
      2. Jean Naimard

        That being said, your "sources" make no sense at all. Those "expensive mansions" on the West Island are just as UNfairly taxed any other house on or off the same island. Leaving aside how those properties are actually financed, house owners pay property taxes based entirely on the "market value" of the house, even though that value is illiquid and irrelevant until the house is actually sold. Also, I guess you really have it in for older people who committed such silly crimes as living in the same house for 30 years or more and are property taxed out the wazoo even though none of that greatly increased "wealth" actually went into their pockets.

         
        Municipal taxes are indeed a big mess. The property values are not exactly a good indicator of the wealth of the individual.
        No, municipalities should not tax anything at all, and should receive a fixed amount per-capita from the government. This will encourage mergers, and help to get rid of the gross bureaucratic inefficency of cities (municipal governments are the most wasteful and the least efficient).

        Exactly! I remember, way back when, an economics teacher telling me the same thing. Decrease income tax. Increase the amount of available income, and thus increase spending. Even if the sales taxes and such are left as-is, this will guarantee an increase in government revenue…unless people actually start saving their money.

        Economists (yeah, I know; “he who can’t do, teaches”) tend to think that the Economy is the only thing that matter, which is clearly not the case. So whatever comes from someone who professionally dabbles in “economics” ought to be taken with a ton of salt…

        Reply
  17. Daveyy

    ”It’s not so much that they “waste” money, it’s more like they tax stupidly; that is, they tax less than the wealthier people can afford to pay, hence the deficit.
    There are ooodles of money out there, ripe for the plucking”

    Why not have a lerge consumption tax on say expensive cars. Lets say TVQ of 25% on cars above 65 000. Fancy tax lawyers can’t get around sales taxes, income taxes are difficult to collect, overcomplicated to understand and ultimately they can become so high as to drive the real rich away

    Reply
  18. Homer

    I wonder, if people who want to be served in French should wear some kind of visual indication. Perhaps a blue arm-band with a fleur-de-lys?

    Reply
  19. soup

    The problem with this campaign is that it is (was?) preachinng to the converted. Every business downtown can provide service in French; La Presse did a study a few years back. If these guys were to go into a real English part of Montreal (Sherbrooke Ouest past Decarie, anyone?) it would be a little more pertinent.

    Reply

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