Monday, November 05, 2007

bienvenue


Bienvenue.

Well not so much, I suppose, here in Québec.

Recently a commission has been traveling through the province in which I live, exposing a level of intolerance that causes me to blush with embarrassment the same way I do when I watch Steve Carell on The Office. It has been named the Reasonable Accommodation Commission. I’m not entirely sure what is so reasonable about it.

The theory is that immigrants are coming here to Canada and, holy shit, sticking together as cultural groups. They wear their funny hats, they say their prayers in strange languages, they have their very own customs. [Excuse me while I try to remember my own customs... oh yes, my morning cup of coffee while I come up with excuses for not going running that morning.]

This is apparently very upsetting to many people, including my mother, who lives in fear that someone will one day walk into her home and demand that the christmas tree be taken down because it offends someone.

First, let’s just clear up the christmas tree problem. It isn’t a christian symbol. It is a pagan symbol. Remember christians? The folks you burnt up in a rage claiming that they were at best heathens, at worst, witches and in league with the devil?

Besides, the only people who seem annoyed by christmas trees are far left liberals in the US suffering from white guilt, concerned that a tree placed inside a building might offend someone.

So I suppose the next worry is that these immigrants might band together and get up to no good. Kind of like, oh I don’t know, colonial expansion perhaps?

The first time I ever left North America, I found myself waiting, for 6 or more hours in the New Delhi International airport. The bathroom scared me. The masses of people scared me. The loud foreign language over the intercom scared me. So what did I do? I hung out with the other Canadians waiting. There was 6 of us. We spoke english, talked about how malaria wasn’t prevalent in Kathmandu, but it was in the New Delhi airport (none of us having anti-malaria pills or repellant on hand). More fear, as we created a sort of outward facing circle and swatted at any mosquitoes near us. We probably looked like retards at the zoo.

The point is, we huddled together and were bonded by two things; our Canadian citizenship and fear. Nothing else. When you are scared and unsure, you stick with what you know and learn when you feel brave.

As if the ignorance of Québecois rednecks (I can confirm my suspicion that ignorant rednecks exist everywhere and tend to have the loudest, most insistent voices around) wasn’t hard enough to stomach, the Parti Quebecois decided to propose a new law. This law would demand that all immigrants to the ‘nation of Québec’ take a french exam to establish their Québec citizenship.

Since this was announced, I have been having nightmares involving all of my french grammar teachers from grade one to university. These folks can easily be recognized for their high pitched call... ‘en français, s’il vous plait!!!’

I imagine them, together with a possibly justifiably angry bureaucrat, sitting around a large board room table, writing a french exam specifically for me. The kind that asks me when I should use the plus-que-parfait verb tense. The sort of test that is mostly the exceptions to the rules. The type of exam that involves a lengthy dictée (to those of you who weren’t in french immersion, that is a spelling test suspiciously full of silent letters).

This is the test of my nightmares. One covered in red ink, just like the ones I grew up with, except this one would actually prevent me from running for office, donating money for someone else to run for office, and denying me the basic, oh so Canadian, right of bitching and complaining to my government.

I wish I were joking.

The reason for these proposals is the fear that the french culture and language would be utterly destroyed if not for some level of protection. This could be a reasonable fear, if it wasn’t for the fact that Québec has remained french for well over 244 years of English and Canadian rule.

NO REASONABLE PERSON WANTS TO REMOVE FRENCH FROM QUEBEC. I promise. It would simply kill tourism and allow Stephen Harper one more reason to join the USA. (no offense meant towards American readers. I just don't happen to think of Canada as America's hat.)

But, my worried separatists, if you want the immigrants to the province of Québec to speak french, you have to make it an attractive proposition.

Many of these out of country folk are scared shitless. They sought out a safer, happier, cleaner place to live. Some of them probably just followed family and would have preferred to stay home. Why does everyone expect automatic happy feelings upon entering Canada? I’m sure not all of the Europeans who showed up in North America were overjoyed when they saw all the snow and ice.

So the solution is banal. Sit down for a coffee or a tea or just whatever and talk. Sell the advantages of the French language and culture. Here are some; Few languages have embraced the graphic novel as the French have. It is a wonderfully diplomatic language, current xenophobia aside. Many Americans find french irrationally sexy. 54 different countries use it on a regular basis and it happens to be one of the official languages of the UN. Chances are that the African immigrant already speaks french, albeit with a more different accent.

Just don’t introduce the new folk to Bonhomme Carnival. That is one scary fucking clown.

3 comments:

Carrie said...

what is with francophone-type clowns? The ones wandering around during the Just For Laughs festival are nightmarish and disturbing, not funny or amusing.

I suspect the perceived sexiness of the language may dissipate if people actually understood what those sexy french girls are talking about: just as exciting as hearing English speaking girls going on and on about how Urban Outfitters is lame while American Apparel is new and innovative.

P.S. I like the coffee ring stain.

m said...

stumbled onto you via Mr. Boatman's room. I must say I enjoyed the read and I will be back. It may take me a bit to digest all I have read and reply, but I will return soon; I fear no French or Canadians. This is also an easy statement to make coming from my kitchen in Oklahoma. And please, leave out the clowns, they scare me.

wire monkey mama said...

I learned of my father's death after writing a dictée.