Laurentian Compassion

At a Tim Hortons in the Laurentians, I tried to order in French. I practiced, and to me my short speech sounded just fine.

But the cafe workers looked at me with compassion and switched into a very tortured English.

2 thoughts on “Laurentian Compassion

  1. The Québécois are a gigantic pain in the posterior in their intolerance of imperfect French. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder toward anglophones, and it’s obnoxious. It’s in their best interest to be encouraging, since French is in fact endangered in Canada in the long term, but they are nevertheless insufferably insecure and slightly vindictive.. They have those mildly absurd laws enforcing dual language signage and labels, regulating even contrasting font sizes, but still almost universally will play power games and refuse to speak French with anyone with a strong accent who is not perfectly fluent.

    Quebec City and Montreal are particularly unpleasant, but even the rustics will play the power card, if they can.. The only place in France where you run into this sort of snobbery is Paris, and it’s nowhere near as pervasive.. Away from Paris the French usually cannot speak English, and even if they can will – contrary to their reputation for rudeness, which only Parisians actually deserve – almost always be gracious.

    Growing up in Maine, I visited Quebec frequently. I beat my self confidence to an pulp repeatedly trying to speak French there, over the years. It took living in Switzerland for a year to achieve undeniable fluency before the Québécois would begrudgingly accept speaking leur putain langue sacrée with me.

    The contrast to learning Spanish in Latin America is stark. I worked in Mexico for a year. I cracked a text maybe a dozen times to learn verb tenses, then just started throwing potential cognates from Latin, Italian, French and English at them with a Speedy Gonzales spin (you just need to intuit which words in English are derived from Latin, and try them, they generally work).. The Mexicans ate my gringo Spanglish creole up. They seemed flattered at my effort, amused by my butchering my way to fluency.. It was pure liberation and bliss after putting up with the Québécois.

    Bilingual hispanics in the States have a similar attitude to the Quebecois about their language, though.. There are some deep psycho social and political currents at play with all of this, it would be nice if everyone would disarm and just encourage goofy Americans risking their egos.. But I suppose it’s just too satisfying to put us in our imperialistic yankee monolingual places, too great a temptation for the historically downtrodden to resist..


  2. Years ago I read a joke about an American trying to order a meal in a French restaurant. After repeating his broken French several times, the disturbed waiter finally asked him, “But, sir, WHY do you want us to shoot your horse in the lobby?”

    I know nothing about the French language, so I have no idea whether that specific misinterpretation of a French meal order could actually occur.


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