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Epic Meal Time tries to explain itself. In English. On a French TV show
April 21, 2011 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Bacon-wrapped cupcakes: What could possibly go wrong? Well, try explaining your Internet-famous project (Epic Meal Time) in English on Quebec’s most popular French-language talk show. Bonus difficulty points: You already are from Quebec, but you don’t speak French well enough to swagger through an interview. Anglo journo Fagstein analyzes the “controversy.” (The interview in question, from Tout le monde en parle, on YouTube; alternate.)
posted by joeclark (97 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm trying to imagine a similar controversy if an English-language show accommodated a unilingual francophone who'd grown up in a, say, New Brunswick. I don't think there would be any. (Mind you, I don't think know how many uniligual Acadians there are.) These guys aren't running for elected office; leave them alone.

The author linked to makes a really good point - this is, at least in part, the result of language policies that force anglophones to isolate themselves in English-only schools if they want to learn English. Quebec's language politics are just so spiteful, petty and ridiculous that it's no surprise at all to see people act like this is a gross insult. I will say that it is pretty surprising to see people who grew up in Montreal be that incapable of speaking French, but still, people need to get some perspective.
posted by Dasein at 8:00 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't argue against bacon, but I'm really fucking sick of the whole fucking cupcake thing.
posted by jonmc at 8:14 PM on April 21, 2011 [24 favorites]


I don't think you can really do a parallel with French speakers on an English show, because English is not a minority language in Canada, and is therefore in no need of protection.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:16 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Aaand from down the 401 in Toronto, the inevitable parody: Vegan Meal Time. Tons of verve. And soy sauce.
posted by joeclark at 8:20 PM on April 21, 2011


I can't argue against cupcakes, but I'm really fucking sick of the whole fucking bacon thing.
posted by Partario at 8:20 PM on April 21, 2011 [23 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine a similar controversy if an English-language show accommodated a unilingual francophone who'd grown up in a, say, New Brunswick. I don't think there would be any.

I would imagine that if an English-language show in, say Arizona, had on guests who had lived in Arizona their entire lives but who spoke only Spanish, there would be plenty of right-wing idiots who would complain about it.
posted by The World Famous at 8:26 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think you can really do a parallel with French speakers on an English show, because English is not a minority language in Canada, and is therefore in no need of protection.

What does that have to do with whether people should take a crap on them for speaking the language they were raised in? This has nothing to do with protecting French. These guys weren't asking anyone else to speak English; the host wasn't even speaking English. They just accommodate the fact that they did not speak the same language. Only in Quebec would that arouse righteous anger.

I'd also point out that under the guise of "protecting" French, Quebec has tried to ban the use of English in commerce.

At one time, French needed protecting in Quebec. Now anglophones do.
posted by Dasein at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow. Who knew that the most US-like Canadians were Québécois?
posted by 1adam12 at 8:30 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm too fucking baked to argue with cupcakes.
posted by mannequito at 8:30 PM on April 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would imagine that if an English-language show in, say Arizona, had on guests who had lived in Arizona their entire lives but who spoke only Spanish, there would be plenty of right-wing idiots who would complain about it.

Most anglophones in Quebec aren't immigrants; their families have been there for generations. They have no responsibility to assimilate, any more than a francophone in eastern Ontario or New Brunswick has a responsibility to learn English. Bilingualism is recognized in the Charter. Of course, people would be well-advised to learn the majority language anywhere they live, but that's a different argument.
posted by Dasein at 8:31 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the insult comes from them the way they swagger in, announce they're from the West Isalnd and go on to offer no apologies about being unwilling to even speak a little French on a French-language TV show. It's not like the discussion was all that difficult; this didn't demand complicated language or vocabulary, or joual. Even if they'd appeared to try I think would have helped, but they probably figured that wouldn't look cool.
I can certainly understand how they've pissed people off.
posted by Flashman at 8:37 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've lived on the west coast my whole life, and I only encounter french like once a month. Still, I've been berated by Quebecois people, here in BC, for not speaking or understanding much french.

There's just a certain, IDK, patriotic? refrain in some parts of Quebec that makes people really upset about languages. I really can't relate, but at least I can understand where they may be coming from.

I dunno, I'd like to preach tolerance and understanding to them, but to them I'm on the other side of the fence on the issue, so I figure it'd be nigh impossible. C'est la vie I guess.
posted by inedible at 8:37 PM on April 21, 2011


Quebec's language politics are just so spiteful, petty and ridiculous

I'd admit there's a knee-jerk ant-Anglo element in Quebec to the same extent there's an anti-Quebec element in the rest of Canada, but there are reasons why Quebec protects the French language at the expense of English. The white paper you linked to didn't ever materialize, Dasein, and that was 6 years ago. English speakers in Quebec don't need protection, they need to learn a second language.
posted by Hoopo at 8:39 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Fagstein's" underlying asssumptions seem so strange to me. Maybe that's evidence that Quebec really is a distinct culture, even for the anglos. I don't get why he thinks they were under some social obligation to attempt French, or why it would reflect badly on them for not doing so. And this little bon mot was like a cold splash of water in the face:

"...in quite possibly the most atrocious French anyone has ever heard this side of an Alberta public school..."

I don't even know where that comes from.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:42 PM on April 21, 2011


Hoopo: ...to the same extent there's an anti-Quebec element in the rest of Canada

I don't find that to be the case, but as I understand it Ontario thinks they are the rest of Canada.
posted by inedible at 8:42 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Still, I've been berated by Quebecois people, here in BC, for not speaking or understanding much french. "

That doesn't match my experience as an French-learner here in francophone Alberta, or in rural Quebec. I've found people to be almost uniformly friendly and helpful. (My wife is quebecoise.)

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? English.

posted by sneebler at 8:43 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most anglophones in Quebec aren't immigrants; their families have been there for generations. They have no responsibility to assimilate, any more than a francophone in eastern Ontario or New Brunswick has a responsibility to learn English. Bilingualism is recognized in the Charter. Of course, people would be well-advised to learn the majority language anywhere they live, but that's a different argument.

I've met and know a lot of people in Southern California who are not immigrants who speak only Spanish. They also have no responsibility to "assimilate" as you put it, any more than an anglophone in Puerto Rico has a responsibility to learn Spanish.
posted by The World Famous at 8:47 PM on April 21, 2011


I don't think you can really do a parallel with French speakers on an English show, because English is not a minority language in Canada, and is therefore in no need of protection.

An outsider perspective, but it seems like Canada is bending over backwards to defend, protect, and promote the French language. As I understand it, everything official is pretty much bilingual throughout the country, except in Quebec, where it only has to be in French. To me, that doesn't suggest that French is any real danger either.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:47 PM on April 21, 2011


sneebler: I've found people to be almost uniformly friendly and helpful.

Oh yeah, me too. Not trying to make sweeping generalizations or anything. Most Quebecois people I know are great people. I'm just saying I've encountered that element of the culture a couple times before, and it does exist.
posted by inedible at 8:49 PM on April 21, 2011


I don't find that to be the case, but as I understand it Ontario thinks they are the rest of Canada.

I'm from Ontario and lived in Quebec and I've heard Quebec complaints from people here out West as much as I ever did back home. Living in Quebec as an Anglo simply isn't that hard. I'm not a fan of the signage laws either, but learning the language of the place where you live is NOT another argument, it's this one.
posted by Hoopo at 8:50 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But why is it insulting to the majority culture (in this case, francophone) when a minority doesn't speak their language? There's an emotional component to this that I don't understand, which is even evident in the title of the FPP.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:53 PM on April 21, 2011


My French has deteriorated so much from living in Toronto since the seventies that I'm probably going back to night school this summer to save myself from a terminal case of shame. Going through the conversational placement test a week ago was excruciating as fragments of French I USED TO KNOW danced just beyond my reach as I stammered and gesticulated and said "ouias" and "loin" a lot, because at least my accent is still pretty good. But I understood everything that was said to me just fine.

When I was still in grade 9 in Montreal, everyone at my anglo school spoke in horrified whispers of what faced us in grade 11, our final year of high school before CEGEP. To pass grade 11 French, we would have to hold a 5 minute conversation with a teacher. FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. As much as I hated leaving for Toronto halfway through the year, the realization that no one in Toronto would ever put me through that, and that anyone who approached me on the street and asked for the time would be happy with an answer in English, was a great relief.

So there really is a great sense of self-consciousness about trotting out inferior French, to be put on the spot while you speak, and to FAIL, especially in public. The guests wore earpieces with instantaneous translation, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't understand any French, just that the extra strain of being on tv would probably make comprehension a lot more difficult. And I think that the producers were a lot more comfortable with that arrangement, too. If the goal of the show was to shame some anglos, so be it, but what they really wanted to do was talk about the web site and their stunts.

If these guys had even my half-assed French and had tried to speak it all the way through, that show would have been truly epic in length. Still, they could have opened with some weak French, been suitable chastened, and things would have proceeded. And the audience seemed to understand them well enough.

But I loved the first tweet collected: "Epic Meal Time à #TLMEP : Une autre preuve que notre merveilleuse langue se meurt. Québécois, 0 connaissance du français. FAIL." I guess capitalizing English takes away the stench of death.
posted by maudlin at 8:54 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was a good reedit thread about this. Apparently you have to try pretty hard to not be bilingual in Montreal, even if you're from the Anglo end of town. Plus this is some supermegahit show, with a humongous French audience, so it's pretty bullshit to even go on if you can't speak the tongue.

Anyhow, the impression I have is that while we-all on the outside wonder why the upset, for those in that culture it's pretty obvious why everyone's more or less right to be PO'd.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the insult comes from them the way they swagger in, announce they're from the West Isalnd and go on to offer no apologies about being unwilling to even speak a little French on a French-language TV show.

If this was any country in Europe - even France - there would be nothing strange at all about this.
posted by three blind mice at 9:02 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But why is it insulting to the majority culture (in this case, francophone) when a minority doesn't speak their language? There's an emotional component to this that I don't understand

Long story--Quebec is majority French, but Canada is not; Canada is large and sparsely populated with signifcant regional and cultural divides that makes it difficult enough to maintain a national identity and the idea that we have 2 nations in one is not easy to begin with. For my part, I'm 3 beers in and have just watched the Habs lose and now the Nucks are getting killed.
posted by Hoopo at 9:03 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


And my italics lost tonight too
posted by Hoopo at 9:05 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm Canadian too, Hoopo. But some things don't seem to (pardon the pun), translate so well outside of Quebec. Like three blind mice said, if English speaking people were invited onto a TV show in France or Italy or Japan, they'd be translated into the local language and that would be that, no one would be offended that the foreigners didn't speak like them. But since they come from Quebec there seems to be an obligation for the guests to at least make a token attempt at assimilation.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:09 PM on April 21, 2011


But since they come from Quebec there seems to be an obligation for the guests to at least make a token attempt at assimilation.

yes
posted by Hoopo at 9:13 PM on April 21, 2011


For my part, I'm 3 beers in and have just watched the Habs lose and now the Nucks are getting killed.

In the words of Alex Burrows (francophone Vancouver player), "we just have to win da turd!"
posted by mannequito at 9:15 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


In a way, what these guys did is to remind everyone, even those who live in parts of Quebec where the overwhelming majority speaks French, that the West Island exists. We tend to sort of forget about that majority-English part of the province.

Old wounds (look up my username) and casual dickishness do the rest.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:16 PM on April 21, 2011


e.g.: that girl who said "fucking French guys" when I refused to give her change last night.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:18 PM on April 21, 2011


MetaFilter: I stammered and gesticulated and said ..."loin" a lot
posted by hippybear at 9:35 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh. Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time is by far the best.

"Sometimes when you cook swedishly, the food is destroyed. This is natural."
posted by kafziel at 9:36 PM on April 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


I want some horse meat.
posted by peeedro at 9:48 PM on April 21, 2011


Let's not forget that it's not just the English they've got a problem with; anything non-French is out. Allophones (read: foreigners) are at least equally maligned.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:56 PM on April 21, 2011


five fresh fish: " Apparently you have to try pretty hard to not be bilingual in Montreal, even if you're from the Anglo end of town."

My first trip to Montreal was for Valentine's Day in 2004 or 2005. I don't speak French, but decided I would try my best to fit in at every opportunity. During Le Festival Montréal en Lumière, I walked into a McDonalds, frozen to the core, and in hideously broken French asked if they had a hot chocolate because I was very cold.

The young woman behind the counter glared at me and said, "You know we speak English up here, right?" And then she told me I was butchering a beautiful language and shouldn't ever speak it. Ever again. Ever.

The next morning, the local paper had a large story about stores being vandalized because their signs were only written in English, not French, or a combination of the two.

Lovely city, Montreal. But I came away from that trip believing they were serious about the French language.
posted by zarq at 9:56 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


And then she told me I was butchering a beautiful language and shouldn't ever speak it. Ever again. Ever.

The funny thing is, that's exactly what real French people think about Quebecois.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:06 PM on April 21, 2011 [18 favorites]


Lovely city, Montreal. But I came away from that trip believing they were serious about the French language.

I had a great time in Montréal and can't wait to go back, but I had a far, far, far easier time speaking French in France than in Montréal. In Paris, I could buy tickets, navigate the metro, ask the museum guides questions, puchase goods, and chat with cabbies from Algeria. In Montréal, I just felt shut down every time I tried talking in French.
posted by ntartifex at 10:09 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


They're so serious about giving Francophones a fair shake out here that they held the Prime Ministerial debate once in English, then again the a few days later in French . Why was it a few days later? They had to accommodate a hockey game.

Extra hilarity points: only one of the candidates could actually speak French without embarrassing himself (I'm told by a francophone friend) and he readily admits to not really being a realistic choice for Canada's PM position. Mainly because he, and his party , would like to amicably secede.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:21 PM on April 21, 2011


Slackermagee, the debate you linked had two native French speakers, Dion and Duceppe, because it was from 2008. But while this year's debate only had Duceppe as a native speaker, Layton's French is serviceable, I think, and he is from Montreal originally. (The link goes to his literal 15 minutes on Tout le monde en parle where he takes questions live.) And here's a three minute segment of Iggy on the same show: umm. Well, he tried.

Apropos of at least one comment so far: Canadian French is real French, just as Belgian French and Haitian French are real French, and Australian English and Canadian English are real English. I presume most people here speak and write what some snobs could call a quaint American dialect with one of several vulgar accents, but not me. It's real English, too.
posted by maudlin at 10:43 PM on April 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I defend Bilingualism and the need to protect the French language in Canada to my friends all the time, but reactions like these make it difficult for me to believe that the Francophones are dealing in good faith.
posted by Phire at 10:45 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the insult comes from them the way they swagger in, announce they're from the West Isalnd and go on to offer no apologies... Even if they'd appeared to try I think would have helped, but they probably figured that wouldn't look cool.
I can certainly understand how they've pissed people off.


Part of it may be a certain detatched hipsterish attitude on their part, which can be read as swagger. But part of it is that they've been lead to believe that their appearance speaking English would be okay (the producers accommodated them with translation), so it's not entirely unreasonable for them to not be totally apologetic about it. I don't know the show, but it certainly seems like a fast-paced talk show, where stumbling through a few bonsoirs and mes apologies would slow the thing down; they're polite in a store with a clerk where you're bumbling through the language, but they'd bring the show to a halt. It's entirely possible they were asked to not do this by the producers.

Another thing not mentioned is that they were having simultaneous translation done. In my university days, I participated in an extemporaneous debate competition in Ottawa; it was bilingual, with simultaneous translation provided through earpieces. Holy shit, what a distracting experience. You have the actual conversation, and then a few seconds later, someone says the same thing in your ear, while the next sentence is being said to your face. If you know anything of the language, you're picking up on one conversation's bits and pieces, while trying to concentrate on the earpiece.

That's what it looked like to me; these guys are thrust into a large studio audience, the machinery of a television production, a host talking to them in rapid-fire French, and a translator speaking equally rapidly in their ears, while they know that they are being watched by millions. And these guys make YouTube videos, so it's not like they're even the usual celebrities/politicians who are accustomed to appearing in front of crowds. The crowd, of course, is unresponsive -- not their fault, as the translation was done via subtitles -- so it's even more of a trainwreck.

I learned my French (now rusty as hell) in the «atrocious» Alberta public school system, and I'd be totally willing to try to bust it out in a well defined situation like a restaurant, or a conversation with a cabbie where there's room for forgiveness. But there's no way in hell that I'd appear on the equivalent of the Tonight Show (Johnny Carson era) speaking my Tarzan version of Québécois.

Apparently you have to try pretty hard to not be bilingual in Montreal, even if you're from the Anglo end of town.

To begin with, learning another language is hard, unless you're immersed in it at a young age (Fagstein speculates these guys are Montréal natives, so they would have had French lessons, but that's speculation from what I can tell). I started in grade 3, and that was too late for it to be really ingrained.

Further, Montréal has (at least it did for me on the occasions I've visited) this weird thing where it's part-English (and the Francophones are very bilingual) so you're never sure which language somebody speaks natively, so you default to English to avoid the terrible-French-to-someone-who-also-speaks-terrible-French embarrassment. I spoke a lot more French in Lyon where it's clear that's what you do than in Montréal.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:45 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


English speakers in Quebec don't need protection, they need to learn a second language.

That's fantastic. I was born here. My mother was born here. Her mother was born here. I have taken french classes since pre-school, including two years in university. I speak french only in the present tense with limited vocabulary.

They lost my papers for English education three times and If I choose to stay here, I will not be able to get a job anywhere but a call centre. When my mother decided to move, it was after someone shot out all the windows on the street she worked on that had English signs. Think of my position when I call you up to sell you insurance.

On the plus side, here in Montreal most of the job ads say bilingual, so in the event language intensive courses fix the gap in my ability to communicate I'm a leg up on all the 100% francophones.

But this shit is not as easy as you seem to think it is. And for good or for ill, I think I have as much right to Quebec as anyone else, and the right to feel twitchy when the PQ sends me political pamphlets telling me how good they are at stamping out English language rights. Or when two well meaning you tube stars get raked through the coals for not having a skill that wasn't intrinsic to what they were demonstrating.
posted by Phalene at 10:54 PM on April 21, 2011 [28 favorites]


On a humorous note- my bloody minded desire to speak what french I can has caused that look of language terror in the face of numerous anglophones as I rattle off whatever french question I needed to ask. You wouldn't believe the relief when I switch to English with a cheerful "Me neither!"
posted by Phalene at 10:59 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I came here to try and forget about the Canucks game. Thanks a lot, Hoopo and mannequito.
posted by Pseudonumb at 11:02 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


jonmc: "I can't argue against bacon, but I'm really fucking sick of the whole fucking cupcake thing."


Just wait - the bacon-wrapped cupcake made of legos and endorsed by Jon Stewart. It's coming, I just know it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:14 PM on April 21, 2011


English speaking people were invited onto a TV show in France or Italy or Japan, they'd be translated into the local language and that would be that

Not the same thing. The English community is a speck in a sea of French.

It's maybe a little more like growing up in Japan but never learning to speak it. When you show up on tv as a cocky gaijin, claiming to be a citizen, yet don't even deign to speak the language…
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the insult comes from them the way they swagger in, announce they're from the West Isalnd and go on to offer no apologies about being unwilling to even speak a little French on a French-language TV show.

If this was any country in Europe - even France - there would be nothing strange at all about this.


Hi, Brussels here! Let me just categorically state that if you were a guest on a Dutch-speaking TV show, announced that you were Brussels born and bred, and spoke only French, unapologetically, and laid into Flemish culture a bit in your interview, the reaction would be more than just a few angry tweets.

The reaction is not because they don't speak French - it's because they don't speak French, they grew up in a bilingual city, they come across as arrogant and they slag off French-speaking culture in the interview. What reaction do you expect?
posted by creeky at 11:21 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's maybe a little more like growing up in Japan but never learning to speak it. When you show up on tv as a cocky gaijin, claiming to be a citizen, yet don't even deign to speak the language…

Do you have any fucking clue how much you sound like an Arizona sherrif right now?
posted by rodgerd at 11:47 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's maybe a little more like growing up in Japan but never learning to speak it. When you show up on tv as a cocky gaijin, claiming to be a citizen,

But is this cocky gaijin actually a citizen? If so, I'm pretty uncomfortable with the idea that citizenship gets downgraded or even impugned on the basis of speaking a different language than the local majority for the same reason I'm uncomfortable with the notion that white, Protestant Midwesterners are real Americans. Setting up central cases of citizenship on the basis of language assigns everyone who doesn't share that particular language as a second-class citizen. (Speaking of which, how are non-English linguistic minorities treated in Quebec?)
posted by Marty Marx at 11:57 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have seen old Quebecois men so touched by the mere fact of non-Quebecois Canadians speaking French, it seems heartless not to try.

And, while I understand that some people aren't cut out for learning languages, I think that anywhere in the world, inability to speak the language renders you either a tourist, or else arrogant, or "dumb" — and you're going to get treated as a second-class citizen. I don't see how you can expect otherwise.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:04 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whatever, rogerd. I'm sorry my attempt to draw an analogy doesn't work for you. Feel free to do better.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:11 AM on April 22, 2011


I learned my French (now rusty as hell) in the «atrocious» Alberta public school system

It may be atrocious, but it's the least atrocious in Canada. Just sayin'.

posted by Sys Rq at 12:12 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, Canada. Pardon the noise, people; we're rethinking the country right now. Happens once every six or seven years, perfectly natural, though always a little unnerving. We should have the basics together in a couple of weeks, and we'll go from there. Go about your business and don't mind us. Here, have some bacon!
posted by bicyclefish at 12:18 AM on April 22, 2011


poutine-eating surrender monkeys
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:27 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems Belgium and Canada have a number of things in common. Your politics look like more fun than ours, though.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:32 AM on April 22, 2011


Shut up, Flanders.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:41 AM on April 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


"It's maybe a little more like growing up in Japan but never learning to speak it. When you show up on tv as a cocky gaijin, claiming to be a citizen, yet don't even deign to speak the language..."

You'd be seen as a quaint and quirky character, and invited onto lots more talk shows, but people on the Internet would gossip that really you were fluent, and you were just pretending not to speak Japanese as a gimmick to make you stand out and get more work. But the number of people who would be offended and angry would be vanishingly small.
posted by Bugbread at 12:53 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, there was a Mefi post about that guy! Is he in the Softbank commercials?
posted by Kevin Street at 1:09 AM on April 22, 2011


It seems Belgium and Canada have a number of things in common.

Yup. Both in Belgium and Canada, the debate is driven by an unholy mixture of historic resentment and political opportunism. What's ironic, though, is that in Belgium, it's the Dutch-speakers who are incredibly defensive about encroachment by the French language. In particular, the nominally Dutch-monolingual towns around Brussels strictly enforce a ban on "foreign" language signs very similar to that in Quebec.

The Dutch-speakers do not even have the excuse of "defending the minority language", since they are actually the majority, even if Flemish/Dutch didn't get equal status to French until the mid twentieth century.
posted by Skeptic at 1:38 AM on April 22, 2011


That's fantastic. I was born here...I have taken french classes since pre-school...I speak french only in the present tense with limited vocabulary...I will not be able to get a job anywhere but a call centre.

I feel like I've offended you, but I'm not sure why it should be surprising that as a linguistic minority you'll need to learn enough French in Quebec to be able to function in a French-majority French-official-language context. It sucks that you have difficulty with French, I'm not denying that it would make life difficult. But these barriers do not strike me as any different than those faced by a francophone trying to get a job in BC who's only able to communicate in English with a limited vocabulary in the present tense. The onus is not on everyone else to learn English (or French, as the case may be).


When my mother decided to move, it was after someone shot out all the windows on the street she worked on that had English signs


I didn't hear about this, that sucks and it's inexcusable.

And for good or for ill, I think I have as much right to Quebec as anyone else,

Absolutely, but being able to communicate with the people around you is on you. I don't have to tell you that learning French in Quebec is important. I did immersion even though I lived in Ontario in an English-speaking town--my French sucks now because I haven't used it in 15 years, and still I understood the interviewer's questions. I think it's fair to ask questions about why these guys required translations despite being born and raised in Quebec.

and the right to feel twitchy when the PQ sends me political pamphlets telling me how good they are at stamping out English language rights. Or when two well meaning you tube stars get raked through the coals for not having a skill that wasn't intrinsic to what they were demonstrating.

Never said you didn't. And it's possible I'm missing a lot of context all the way out here, all I have to go on is what's in this post, but this seems like a tempest in a teapot to me.
posted by Hoopo at 2:08 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, the situation in Montreal is not as bad as all that. In stores that were speaking French I was able to get along fine by pulling out my bad French I learned from West African emigrants mixed with Haitian Creole, and it was always accepted far more graciously than it would ever have been in Paris or Belgium. It helped that people recognized that I was not Canadian, though.

Mesdames et Messieurs, je vous présente les pays des Balkans! In East Europe you can see a much different situation in which each county has linguistic/national minorities and education in the national language is necessary to function, while your local/parental language can be either a blessing or a curse. If you were born in the old Yugoslavia you were essentially able to communicate with everybody using Serbo-Croatian. Today the differences are played up into separate languages (Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian) and still everybody can understand each other. Canadians are not alone in having to deal with this issue.

A few years ago Slovakia proposed a law limiting and fining the use of Hungarian (Slovakia’s main minority) in public official situations (applying for a permit, police reports) which raised big diplomatic dust and was eventually tossed by Slovakia’s sane new Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Slovaks complain that their children can no longer read or speak Czech.

Language differences have often erupted into wars, but tweets about bacon wrapped liver cupcakes do not a language conflict make.
posted by zaelic at 2:27 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Quebec is one of the largest whine-producing communities on earth.
posted by unSane at 4:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


What does that have to do with whether people should take a crap on them for speaking the language they were raised in? This has nothing to do with protecting French. These guys weren't asking anyone else to speak English; the host wasn't even speaking English. They just accommodate the fact that they did not speak the same language. Only in Quebec would that arouse righteous anger.
It's disturbing that someone can go through schooling in Quebec and not end up with even a few words of French, enough to try to placate the crowd a bit. (It would probably have worked if they had.) It's unbelievable that someone can live here and not realise exactly what response speaking on TLMEP in English only would provoke.

I'd also point out that under the guise of "protecting" French, Quebec has tried to ban the use of English in commerce.
I have my own objections to the language laws, but it's not about "protecting" French, it's about actually protecting French in Quebec. (Something which has been fairly successful.)

At one time, French needed protecting in Quebec. Now anglophones do.
No, certain rights need protecting. Anglos are doing fine.

As I understand it, everything official is pretty much bilingual throughout the country, except in Quebec, where it only has to be in French.
The federal government is officially bilingual. Of the provinces, Quebec is officially French, New Brunswick officially bilingual, and the other provinces officially English.

But since they come from Quebec there seems to be an obligation for the guests to at least make a token attempt at assimilation.
It's more complicated, I think, than that, and I wouldn't say that speaking French is assimilating unless they entirely gave up speaking English and dropped their own cultures for traditional cultures.

"Epic Meal Time à #TLMEP : Une autre preuve que notre merveilleuse langue se meurt. Québécois, 0 connaissance du français. FAIL."
I am impressed that anyone, anywhere, called anglos Quebecois. My heart just grew seven sizes.
posted by jeather at 5:08 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apropos of at least one comment so far: Canadian French is real French, just as Belgian French and Haitian French are real French, and Australian English and Canadian English are real English. I presume most people here speak and write what some snobs could call a quaint American dialect with one of several vulgar accents, but not me. It's real English, too.

I think you're wrong on this. Quebecois is much more changed from Parisian French than Canadian English is to English English. Or Australian English.
posted by Evstar at 5:13 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


In RI, we have significant parts of the population that only speak Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese or French, and can only get by in English with difficulty, if at all. It drove Lovecraft completely bonkers.

This is the price to pay for a modern multi-ethnic culture - people aren't going to speak the local lingo as well as the mainstream culture would like. Tough. The benefits it brings far outweigh the inconveniences. Portuguese sweet rolls, for instance. Mmm. You can keep your filthy hipster cupcakes, I'm having folar.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:16 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aaand from down the 401 in Toronto, the inevitable parody: Vegan Meal Time. Tons of verve. And soy sauce.

With an added touch of irony.
posted by tommasz at 5:44 AM on April 22, 2011


I don't really have much to add to the conversation except this comment, which pretty much applies equally here.
posted by Shepherd at 5:52 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having spent a year north of Montreal, where there are many non-English speakers, I think it's just common courtesy to learn one French sentence, whereby one apologizes for not speaking French. It's not all that hard to do.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:59 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would imagine that if an English-language show in, say Arizona, had on guests who had lived in Arizona their entire lives but who spoke only Spanish, there would be plenty of right-wing idiots who would complain about it.

Exactly. If that happened, my reaction would be "Why do you care what languages another person speaks?", and that's pretty much my reaction in this case as well. Some people spoke English instead of French.

OH LE HUMANITY
posted by 23skidoo at 5:59 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Evstar, it's not Quebecois French that changed--it's the Parisian French. When Quebec was first settled, there were many different French dialects spoken among the settlers, and they had to agree upon a common version so that they could understand each other. They chose what was at the time the "King's French," and what is spoken in Quebec today is still closer to that than what is spoken in France today.
posted by catwoman429 at 6:10 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like the Nth the fact that, as an anglo with rusty high school French, if you try to speak French to a Francophone in Montreal you tend to get a response which varies from a blank look and a reply in English, to a lip curl, to a verbal beatdown. I think it's a Montreal thing though... in the further flung bits of Quebec that I've been too where people are not really bilingual to anything like the same extent, the response is much more gracious.
posted by unSane at 6:16 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The differences between Quebec French and Parisian French (or that of Marseilles or Lyons) are mostly related to phonetics (pronouncing "oi" as [we] instead of [wa], "di" and "du" as [dzi] and [dzu]) and vocabulary (char for voiture, the whole petit déjeuner déjeuner dîner souper thing, etc.); it might take a while for someone from France to be really at ease listening, but they'll understand the written word 100% (unless it's written in a very informal manner) and they'll eventually get everything.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:53 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think you're wrong on this. Quebecois is much more changed from Parisian French than Canadian English is to English English. Or Australian English.

Changed in what way, Evstar? First of all, what is "Parisian" French? The French spoken by professors in Parisian schools? The French spoken on local news broadcasts? The French spoken by North African immigrants in a selection of arrondissements? The grammar used in Paris, Marseilles, North Africa, Belgium, New Brunswick and Québec is, for all practical purposes, identical. There are some differences in standard vocabulary, as well as additional differences in slang and idiom related to class, age, ethnicity, and the urban/rural split within these areas. ALL of these areas. And, of course, you can hear some real variations in accents. The host of Tout le monde en parle has a very pronounced regional accent, but the news reader on a couple of hours after him almost certainly had a more bland accent.

People are too quick to label strong accents and some differences in vocabulary as proof that non-European French is just too different to be "real" French. Strangely enough, the same thing doesn't seem to apply to the language most people at MetaFilter share. The first time I saw Billy Bragg play live, I had a terrible time understanding great chunks of his between song banter. Oddly enough, I didn't blame it on him being forced to speak the obscure Essex dialect at school instead of "real" English (I'm envisioning Anglican nuns in white pumps rapping his knuckles every time he said "thing" instead of "fing"), nor did I blame myself for being a rude colonial with no hope of understanding the One True Speech from the land that gave birth to English. With a little practice listening to him (and going to venues with better sound systems), I got to understand him pretty well.
posted by maudlin at 7:07 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


In some very rural parts of Quebec, French linguistic scholars from France are sent there because they can still hear what French sounded like 400 years ago.

I'm an American living in Quebec, I've taken French, I'm still working at it (I don't get to live in Montreal where I might have an easier time of it) and still cannot get over my shyness to try and use the language I'm learning. I feel deeply embarrassed 90% of the time and end up either mimicking with hand gestures, red-faced, or stammer French that's completely irrelevant to the situation at hand and thus feel like a fool in my everyday life. I am not crying every day about living here and feeling isolated (though I do feel very fucking isolated from what my old life used to be like) anymore but dammit, it's hard to be Anglophone in Quebec society. I don't have the advantage Anglos growing up here had--the chance to learn French--but I am trying. Dammit, I am trying.

Frankly, I don't even find Epic Meal Time that amusing (the Jackass of food YouTube shows).
posted by Kitteh at 7:13 AM on April 22, 2011


I feel deeply embarrassed 90% of the time

I go through the same thing when I visit places that speak French. I usually will only ask people if they can speak English and apologize, even though I could get through a conversation with them in French.

When somebody that doesn't speak English comes here (to New York) and they speak bad English with an accent, it is "cute" and perhaps "sexy and exotic." But I always get the feeling that speaking at my level of French translates to "imbecile."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:32 AM on April 22, 2011


I'm just glad this doesn't involve a certain Canadian bank because I already get plenty of tweets meant for them.
posted by desjardins at 7:35 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The French spoken in Quebec has changed over the last 400 years. In different ways than the French spoken in various other parts of the francophonie, but it's no more a perfect copy than the English spoken in the Appalachians is exactly the way Shakespeare spoke.

I've had the odd asshole who comments on my (quite fluent) French, because as it turns out there are assholes of every language, but mostly people will speak to me in French even though it is clear I am not a francophone; when I was less fluent, a lot of francophones would switch over to English in order to make me more comfortable (often in English less fluent than my French). I, of course, would continue to talk in French to make them more comfortable, and occasionally we would figure out later on that we're both anglophones. (Most memorably this happened with an anaesthesiologist. My medical French is non-existant.) In social situations, generally everyone speaks a sort of franglais that is heavily their first language, but not exclusively. But this "people sniff at imperfect French" thing is not anything I've seen in over a decade.
posted by jeather at 7:51 AM on April 22, 2011


The fact that I was educated in an English public school also contributed. One of the unintended consequences of Quebec's French language charter (Bill 101) is that it separates English and French-speaking children socially by having them go to different schools. Children whose parents were educated in French and not English were prohibited by law from going to school with me.

This sounds like a bad system and one that should maybe be looked into.
posted by misha at 7:54 AM on April 22, 2011


There are a few nuances that I think go a long way to explain the Twitter furor to outsiders (and Gazette readers):

Tout le monde en parle is not just any talk show. It's THE show everybody watches every week, it's where debates like this one get hashed out. It's even been called a "cultural mass" (as in religious service). It has a major agenda-setting role in Quebec culture, and I can't think of the American or Anglocan equivalent.

English-only speakers go on the show all the time. American stars, anglo authors, they trot out the translators every other week. Yet, that never causes an uproar. So maybe there's more to it than English hatred?

What rubbed people the wrong way is not just that they are Montrealers who can't speak French. The problem is that they bank pretty heavily on their Quebec/French-Canadian cred in their videos (see "The Angry French-Canadian"), but appear to have zero knowledge/respect for the actual culture. They did not know the significance of the show, and their ironically detached attitude, all monosyllabic and shit, came across as contempt.

I always laugh when I hear anglos whine about how hard it is to live in Montreal. I'm a Francophone in the West Island and I can go days without having to speak a word of French. I suspect the sense of isolation they feel comes from being surrounded in a vibrant provincial culture that they refuse to engage with. They act like expats in their own damn neighbourhood. It's easy, living as a pure Anglo here, but it isn't much fun. Appropriate the culture! Learn a couple words, watch a couple shows, go see Quebec movies, and see if you still feel so persecuted.
posted by Freyja at 8:29 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


But this "people sniff at imperfect French" thing is not anything I've seen in over a decade.

This, so very much this. I am an anglo based in a bilingual office in Ottawa (for most of the last decade) and dealing with people in site visits from sea to shining sea. I had eight years of French in school -- junior high to university -- followed by seven years of letting it lie fallow, followed by a few months of working on a farm where French and Arabic were the languages of choice, followed by another half-decade of inactivity.

My French is so far from perfect it would cost three bucks a minute for it to call Perfect. Not only do I not get sniffed at but I actually have to push my francophone colleagues to correct me. If I go into someone's office and ask her if this sentence or that sentence is correct for an e-mail I am composing, I usually get the answer that both are fine. If there is a change to be made, it comes without a weight of judgment.

I am in Montreal and Quebec City (as well as smaller centres) at least half a dozen times a year and in any of the hundreds of conversations I have had there in French during the last few years, no one has ever given me grief. The idea of francophones smugly insulting anglophones is a straw man in my experience.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:40 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect the sense of isolation they feel comes from being surrounded in a vibrant provincial culture that they refuse to engage with. They act like expats in their own damn neighbourhood. It's easy, living as a pure Anglo here, but it isn't much fun. Appropriate the culture! Learn a couple words, watch a couple shows, go see Quebec movies, and see if you still feel so persecuted.

I do attempt to engage in this culture. I attend every weekend festival I can get to in my part of the province because a:) I find it fascinating and interesting, and b:) as a foodie (though I loathe that term), I am stunned by the crazy access to the locavore culture. Fresh fruit, cheese, local butchers, wine? Oh my god, who wouldn't love that? The only newspaper we subscribe to is La Tribune and if there's a Quebec film out in theaters we want to see, we do. Maybe it's just my area, but the best chance for friendly conversation you get around here is if you talk to people 40 & under. The older generation is the one I find unfriendliest.
posted by Kitteh at 8:49 AM on April 22, 2011


I have to say that I've enjoyed learning French as an adult as much as anything I've done. Because my wife is from Quebec and we wanted our kids to be fluent French-speakers even if they grew up in Calgary, it's very important to me. It's been very rewarding, both because I've got to meet a boatload of relatives in Quebec who seem to be a vibrant cross-section of that culture, and because I've met lots of interesting francophones here in Alberta. We haven't decided to move to Quebec yet...

To those folks who are learning and trying to overcome shyness and "engage" with the culture: keep trying! Everybody had to go through this obstacle, and it does get easier after the first 20 times. Learning another language is hard work. I firmly expect to be struggling with it for the rest of my life.
posted by sneebler at 9:09 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never really understood the stories of language-snobbery from Québec. But then again I've only ever done the tourist thing, and even in the rural areas people were pretty accommodating of my Alberta public school french.
posted by selenized at 9:18 AM on April 22, 2011


I always laugh when I hear anglos whine about how hard it is to live in Montreal. I'm a Francophone in the West Island and I can go days without having to speak a word of French. I suspect the sense of isolation they feel comes from being surrounded in a vibrant provincial culture that they refuse to engage with. They act like expats in their own damn neighbourhood. It's easy, living as a pure Anglo here, but it isn't much fun. Appropriate the culture! Learn a couple words, watch a couple shows, go see Quebec movies, and see if you still feel so persecuted.

The difficulty is not experiencing the "culture", it's that there's no easy transition and that french language education is not adequate. In general, people in Quebec are awesome and the problem is that they switch to English. I just passed the point of non-transference, where my french is apparently no longer halting enough that I get sympathy translations, but when you say "appropriate the culture", you forget I am as much the culture as a uni-lingual francophone. This whole tempest in a teapot was not over the fact that the guests didn't go to french language shows and can't order a St-Viateur bagels, it's that for the purpose of being on television, non-bilingualism was enough to get them called lazy and arrogant and a matter of provincial shame.

I feel persecuted when I realize there's a good chance I'll never pass for bi-ling and when speaking English causes a large number of people to go into convulsions.
posted by Phalene at 9:20 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


OMG BACON NINJA MONKEY PIRATE ROBOT ZOMBIE CUPCAKES!
posted by acb at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2011


You put cupcakes, or bacon, or bacon cupcakes in front of me, and I will gratefully eat them. Fashion, smashion.
posted by everichon at 9:35 AM on April 22, 2011


A friend of mine is fond of talking about "the war of the sexes" even if his whole life is evidence to the contrary: his relationships with his mother, his sisters, his wife, his daughters, his bosses, his employees, his friends show how much his experience is about cooperation and collaboration with women, not about war. But he loves nevertheless the intellectual framework of the war of the sexes.

I have often the same impression when it comes to the language "war" in Quebec. I live in Montreal. I would say that 99.99% of everyday life is not only about peaceful coexistence of both languages but about the fun of the friction and the interaction of two languages. Most people who have a basic mastery of the "other" language are in a way proud of it. And they like to show it off.

In my experience, people who wrote above that French speaking people discouraged them to speak French and responded to them in English are misinterpreting the situation: as much as the effort of learning a few words is appreciated, it's generally considered polite to use the language that both speakers are more comfortable with. And if you want to practice your French, just say so: it happens all the time, in both directions.

There is a very Montrealer type of conversation between Anglos and Francos when each one is using the other language: I would speak English with an Anglo speaking French. When using your own language, one may have a tendency to speak too fast or to use too broad a vocabulary. So it's very polite (and little showoffy) to be on a level playing field (each one using one's second language).

All in all, it's mostly enjoyable to live in a multilingual environment, not only in Montreal. Most countries I have visited use several languages. Only "Empire" countries have become monolingual during the past two centuries. I understand that many people can speak only one language and the best stance I know about it is the commerce one: I am glad to have you in my store and I will do anything I can for you to have a good shopping experience.

In everyday life, the language "war" is just a framework of frustration. Steve Faguy (Fagstein) is a great journalist and is not afraid of stirring the pot. He covers pillow fights too. He has a little fun in his article in opposing outrageous tweets with his own very reasonable attitude. There always will be outrageous tweets (or Fark comments) but I think Steve's own story tells more about Montreal than the tweets he has chosen to play with.

Wow, catwoman429, I am impressed, not many people know this.
posted by bru at 9:38 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


OMG BACON NINJA MONKEY PIRATE ROBOT ZOMBIE CUPCAKES!

Meh. No ukulele topping? Yuck.
posted by The World Famous at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2011


Serge Denoncourt comes off as more of a prick than the interviewees, but that's nothing new I suppose.
posted by pahalial at 10:00 AM on April 22, 2011


In my experience the public school French courses in Alberta lag behind Ontario's. However the school system overall (in Calgary at least) is not "atrocious". Homeboy Trouble, why did you describe it as such?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:52 AM on April 22, 2011


To the people saying you need to speak the local language: Montreal is not Tokyo. It's a bilingual city. It's possible to grow up there not speaking French. There are neighborhoods where everyone speaks English first, and that 40 years ago had English signs and different street names.
What happens if you're in this situation, possibly with anglophone family in the area going back generations, and you just don't have the aptitude to pick up French because you never really have to use it? Are you still a quebecker? (or a québécois)? Of course.
I agree that these guys shouldn't be calling themselves "French Canadians", unless they mean ethnically, which is entirely possible.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:14 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens if you're in this situation, possibly with anglophone family in the area going back generations, and you just don't have the aptitude to pick up French because you never really have to use it?

But you WILL have to use it sometimes if you ever want to leave your neighborhood or work with 80% of the population, so it seems like the prudent thing to do so not to limit your options unnecessarily.
posted by Hoopo at 1:19 PM on April 22, 2011


non-bilingualism was enough to get them called lazy and arrogant and a matter of provincial shame.

Yeah, for me it was the translation thing-- as someone who hasn't been to Quebec in a LONG time, it surprised me that a couple of Montreallers needed more help than me. The arrogant bit was just their demeanor, for me thta was unrelated to the language thing but in Quebec I guess it's seen as the same thing in this case

posted by Hoopo at 1:25 PM on April 22, 2011


Yes, absolutely, you do need to be bilingual or francophone for most jobs in Montreal. But I think you can get by day-to-day just fine with crappy French in much of the city. People will just speak English to you, as mentioned upthread, even if you start the conversation in broken French.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:34 PM on April 22, 2011


However the school system overall (in Calgary at least) is not "atrocious". Homeboy Trouble, why did you describe it as such?

I was using the Fagstein article's phrase: "quite possibly the most atrocious French anyone has ever heard this side of an Alberta public school, the fans appreciated it." I was going for scare-quotes, but used the French ones because I was trying to be too clever by half.

As far as I'm concerned, the Calgary Public School Board did alright by me. As did the U of C and MRU, for that matter.

Anyways, it just occurred to me that the Epic Meal Time guys should have heeded the (Radio Free) Vestibules' classic tips for a monolingual Anglophone Looking For A Job In Quebec.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:18 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ignatieff was just on Tout le monde en parle just now: I take back my snark and pronounce his French at least as serviceable as Layton's. He even managed an impromptu joke about grooming his eyebrows with a lawn mower and also responded well to some extended Mme Paillé (aka Josephine the Plumber 2011) references. He's not fluent and no one would mistake him for a native speaker, but he's not as bad as the video I linked above would suggest.
posted by maudlin at 6:01 PM on April 24, 2011


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