Thursday, June 9, 2016

Allophones who are really anglophones

Lately thinking about all things problematic going on in Québec, maybe it might be too petty to pick on the allophones. But then I run into one or two of them throughout the day and I’m reminded how silly the whole thing is and feel compelled to have my say. Ever since I came to Montréal, I had been surrounded by a species of people who only seem to exist in Québec—I am talking about the allophone! Now, if you’re not from Québec, you may be wondering what in the world is an allophone? Short answer is this: an allophone is a person in Québec whose mother tongue is neither French nor English. 

Here’s the way I see it. 

Having always disliked the politically correct term allophone, as it doesn’t do much besides distort the Montréal’s linguistic statistics, I suppose that you’ve got to say something for addressing the phenomenon of anglophones who are the children or grandchildren of Italian or Greek immigrants running around claiming to be allophones. These allophone shenanigans especially come up when you ask them why they don’t know anything about Québec, despite having spent their whole lives here. What's more, on the statistics side of things, certain allophone groups can be considered, for all intents and purposes, francophone or anglophone. 

Think of people from the Maghreb, Haiti, or even the Vietnamese from a few decades ago—these people function in French in Québec. As far as I am concerned, they are francophone. On the other hand, you got these “allophones” from India, Pakistan, Nepal or Jamaica who function in English in Québec—and usually only in English. For all practical and every day purposes, they are anglophones. But they get counted as the elusive “allophone” in statistical counts. I wish these people would just own their anglophone-ness and stop referring to themselves as allophones. 

It has been my experience that many of the faux-allo anglos, when spoken to in French, will freak out and tell you that they pay their taxes and therefore don’t need to be integrated or whatever. They will tell you to not patronize their businesses if you have the audacity to speak in French, all the while claiming to be speakers of some other language. They do this thinking they will be forgiven for acting like the historic Québec anglophone stereotype. Perhaps from a strict libertarian point of view, one could justify such assholery. But I, for one, would like to see Montréal keep its uniqueness as a francophone city. Furthermore, it’s really just common courtesy and only normal to speak French. Most of them are ill informed and will repeat the old “Canada is bilingual” line. Doesn’t matter what the laws really are, they will continue spouting that excuse for their own laziness, lack of interest and closure to the world. The worst part is that many francophone Quebecers have internalized this way of doing things and just let it keep happening. 

Then there are those faux-allophones who were “born and raised in Montréal,” (they just love saying the “born and raised” bit) with real immigrant family members from a generation or three ago. I usually find myself coming back to the faux Greeks and Italians. Montréal is full of them. I used to know a guy named Mike, who claimed to be Italian. He didn’t speak Italian. He had never been to Italy. He did speak French as a second language though, with English as his first. So that being said, what makes this dude an Italian? With that logical output, I could claim to be a Quebecer-Norwegian, since my mother’s ancestors were something around 80% from Québec. However, I am always referred to as American. But anglophone Mike from Montréal, he’s an Italian, as illustrated by one of his silly friends on the street who referred to Mike as “that Italian guy!” WTF? Similar stories abound in offices that I used to work at where this other anglophone girl was referred to as that Greek girl. 

When I bring all this up to them, they usually come back to me with some sob story about how they or their parents were refused access to French schools and how the Québec people were mean to them or something like that. They act like the pre-loi 101 reality of 1968, when 40% of Montreal’s Saint-Léonard were Italian immigrants, most of whom sent their children to English school, had nothing to do with it. Some say the French schools refused the Italian immigrants, but I find that suspicious when everybody knows that the vast majority of immigrants wanted the English schools, not the French ones, as was typical of immigrants of the time. 

They act like there was never any good reason for the existence of the Mouvement pour l'intégration scolaire. They ignore that the Italian reaction to francization was by opening clandestine English-language schools schools in private homes that lacked basic supplies (although Montréal anglophone networks were providing some financial assistance). People in crass coffee shops on rue Jean-Talon near métro Fabre will tell you stories about how much they wanted to go to French school, but the mean francophones wouldn’t let them and the civilized Protestant (English) school board would. Anyway, none of that matters anymore. When the faux-Italians and faux-Greeks don’t speak French or don’t want to, they just use their “I’m Italian” or “I’m Greek” to justify their worldview of Québec indifference. After all, like that crazy dépanneur dude from India said in the link above: they pay their taxes, so shut the eff up and spend your money elsewhere! 

The most annoying thing is when they use it as an excuse for not knowing how to speak French, despite many years and decades of living in Québec. Once, I was at one of those Chinese restaurants on rue de la Gauchetière in Montréal and, while paying for the meal, the woman at the register spoke to me in English. I responded in French. She responded in some Asian language. I then asked her in French if she spoke French. She retorts by asking me if I speak Mandarin. (WTF?) I told her that we are in Québec, not China, so why the hell should I speak Mandarin Chinese? Eventually, she ended up serving me in French. Aha! The old bag did speak some French after all. Lady, why didn’t you just do it from the get go? Maybe the stereotype that some people in Asia think that all European languages are the same is true in her case? But it does go both ways. I once asked some silly guy in Minnesota what language his asinine oriental-language-character tattoo was and he told me it was “Asian.” Then he got upset when I told him there is no language called “Asian.” 

It’s weird, because in the grand scheme of things, these “allophone” people end up being not much of anything, blended as they are in the Canadian/North American multicultural feces-brown blob. They don’t want to be Quebecers and keep saying they are from this or that nationality—even when they are not. No real Italian would consider Mike a fellow countryman. They might say that they are “Canadian” in some way—whatever that means. When I lived in Minnesota and met Canadians, I asked them how they distinguished themselves from their USA counterparts. They usually repeated the tired old socialized healthcare bit. And they can’t even use that one anymore, cos those lucky Americans have now got the likes of Obamacare! 

Anyway, the allo-anglo situation isn’t getting any better in Montréal’s climate of anglophones telling stories about how awful they got it in Québec. Sometimes the STM tortures them. Sometimes there are stories that will make you think paramedics are eating children like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Sometimes their brethren from other provinces chime in. Could you imagine the reaction in the anglo media if a francophone talked like that guy? 

Now before all the anglophones send me a bunch of negative comments, talking about their rights and blah blah blah, take note that I am merely pointing out that all you fake allophones should just fess up, stop calling yourselves allophone and say what you really are—an anglophone, none too different from any other, usually oblivious to Québec and all that goes with it, while using the language of your ancestors to justify your mediocrity. 

To end on a positive note, there are some anglophones in Canada starting to wake up and recognize that Québec was right all along regarding language, identity and society. 

Let’s hope more of the “allophones” will take heed.


  1. Very interesting, as usual.

    Merci ;)

  2. Some interesting points. Allophones exist everywhere, i.e. Chinese immigrants in NYC, spanish-only speakers in many parts of the states, etc.

    As for "faux-Italians" If someone considers themselves "Italian", i.e. having grown up immersed in that culture (food, family, work, religion, sports, etc) what does it matter what language they speak? And don't you find it more than a little presumptuous to be adding "faux" as a prefix? Are you really the authority on this? What about "Jews" who don't believe in God? You may want to open your mind a bit...

    1. You may want to open your mind that if you don't speak Italian, you're not italian. If you don't believe in Yavhé, your not a jew. Judaism is supposed to be a religion, not a race or a culture by itself. You can become jew and stop being a jew just like christians or muslims. You may want to rethink the concept of jewish community.

  3. You speak English, and the Asian lady at the cash register speaks English, yet you feel the need to bully her into unnecessarily using a different language than she is comfortable with. Wow what a hero you are. So do you just go around town all day looking to start conflicts with random people over language? Or is it just people that look like they won't smack the shit out of you for acting like a jackass in public?

    Funny that I hear stories about all these language lunatics, yet not once has one ever made a single peep at me. I don't speak a word of French, and I've lived in Montreal, on Nun's Island, very comfortably and happily for 4 years now. Never any problems at all, in fact 90% of the time someone approaches me on the street for directions or whatever, it's in English.

    I'll bet that really gets a basement-dwelling language-loon such as yourself really mad. Lolol @ you. I'm here, I speak English, and so does everyone else. If you don't like it, tough shit for you, nobody gives a fuck what you think, and you won't change anything.

    1. Madama 'Anonymous' ! Vous vivez dans votre monde anglophone, à l'exclusion de toutes les autres langues et cultures. Vous vous déplacez dans votre 'bulle exclusivement anglo', telle une reine parmi ses sujets, peu importe où vous vous retrouvez dans le monde! À Paris, à Milan ou à Barcelone, vous mangez votre steak 'bien cuit/semelle de botte' avec beaucoup de ketchup et un Coca-Cola 'diet' ! Vous acheterez un t-shirt dans la boutique cadeau du 'Hilton' où vous séjournez, où l'on peut lire : 'I LOVE PARIS!', et vous vous considérez une grande voyageuse! Et bien sûr vous vous vantez de vivre dans une nation à 85% francophone sans parler un mot de français! Voilà la définition la plus simple de la xénophobie! Vous en êtes une fière ambassadrice! P.S.: il ne vous reste qu'à vous trouver un bon petit colonisé de service pour traduire ce message. Bien sûr, cela ne changera strictement rien à votre xénophobie maladive, mais j'ose espérer que cela fera réfléchir le petit colonisé de service !

  4. What's your excuse for not speaking french exactly? Laziness, disrespect, ignorance, arrogance, racism or all of these at once?

  5. Really well put.

    If you or I were to live permanently in some place like Jordan, or Bolivia, or Finland, the locals would have every right to expect us to learn and speak to them in Arabic, in Spanish, in Quechua or Finnish. Why should they have to go out of their way to accommodate our only speaking English? It's one thing for me to do that as a tourist, but if I wanted to actually live there permanently, it's quite another.

    Hell, I think all the provinces would benefit from language laws similar to Bill 101, albeit with establishing English as the primary language and establishing special exceptions, exemptions and rights for French, the reverse of how Bill 101 does it in Quebec:

    And just for the record, I am constantly hearing people talk about the rights of the Anglo-Quebecois community, but very little concern about the rights of Acadians or other Francophones living outside Quebec. When these latter people are mentioned, it's usually to dismiss their own efforts and telling them to "speak English."

    Why should Quebec be the only province to support its official language minority? Why should only English speakers in Quebec have that choice of language?

    That's what I've never understood.

    1. Non, je vis à Alberta. J'ai appris le français en immersion, et ensuite à l'université, pour avoir une éducation bilingue. J'ai appris beaucoup au sujet de la perspective franco-québécoise, et l'histoire du Québec.

      J'ai eu beaucoup de plaisir durant mes visites au Saguenay et à Québec, toutefois!

    2. Merci pour la considération, mais je déclinerai une telle invitation parce que je crois que le Canada et le Québec sont mutuellement avantagées par l'adhésion de ce dernier au Canada.

      Toutefois, même si j'ai une passion pour l'unité canadienne, je ne partage pas la position de Pierre Trudeau sur le statut du Québec au Canada. Je refuse l'idée qu'il faut soit appuyer la souveraineté, soit la vision trudeauiste du Québec. Ma pensée sur le statut constitutionnel du Québec est influencé plutôt par Henri Bourrasa, André Laurendeau, Claude Ryan, et Léon et Stéphane Dion. Croit-le ou non, Stephane Dion a plusieurs désaccords avec les trudeauistes, notamment sur le statut constitutionnel du Québec.

  6. As someone who grew up in Richmond, BC and recently moved to Montreal I find it interesting that you linked the clip that you did.

    It's impossible not to see parallels between Richmond (and Vancouver as a whole) and Montreal in terms of language, and I've thought about the connection between the 2 a lot over the years.

    While I'm not certain that Mandarin has reached the level in Richmond that would necessitate language laws (and putting aside the whole dynamic of English's mainstream status in North America compared to the minority status of French), I feel as thought my upbringing in Vancouver has given me a lot to think about when listening to debate about language laws in Quebec.

    Even though I'm an anglophone who still speaks bad French (I'm working on it!) I think I do support most language laws in Quebec because English has such a strong "pull" that French in North America would be threatened if left to the free market. I wonder if sometimes feeling like a minority in my own city has given me sympathy in this regard?

  7. Growing up in a "Francophone hors Québec" city in Maine, I would add that the draw of English among French-speaking populations outside Québec, even inside Québec, is enormous, and probably more attractive to them than it is to recent Asian immigrants in BC. I also find that institutional bilingualism in Québec fosters a form of cultural apartheid. When Anglophones and new residents can file their taxes, pay their electric bill, get their driver's license, register their car, sign their lease, interact with the municipal and provincial levels of government for all their needs in English, it allows them to remain in a protective bubble, a cultural safe room. It also breeds a sense of otherness: it's (poor) us and (bully) them. That doesn't happen when you choose to live in French in Québec (which is what I did). My experience is that when you function in French, you are taking part in one collective experience that is Québec. It comes in all colors and origins, but the common thread is the use of the French language. When you choose to reject that and to live in English in Québec, you are choosing to live in that bubble. I admit it's a nice bubble, full of the wealthier citizens, nice neighborhoods with great landscaping, oozing with wealth accumulated during centuries of Anglo privilege and minority rule. Who wouldn't want to live in that bubble? But if you choose to do so, don't play the victim. Don't bash the French-speaking majority. Québec Anglos need to stop sitting on the porch looking at the neighbors and thinking they are really one of them and get inside and take part in the housework even if they don't get to unanimously call the shots like in the old days. When Donald Trump vows to "Make America Great Again," blacks shudder. My guess is there are many an Anglo who would love to see the PQ dismantled and Bill 101 revoked in that same spirit... which sort of makes Anglos the "angry white men" of Québec politics.

  8. I think that perhaps you should actually look around you at what is going on in Quebec. Francophones are just as much at fault. As an "Anglo", why even categorize, we are all just people, I often go to coffee shops, nothing stores restaurants and order in French. The majority of the time the person responds to my French (which is quite good) in English. To me that is telling. Interacting together for a common good is more important than worrying about how we can categorize and exclude each other. Also, if you really think about it that response in English by "francophones" is just as damaging to the "french culture" as anything an "anglo" can do. My responding in English it tells those that speak french imperfectly to give up as nobody wants to respond anyways. You say Quebecers want people to speak French. Then perhaps they should stop responding in English when us "Anglos" attempt to speak french. Not very inclusive eh!

  9. "It’s weird, because in the grand scheme of things, these “allophone” people end up being not much of anything, blended as they are in the Canadian/North American multicultural feces-brown blob. They don’t want to be Quebecers and keep saying they are from this or that nationality—even when they are not."

    This statement is so typical of a quebec separatist. Telling everyone that quebecois culture and the quebecois "race" are superior to all others. Today you separatists are just a minority like the other minorities you like so must to point your fingers at and stomp your feet on. As time passes, the message you deliver will fade into distant memory, just like the grey haired de souches who preach their xenophobic lies.

    So glad to see your movement dissipate into irrelevance. Bon voyage.