Fear and loathing in Montreal


 

I can’t figure out if it’s hilarious or depressing that this story has made the rounds as quickly as it has.

First, a recap: The Théâtre Ste-Catherine is, despite appearances, an Anglo theatre in Montreal. Like most other local venues, TSC has an email list which it uses to spam inform subscribers about upcoming events. Last week, a local theatre troupe, Les Sages Fous, wrote to TSC asking to be removed from said mailing list if TSC was going to send its missives in English only. Eric Amber, the owner of TSC, sent back the following reply, which has quickly made its way around the interwebs since it was posted on Louis Préfontaine’s blog:

The shows listed were in english and therefore so is the message. You obviously can’t read in english because you are an uneducated bigot.

estce que vous comprenez l’expression anglophone [Do you understand the English expression]: Go F–k Yourself?

Amber told the JdeM‘s Mathieu Turbide he was simply replying to angry emails from Francophones who’d called him a “dirty Anglo Jew,” though he declined to show the emails to Turbide, claiming he didn’t want to “throw gas on the fire.” (To borrow Lagacé’s words, “Comment on traduit chickenshit?”) But then he went ahead and did just that—throw gas on the fire, that is—by announcing he would shutter TSC altogether:

Due to the overwhelming racism and bigotry in French society toward minorities and non-french cultures, Theatre Ste-Catherine will be closing in protest. Effective immediately TSC will no longer be accepting bookings and will closed permanently Dec. 21, 2009.

Of course, now Amber’s getting threats from the usual bunch of militant Franco knuckle-draggers who are just as eager to take blind swats at those mean, imperialist Anglos as Amber was at those backwater Franco zealots. Pot meet kettle, and all that jazz…

I can’t for the life of me understand how Amber, an Albertan who’s been living in Montreal for close to a decade—oddly enough, I remember him attending a few parties at my old apartment when he first moved to the city—never clued in that he was living and working in a predominantly French environment.

And while the whole episode may very well be stupid and pointless, I can’t help but worry it will add to a lore that’s already embraced by way too many people—that the blinkered natives have a nasty habit of running well-meaning Anglos out of Quebec. The truth, in this case at least, is that nobody except Amber appeared to care in what language he wanted to run his theatre.


 

Fear and loathing in Montreal

  1. Using the phrase "Bush-style pre-emptive strike" in the first sentence of a comment about theatre management is an excellent way to signal that nothing you have to say is worth paying attention to.

  2. Using the phrase "Bush-style pre-emptive strike" in the first sentence of a comment about theatre management, as a means of jumbling together all your personal pathologies (Americans, Republicans, Albertans, rude Anglos) in one big ball of self-righteous loathing, is an excellent way to signal that you have nothing particularly worthwhile to say.

  3. Mr. Amber is either totally naïve or moved to Montreal expecting to be attacked by "French society." The latter is also known as prejudice.

    How long does a Canadian business in a bilingual community last without local and industry media coverage? Or growth in clientele? Or corporate citizenship? In most cities, including Calgary and Edmonton, the theatre community is a tight-knit family.

    Although the plays are in English, the audience is not. This could have been a great way to build bridges. Mr. Amber's response is more bigoted than any separatist (less than 25% of the Quebec population).

    My Canada includes our cousins in Quebec (20% of our country's population) and Franco-Canadians (25% of Canada pop.) The ignorance of this so-called entrepreneur is eye-watering.

  4. Mr. Amber is either totally naïve or moved to Montreal expecting to be attacked by "French society." The latter is also known as prejudice.

    How long does a business in a bilingual community last without local and industry media coverage? Or growth in clientele? Or corporate citizenship? In most cities, including Calgary and Edmonton, the theatre community is a tight-knit family.

    Although the plays are in English, the audience is not. This could have been a great way to build bridges. Mr. Amber's response is more bigoted than any separatist (less than 25% of the Quebec population).

    My Canada includes our cousins in Quebec (20% of our country's population) and Franco-Canadians (25% of Canada pop.) The ignorance of this so-called entrepreneur is eye-watering.

    • Firstly, it's not your right to tell someone else how to run their business. Additionally, the french population of Montreal is about 50%. The rest is anglophone and allophone. So your claim that the audience is mostly french or even expecting french is almost certainly wrong.
      Amber was not making any sort of comment about whether your Canada or my Canada or his Canada includes French people. He was responding to an insult. If you make a request to any business "give me french or give me nothing" for a service that is free, you are insulting the proprietor of a business providing a service to you. Your attempt to turn this into a rejection of everything that is French is absurd.

      Personally, if I told Gohier that I want nothing to do with this blog unless it is in French, I would not be surprised if he told me to take a hike. By the same token, I think it is perfectly appropriate when Paul Wells tells his unlingual English readers to take a hike when they complain as he links to a French web page or article. Surely, Amber's language was a little bit strong, but other than that, what's the difference?

      • I am an experienced communications professional, sir, and have more than enough expertise to critique someone's communication faux pas.

        As a Canadian, I reserve the right to express my opinion without personally attacking commenters who don't agree with me.

        • Well, if you intend to critique Amber's emails then I will critique your comments. And frankly, I don't care about your experience with professional Canadian conversations, or your relative inexperience with unprofessional foreign silences, and I particularly don't care if your communications are in French, English or Swahili.

          • In short, you don't care about much.

          • But he cares an awful lot about not caring about things. It's weird.

        • Don't feed the troll, OS! And your comments hit the nail on the head.

      • are you accusing Wells of calling people "an uneducated bigot"? if not I would say that is easily distinguishable from merely dismissing reader complaints however salty the language.

      • I don't want to get in to all this silliness, but just on this: "Firstly, it's not your right to tell someone else how to run their business." I disagree. I'm pretty sure that (short of death threats etc…) it's pretty much my right to tell someone else anything I damned well please. Which I realize you know scf, but I thought it was worth adding. There's nothing to say that said person needs to respond in any way to my speech, or that I should expect a reply to be polite (especially if my initial speech isn't) but still, it's absolutely my right to tell them where to go, if I so choose (and do so in a lawful manner).

        I also don't see how, "Give me French or give me nothing" is an insult??? Could not the response have simply been "Fine, then you get nothing, we're an English Theatre, so why are you interested anyway" (Answer? They clearly weren't). Was the request really SO insulting that "You're a bigot for not wanting my English-only spam. Go F*CK Yourself" was the called for response? I just don't see what's so insulting in a French company saying "Send us stuff in French, or don't send us stuff". If I started getting spam from the Russian Embassy in Russian, I might well decide I'd like to keep getting the emails, but write to them to say "Listen, I can't read Russian. Send me stuff in English or stop sending me stuff". Perhaps my failure to say "please" might irk the embassy staff a bit, but I'd be absolutely SHOCKED if they wrote back "Screw you, you ant-Russian bigot. Go f*%$ yourself."

        As for the logic of shutting down an English language theater in protest over a perceived anti-English bias, isn't that kinda like shutting down an abortion clinic to protest anti-abortion demonstrations? I suspect the theatre was going belly up anyway, and "I've been forced to shut down by a bunch of bigots" was a more convenient excuse for the closure than "I'm not making any money".

  5. I think it's only fair to point out that "les Sages Fous" revealed themselves to be bigots themselves when they proceeded to insult the inhabitants of Texas and Georgia (regions far more populuous than Quebec) with their statement "Ever thought of moving to Georgia? Back woods Texas? They like people like you down there."

    It's also worth noting that the intial request was not "do you have a french list" nor was it "please remove me from the list", it was "either send me emails in french or send me nothing" which is an insult to a business that is trying to provide a service to customers with the email list.

    • A business that is trying to provide a service to customers might grumble under their breath, but then they'd more likely respond with something like, "Unfortunately, our newsletter is in English only, as our plays are unilingual and it just makes sense to spend our few promotional dollars in the language used in the plays. We will remove you from the list."

      No, it seems to me that this guy was perhaps angry that more English speaking Montrealers weren't attending his plays in order to make it profitable. So he thought he'd make a big fuss and get some (racist) satisfaction when he had to close. I mean, it's pretty stupid to close a theatre that caters to the English population in protest because the French population is overwhelmingly racist and bigoted. Or to say it another way, with enemies like that, who needs friends?

      • I agree that his response was unfortunate, and out of proportion, and there is most likely something else behind the scenes that precipitated it. No doubt, nothing would have happened had he responded in the manner that you described.
        However, like I said, I think the initial wrong was committed by les Sages Fous, and not only that, I think their escalation of the email in a bigoted slur of Americans and a malicious attempt to attack his business in the media because of a service that he provided for free, that goes far beyond anything he did.

        As for your insinuation that he wanted to get some racist satisfaction, I think it's pure conjecture and insulting. If I were to guess, he probably does not make much money (I agree) and he decided that it's not worth being a punching bag for unruly customers and the recipient of a hatchet job in the Montreal media, because his free service was not further translated for free, just so some bigoted French Quebecers could feel smug about pushing him around.

        • To ask for a communication in french is not impolite. If Amber didn't want to communicate in french, that's his problem. Because, it's just good business to communicate in both language in Montreal for a Montreal theater.
          It's maybe weird and hard to understand for a Canadian living in bilingual country where the people are in majority not bilingual.
          Talking about bigotry: you're speaking like a bigot, you're semlling like a bigot, you're a bigot.
          If you're proud of your country, at least have some respect for the francophones.

          • In fairness, if he's not very bilingual and running a small operation that isn't doing so well, he might not have the money to get someone to translate it; though I quite agree that it would be a very good business move, since presumably many, many francophone theatre-buffs in Montreal are at least passively bilingual. Still, sending a translation in broken French might not be very helpful either. The bottom line seems to be that you'd do better running a theatre company if you could communicate with the whole of your potential audience.

          • And what is the whole potential audience? Is it just anglophone audience. No. The francophone are going to the shows in English. I know it's a bit strange for an anglo to understand that. Even for Canadian who is not used to see Canadian production.
            Be opened and modern. Not narrow-minded. Don't be bigot.

            Sorry. It's a aggressive but I'm fed up by all those words who are usually going with ''french''.

          • Speaking of communication skills, that's what I was saying.

          • Come on, JTrudel, you say "Don't be a bigot" and then you say "I know it's a bit hard for an anglo to understand" that francophones go to all kinds of plays! It's not hard to understand at all; I'm an anglo and I just posted that I understand it! Could we please cease and desist with this stereotyping of anglophones as people determined not to understand the reality of a predominantly francophone Montreal: I lived there for five years and never once, never ever did I hear an anglophone presuming that Montreal was not mainly francophone.

          • I agree with you about Anglophone from Montreal are in majority aware of the french face of montreal. Despite this, I feel, as a francophone, we shouldn't take it as granted.
            Should I feel indifferent about the question of language in Montreal: no. Should I fight against my prejudices: yes. And I'm very sincere about that. I have some prejudice and I'm no proud of it. But those Amber kind of people revive them.
            I don,t like to be called bigot because I'm defending my language in my province. Bigot sometimes but not for that.

          • Trudel, I have plenty of respect for francophones, I have some friends who are francophone. And frankly, I don't see this as a francophone/anglophone issue, I see it as a theatre owner vs customer issue. Take your silly accusations elsewhere, and if you smell something, then you should go take a bath.

    • Surely the language used by Les Sages Fous was a little bit strong, but other than that, what's the difference?

      • That's a poor analogy, so poor I cannot understand it. Are you trying to say that we should demand Gohier write this blog side by side in both official languages for free? And if not we should attack Maclean blogs in the media for being a mostly unilinugual service? Or are you saying that demanding a service for free in the language of your choice in an insulting manner is a reasonable request?

        • Just hoisting you by your own petard.

          • No, you're not, you're making no sense whatsoever.

  6. You can take the boy out of Alberta…

  7. Here's a bigoted comment.

  8. Some people go out of their way to seek insults an some people invent "incidents" to cover up the real reasons of a failure.

    I suspect (I am just a dumb westerner) this is what just happened. quick question was The Théâtre Ste-Catherine making money, was it a going concern?

  9. Who cares? Canadians deserve better than to be stuck with a federal government ever more devoid of usefulness and slowly draining away what's left of any democratic tradition. All this prattle about French and English only is a distraction about the impending and unavoidable reaction to the increasing irrelevance of Ottawa in the lives of Canadians. We shouldn't assume that Canada is forever.

  10. "Last week, a local theatre troupe, Les Sages Fous, wrote to TSC asking to be removed from said mailing list if TSC was going to send its missives in English only"

    "The truth, in this case at least, is that nobody except Amber appeared to care in what language he wanted to run his theatre."

    I think people do care but I agree with mbtoday that Amber was probably looking for an excuse to get out of theatre business.

    • I don't think those two ideas are contradictory. Les Sages Fous didn't express any hang-ups whatsoever about Amber running an English theatre in Montreal. The hang-up was with respect to TSC sending promo material in English to a Francophone organization. Deep down, Les Sages Fous might very well might be militant about language politics, but nothing in their first email message indicated that.

      Besides, I don't really find what they did objectionable or even unusual. Heck, just last week I asked the Venezuelan Embassy, which for some reason had added me to their mailing list, to remove me from that list. Their missives were in Spanish, which I don't speak or read. It's not like I care about which language they choose to go about their business. It's just that there's no point sending me stuff I can't understand.

  11. It's not necessary to add a reason why one wishes to be removed from a mailing list; neither is it necessary to reply to such an email by being rude. Theatre people are so . . . histrionic.

      • Thanks, sea&mountains! That's a rather mind-boggling incident, with more than one serious issues at its core: the swindle that is the copyright act in the USA, and the ephemeral nature of digital texts. (Also the ability of amazon to delete people's libraries without their knowing, which is certainly Orwellian.) I'm in the online text business — my job is helpling to create a digital version of Homer — and while I'm no Luddite I do look back at these Byzantine manuscripts of Homer, already 1000 years old and still perfectly readable, and fear that our modern texts, both those on acid-full paper and those on no paper at all, will not survive very long. Which is perhaps not a bad thing, given that more than a million new titles appear on Earth every year, but it does distance me from Kindle-enthusiasm (as does, in the shorter term, my antipathy to DRM). Thanks for a great link.

        (PS – good idea about Intense Debate email! In the short term, and with my website temporarily on the fritz, I'm [jackmitchell]at[gmail.com].)

        • That is a very interesting job. without wanting to pry details out of you that you don't want to share in this forum, do you care to divulge more details as to how that is done (straight up transcription? imaging?), who hires this kind of service (academic libraries or private sector? amazon?), etc. etc.

          I agree Jack there are a lot if interesting issues at play. I can't say i am have been excited about the kindle per se, though i did see the sony alternative on a plane recently. the ability to load up your own content in various forms (e.g., pdfs) and save on carting tons of articles and other stacks of paper all the time did catch my attention, though not without concerns (what do i do with my marginalia?)

          the other draw to me is, as you mentioned, the the amount of books that we are collectively putting out these days. i can't say that i would be disappointed if a slew of these went straight to kindle (or some other electronic version) – as the book equivalent for really sub-par movies 'straight to dvd' billing. that being said, the issue is DRM and given the stories coming out of France (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/13/france_th… and the archaic US copyright laws we are nowhere near a solution.

      • Thanks, sea&mountains! That's a rather mind-boggling incident, with more than one serious issues at its core: the swindle that is the copyright act in the USA, and the ephemeral nature of digital texts. (Also the ability of amazon to delete people's libraries without their knowing, which is certainly Orwellian.) I'm in the online text business — my job is helpling to create a digital version of Homer — and while I'm no Luddite I do look back at these Byzantine manuscripts of Homer, already 1000 years old and still perfectly readable, and fear that our modern texts, both those on acid-full paper and those on no paper at all, will not survive very long. Which is perhaps not a bad thing, given that more than a million new titles appear on Earth every year, but it does distance me from Kindle-enthusiasm (as does, in the shorter term, my antipathy to DRM). Thanks for a great link.

        (PS – good idea about Intense Debate email! In the short term, and with my website temporarily on the fritz, I'm [jackmitchell]at[gmail.com]; though I kind of like public tangents like this!)

    • Well, it's not NECESSARY to add context to one's request to be removed from a list, but nor is it blameworthy, is it? I mean, sure, "Send us stuff in French or stop sending us stuff" may not be "polite", but is it really SO much worse than a simple "Stop sending us stuff" that it warranted "You obviously can't read in english because you are an uneducated bigot. Go F–k Yourself?".

      On the "who's a bit nuts here" scale between those two emails, I'd say the answer's pretty easy.

  12. Using the phrase "Bush-style pre-emptive strike" in the first sentence of a comment about theatre management, as a means of jumbling together all your personal dislikes (Americans, Republicans, Albertans, rude Anglos) into one big ball of self-righteous loathing, is an excellent way to signal that you have nothing particularly worthwhile to say.

  13. …but you can't take the passive-aggressiveness out of the internet tough guy.

  14. Mr. Amber needs to take a long vacation.

    • That is exactly what he decided to do.

  15. Les Sages Fous can mange mon merde, s'il vous plaît. Maybe they can understand that.

    • Well, the meaning's clear, but the syntax and grammar and pretty much everything else could use some work. Also, it's not very clever.

      • Specifically, "can" should take an infinitive (as with pouvoir); merde is feminine ("la merde"); and "s'il vous plaît" doesn't go very well with a third-person statement (who is the "vous" here? Us? The Sages Fous?). Also, and perhaps JTrudel or Philippe can correct me, but is "manger ma merde" really an idiom? It seems to me it should be "manger de la merde" vel sim. The wit we leave to the Great Pedant in the Sky, whose Red Pencil Smiteth the Just and the Unjust Alike. But Dakota did remember the circumflex on "s'il vous plaît" so I think we can chalk this post up under major breakthroughs in French-English relations.

      • Specifically, "can" should take an infinitive (as with pouvoir); merde is feminine ("la merde"); and "s'il vous plaît" doesn't go very well with a third-person statement (who is the "vous" here? Us? The Sages Fous?). Also, and perhaps JTrudel or Philippe can correct me, but is "manger ma merde" really an idiom? It seems to me it should be "manger de la merde" vel sim. The wit we leave to the Great Pedant in the Sky, whose Red Pencil Correcteth the Just and the Unjust Alike. But Dakota did remember the circumflex on "s'il vous plaît" so I think we can chalk this post up under major breakthroughs in French-English relations.

        • You're right; I don't know anyone who says "mange ma merde." "Mange de la merde/marde" is common, but my favourite and probably most often used insult is calling someone a "mange-marde." It just works in so many situations.

          • Aha! I've heard that (mange-marde) but for some reason I always thought it was "Manchmard" or something, i.e. "Channel-ite," maybe with some romantic 100 Years War derivation. Ah well.

  16. The truth is, most Montrealers are a different breed from Quebecers east and north, for the most part they don't care what language something is written in, whether french or english or some other language, since they are mostly bilingual, and additionally have a greater respect for the numerous cultures that exist on the island.

    So it comes as no surprise to me that Les Sages Fous, the ones who prefer to dictate what language graces their eyes, they come from Trois Rivieres, so they are not native to Montreal either. Amber is the resident (although transplanted from Alberta), while they are the visitors. Yet they know where the provincial border lies, and have no problem trying to push around a Montrealer who reacted badly to a request that he deemed unreasonable. Seeing how long his promotional email was, I don't blame him for sticking to a single language.

    They should take a lesson from Dave Carroll ("United breaks Guitars"), who knows how to handle bad customer service (although in this case the service was provided for free), rather than their instinctive and vile run-the-anglo-out-of-business response that they took.

    • How were they "pushing him around"? From what I can see a French group wrote to say "Send us stuff in French or don't send us anything". Rude? Sure. But wouldn't the (appropriate) heated response be "Fine, then we won't send you anything"?

      I can see how someone might be peeved by a "Give us French or give us nothing" email, but I just can't fathom how one can go from that sense of "Hmmmm, that's a bit rude" to justifying "You obviously can't read in english because you are an uneducated bigot. Go F–k Yourself?" as an even UNDERSTANDABLE response to said rude request.

      • You are not aware of the whole story.

        • The original message to TSC was faked on a NASA soundstage.

  17. Man, the next time someone asks me to stop sending them unsolicited messages that are of no interest to them, I'm going to go apeshit. I mean, how dare they treat me like that?!

  18. Out of curiosity, did the Sage Fools write to the TSC guy in English or in French?

  19. And I vote for depressing over hilarious Philippe.

    Only in Quebec could a stupid e-mail flame war turn into a headline story about language.

    Chill people, chhhhiiiiillllllllll. Relaxe Max.

  20. Has anyone seen the original letter/email that Les Sages Fou wrote to Amber? I briefly looked at Prefontaine's blog but couldn't find it. I'd like to see that first before passing judgement on Amber's response.

  21. Ah, I read it now…it is right below where the advertisement appeared, which cut if off from the rest of the post.

  22. The communication from Les Sages Fous isn't rude in the slightest and really doesn't warrant the response it got from Amber.

    Having said that I wonder how out of touch Les Sages Fous must be if all they read are French communiques. Or are they being pro-active promoters of the French language and are just targetting Quebec anglophones who send out unilingual English communications?

  23. There are more than a few errors in this story. First of all, Montreal is not a predominantly French environment. 60 per cent of Montrealers' mother tongue is a language other than French but we never hear about that in the media or from the governments concerned.

    Nor is it a myth that English speakers are chased out of the province by intolerant policies. More than a million Anglos left Montreal in the period after the PQ election in 1976. Such a mass movement doesn't happen without people being made to feel very uncomfortable, to say the least.
    It's time to put an end to the lie of a tolerant multi-cultural society in Quebec. It is borderline apartheid and segregation and we only put up with it because no one can be elected without perpetuating the lie.

    • Speaking of lies…

      You might want to check your figures, robbie. Here's the data on Montreal from the 2006 census:

      -65% identify French as their mother tongue
      -68% identify French as the language they speak most often at home

      There's a reason you don't hear about a predominantly English Montreal in the media or from the government—it doesn't exist and never has.

  24. I'm afraid I don't agree with the general sentiment on this issue. While Mr. Amber's remarks may not have been in the best of taste, the fact is he's running an English theater. I see no reason for him to send out notices in English. I have to put up with all manner of material mailed to me in French (communications from the government, emails from my condo board, letters from my MP) — often, I don't even have the option of receiving the information in English (not generally a problem but sometimes with more technical literature — a very big problem.) Why is it that I as an anglophone don't have the right to be insulted when I can't receive things in English but that a francophone does? Sorry, I can see very easily why Mr. Amber reached the level of annoyance that he did. And, as to Fagstein's comment that Mr. Amber "he was never clued into the fact that he was living and working in a francophone environment." What relevance does that have — if he wants to conduct his life and his business in English, he should have that right. End of story.