Thank you for saying 'merci' -

Thank you for saying ‘merci’

Some say Quebec signs are sending the wrong message


By Martin Patriquin

Long known as the humourless enforcers of Quebec’s language laws, the Office québécois de la langue française (OLF) has chosen to put a friendlier face on its new campaign to promote French in Montreal. Its slogan: “Merci de me servir en français” (“Thank you for serving me in French”).

Not everyone, however, is pleased with the message plastered on signposts throughout downtown Montreal, and on the reusable shopping bags the OLF has been handing out for free. For Mathieu Bock-Côté, author of La dénationalisation tranquille (The Quiet De-nationalization) and a frequent contributor to Quebec’s identity debates, the new slogan sends the wrong message. “It’s a form of reverse integration,” he says. “We’re now thanking people for speaking French, as if they’re doing us a favour. We’re saying we’re surprised we can still function in our own language.”

The perceived decline of the French language in Montreal made headlines earlier this month when Parti Québécois MNA Pierre Curzi released a study claiming English would overtake French in the city by 2016. Curzi’s report included the grim warning that “the anglicization of Montreal and its surrounding areas must be reversed if we hope to prevent the anglicization of Quebec as a whole.”

The OLF insists promoting French as the language of business is a key part of that battle, pointing to a 2008 poll that found six out of 10 francophone Montrealers are reluctant to switch to French when addressed in English. “Someone who enters a store with a bag that says ‘Thank you for serving me in French’ is reminding the business owner of an obligation to provide service in French,” says OLF spokesperson Martin Bergeron. “The message isn’t, ‘Thank you for having served me in French,’ but rather that French is expected.”

Assuming Curzi’s numbers are right, Montrealers should know in six years whether that message was heard.


Thank you for saying ‘merci’

  1. If Quebec stop legislating language, French will again become cool and popular instead of a bore. People subconsiously hate something that is forced on them. I used to love hearing french (I even went for many lessons to learn how to articulate those exquisite sounding words and sentences) , but once they start legislating it in Quebec, my love for it died. Like the religious police in the middle east, language protection is just another form of oppression. I know Quebecers hate to hear this, but someone needs to tell them how it is. They themselves are destroying their very beautiful culture, language, and tradition by legislating it on everybody's throat. It in fact drive what they are trying to protect to extinction – and that what makes it more sad.

    • I agree – anything forced becomes distasteful. Having been raised by a French mother and an American father, I feel very fortunate, I learned both languages without being coerced into it.. I can travel across North America in comfort, being able to ask "where is the washroom", etc, etc.

      So, let's hope Quebec can again become cool and popular.

  2. Legislating language, culture or religion is doomed to fail. French should be celebrated as a cultural resource not forced upon individuals on pain of legal prosecution. Basically freedom is valued by most and violations of same usually produces outrage, anger and a sense of an injustice being committed upon innocent citizens.

  3. Good forQuebecers. They have decided not to play second fiddle to immigrants which is the exact opposite of Ontario-David Miller is case in point.

    Quebec will survive the scourge of political correctness while Ontario capitulates to the whims of the cultural Marxists, the Barbara halls, the Linda McQuacks, and others who want the old values to be quiet and patiently wait to be replaced.

  4. I used to agree that legislating a language, and thus a cultural identity, is misplaced good intentions.
    Then I lived in Quebec for a few years and am now relunctantly forced to admit that it seems like the logical thing to do. English, aside from being a really awesome language (I'm a francophone), is also a crushing one: it's incredibly easy to learn and outside of Quebec and a few other places in Canada it's, obviously the dominant language.
    A lot of people like to state how English is spoken by a strong majority in the RONA (Rest of North America) and yet refuse to understand that Quebec needs to do legislate the language if they want to preserve it.

    Now the real issue is when people take it too far, like when a hospital is ordered to take down english signs they had because of a prevalent english minority. Now that's ridiculous because those didn't pose any "threat".

    The real issue isn't the policy, it's the stupid people who administer it.

  5. English speakers also live in Quebec. The Canadian government hasn't imposed laws effectively requiring all Canadians to know how to speak English, and, in return, the Quebec government should not expect all the English speakers in Quebec to know how to speak French. As long as Quebec does not grant to its English minority the same rights they expect for themselves as Canada's French minority, the result will be division and resentment.

  6. The economy of Montreal (itself the economic engine of Quebec) was driven by Scots and Brits almost from its founding. Most of the major companies were founded by them, most of the mansions were built by them, and most of the streets were named after them.

    As a native anglo Montrealer, I find it sad that the history of this city is being systematically wiped clean, ostensibly to 'save' the French language.

    Perhaps some good old Darwinism should apply. If a language is fit enough, it shall survive. Language is, after all, a dynamic thing, shaped by external influences, just as animals are. With a written and spoken length approximately 15% more than that of English, numerous written accents and gender-based nouns, the French language may be its own worst enemy . Add a population that uses so many anglicisms that a word, 'Franglais', was coined to describe the phenomenon, and Quebec has a language that needs to be artificially propped up in order to survive.

    If Quebec francophones want to protect their language, folly though it would be, they should learn to speak it better, increase their vocabularies, expunge English words and expressions, and treat it with the respect it deserves.

  7. "The OLF insists promoting French as the language of business is a key part of that battle, pointing to a 2008 poll that found six out of 10 francophone Montrealers are reluctant to switch to French when addressed in English."

    I'm not sure what to make of this. If someone asks you a question in English, and you can speak English, wouldn't it make sense to respond in the same language? Or is it saying that if the store owner speaks in English first, the client is reluctant to speak back in French?

    • Le client est reluctant a parler en francais si on l'aborde en francais.

    • i lived in ottawa and when you go to the quebec side they go out of their way to pretend they can't speak english …it is pretty bizarre that people would not want to learn the main language of north america ..maybe they don't expect to be employed or visit outside of quebec

  8. You will be replaced — in fact mostly already are. Over half of Torontonians weren't even born in Canada. You are the last vestige of the hairy pot-bellied old Anglo white guys. You will all be felled by heart attacks and strokes over the next 7 years. Demographics will whips your saggy butts into oblivion. Learn Mandarin, French, Spanish, Hindi … expand your brain. Turn off Fox News.

  9. –Off topic a bit but I was in a Walmart in northern NB(which is heavily French speaking) and the girl serving me(she spoke to me in unaccented English as an Anglophone would), was wearing a big button that stated "I Speak English". Above that was a smaller button stating 'Get a Life"
    –I (as a unilingual Anglophone) did not know what to make of that. I was going to inquire what the purpose of the button but as she was quite busy, I did not. If I see it again, I will ask. If it is store policy to wear the 'English speak' button button to make the Anglos feel welcome, then I guess I should start feeling like a piece of pork at a Jewish wedding, it has come to that in this part of the country.
    –If the girl was making a saucy personal statement, rather cheeky of her (I have no problem with that) but she could get herself fired.

  10. If a society decides that the state should tinker with just about everything (business subsidies, pro-union legislation, minimum employee-training hours per year, limited increases to apartment rental rates, etc., etc., and in Quebec, add a dozen more etc.'s), c'est normal that the government should devote the wealth of the 'have' provinces to requesting a specific language of commerce between parties. Considering everything Québec messes around with, these billboards are only small-potatoes insanity.

    But you ignored the best news coming (oops, maybe not the bon mot here) out of the OQLF in years. The Super Sleeve will have French labelling, or else! Things are looking, er, up for the French language…

  11. M. Curzi, we don't want or need all (or any) of Quebec to become "anglicized". We don't even need the street signs to be bilingual. We just want to be able to walk through Berri-UQAM metro without being reminded by tax-funded posters that a bunch of insecure xenophobes think we're the assholes.

  12. "If Quebec francophones want to protect their language, folly though it would be, they should learn to speak it better, increase their vocabularies, expunge English words and expressions, and treat it with the respect it deserves"

    If that's not an argument for increased protective legislation of the french language, I don't know what is.

  13. Perhaps that also explains why Toronto has turned into the giant cesspool that it now is…

  14. and that nicely sums up why Canada is such a waste of time and money…in Canada people don't get fired for being incompetent, lazy or stupid….they get fired for wearing a 'get a life' button.

    Ummm, get a life..

  15. Its time Canadians said "Enough is Enough". It is absolutely ridiculous that one province sets the basis for the entire country.
    Although the bilingual criteria is required for people to sit on the bench it does not extend to the lower ranks of our armed forces.
    Young men and women who are risking their lives on a daily basis in a foreign country where they are being bombed and shot at on a daily basis, are not required to be bilingual but when they return home and decide to look for a job with the federal government they are required to be bilingual. "Isn't this a bit hypocritical".
    I know of one case where an ex-serviceman was told he had the experience and knowledge for a federal government position but they could not offer him the job because he did not speak French. You would think the least the government could do is give the individual the job and send them on a course to learn to speak French or English. After all we spend millions of dollars every year, to teach immigrants to speak a second language.

  16. The whole idea that you have to be bilingual to get a job with the federal government is poppycock. You need to be bilingual to get certain jobs. By the same token I knew a dude who was totally awesome but they wouldn't hire him in the IT department just because he didn't have computer training.

  17. The best solution for Quebec will be more public education promoting french language around the country, instead of more legislations (Why not have festivals celebrating the french language, and others that makes it attractive). Seduce the public with the language, seduce us, and be creative. I thought the French are suppose to be the greatest romantics on earth, where did it all go? All those libido gone to waste or were their balls also got restricted? Their language police really projects a very bad image of descrimination and narrow mindedness all over the world, it is time for them to get these people new job descriptions.

  18. I was born in Quebec to a french mother. I do not reside in Quebec now, but did have the opportunity to attend university in Montreal. It seems funny that you can easily be accepted to an English university, but don't try to get a job after graduation. Every English person has to write a French exam to be able to work in Montreal. Many don't pass and have to go to other provinces to get a job. This is after taking french at university. You have to be completely bilingual. They really don't want anyone else in their city. Not sure why M. Curzi thinks Montreal will become all English. Maybe she should look at the real situation. There are many of us who love the city and would like to remain there and work.

  19. Perhaps they could do something about the Francophone staff of (some) stores in Montreal who respond disdainfully in English when a bumbling Anglophone with school-larnin' in Fran-says makes an awkward attempt to speak the native lingo. Order a meal in halting French, have the waiter coolly repeat your order back to you in English butchering his language is an insult beyond the pale which is not worth dignifying or encouraging — what's the message here?

    As an Anglophone quite ready to engage in this experiment of assuming French as the basic working language in La Belle Province, I rather like the idea of a campaign that suggests that my every effort to help perpetuate the Francophone culture is appreciated. It far beats the sneering superiority that many there who deal with the public project upon our feeble efforts to this end.

  20. This is just part of the campaign to make it illegal in Québec to speak the English language.

    Even If Québec does want to remain separate from North America, at least they should have the courteousness to give people the freedom to speak the language that they want. Egotistic.

  21. What is sad is that after so many years of having a bilingualism policy, we are still not bilingual and still arguing how to protect some without infringing on others' rights. We should aim so much higher. Every Dutch can speak at least four languages and for this very reason they punch way above their weight economically. Every Canadian should be able to speak English, French and another language of their choice by the time they graduate from high school. It is so much easier to learn as a kid than when faced with annoying laws as an adult.

  22. This place leaves a bad taste in my mouth,the separatists think this place belongs to only the French,how arrogant.Montreal was successful until the separatists came into power
    If the French want to protect their language,it's up to themselves to do it,it should not have to be my problem,but unfortunately by passing racist laws,and making the unrestricted use of the English language against the law, they have made it my problem,and I blame the Federal government for not protecting my individual rights,no government should have the power to take away anybody's rights in this country.
    What does it say about a culture when they force their language on everyone and take away individual rights.

  23. they have every right to speak English in Montreal, it is an official language of Canada and actually the main language of Canada, North America as well as the international language of business …the knobs of quebec should also post their signs in english ontario the government puts things in french even though less than 5% is francophone

  24. Ok Where were all you guys when it illegal to learn French in Manitoba? I know it was a long time ago but geeze learn some history on how the language police acted to protect British immigrants from the other immigrants (Poles, Ukrainians etc..) and the native born Canucks (AKA French).

  25. Also similarly Canadians may feel they do not feel at home in their own country when they visit Quebec since many parts of it go out of their way to be French only. I can tell you when I visit the USA I feel more at home than when I visit Quebec, which is to me, far more foreign.

  26. I just moved to montreal and I don't know the single word of french but I am computer scienece college student and also working as cashier in a corner store in westmount. I have to deal with many french customers but they know that this is english area so, they always speaks to me in english. In Montreal West island district about more than 60% population first language is English and many of my classmates belong to french families but now they are getting education in english and now english is going to be their first language.

  27. French is such a dead's laughable a few people still cling to it. I recently traveled through Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, across Canada, Alaska, Texas, the Yucatan…everyone communicates in the Global Language…English despite their differing cultures. Quebec is so backward. Are they going to force people to listen to 8 track tapes as well?

  28. A language is not only a means of simply communicating and a tool for everyday life. It's a cultural marking, one of the things that distinguish a people from another, a country from another. English will always be teached and learned, because it's easy and international. French-speaking people already learn English in school in addition to their (very difficult) first language. Could it be hopeless to wish that someday, it will be the norm for youngsters to speak at least two or three languages, if not for the utility of this in our globalizeb world, simply as a token of the openness of our minds and our curiosity towards other cultures?
    Language is not technology, it's not a simple tool you can replace with a better, new one. It's closer to art than to cutlery, in my opinion.

  29. Quebec is doomed to failure on their current route. When separatists took over the money fled. And now Canada has to pay billions so Quebec can waste its money with these posters amongst other pro French campaigns (remember "But if you ask me, Bonjour is the best way to start a conversation", more millions wasted). But they keep their people blind to whats going on, cheap daycare, booze and cigarettes to make them feel better while Canada puts up and pays up.

    Quebec should be a power house like Ontario, but it only has itself to blame. It is such a self induced victim feeling there, even like its license plate, where every other province has something positive to look to. Shutting down the Irish bar because of Irish beer signs….. Just stupid, just like Qc is being run. They need a wakeup call.

    I lived there and got fed up with the anti-english, high taxes, and a crumbling infrastructure. Holes straight threw in bridges with wire fence bolted on is just not safe. And people are just blind to it,or think its acceptable.

    Wake up Quebec, you are having everything taken from you, not protecting you.