Sunday, October 30, 2005

No, I don't want to coucher avec toi

University students flock to Quebec to benefit from the lowest rates in most of North America for quality post-secondary education. Quebec accommodates the seasonal migrants---from the US and adjacent Canadian provinces---with out-of-province and international student fees that are still lower than what awaited them at home. Backpacks, laptops, foreign license plates and economic benefits accompany the students, as do socio-cultural challenges.

The official language in all of Quebec is French, though that's easy to overlook in multicultural Montreal---especially during autumn, as a flood of new anglophone recruits flounder in their new surroundings.

Guilty myself, of not perfecting my French skills during university, I flush when I hear groups of English-speakers complain about people refusing to address them in their mother-tongue. I feel remorse for their ignorance and think of the language police.

Intercultural understanding, tolerance when understanding is not possible, and a willingness to learn is essential to happy living in Quebec, as anywhere.

I watch young students stumble over themselves and declare in defiance---knowing that upon graduation they'll be moving somewhere a little more uni-lingual---"I don't speak French!"

But, last night, at the grocery store...

Two young women in the bulk foods aisle, arms full of chips and snack foods, inquired about local brands of cola. In English, they addressed a man who was stocking shelves. He responded in French with a smile, his speech clearly affected by a severe hearing impairment, "I am deaf. Please move your mouth slowly so I can read your lips."

Annoyed, and not listening, the young woman retorted, "I don't speak French."

No less familiar with her kind, than she was with reacting defensively to anything said in French, he read her lips and responded politely in English instead.

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