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Filed Under: Opinion
I have three admissions to make. First, I have lived in Montreal for nearly 15 years and I don’t speak french. Second, to all those forming some kind of immediate opinion about me based on that information fragment I say: I proudly could not care less about your opinion. Finally, it is my intention to start learning french in the near future in spite of, not because of the bleating ignoramuses telling me I must.
“How long have you been in Montreal? You don’t speak French? Shame on you!”
I think it would be surprising to many people the frequency with which people think it is appropriate to say just that. It's critical to say I’m not talking about people who are surprised, or friends that ask why I haven’t learned yet, or even request I do. Surprise could be warranted and curiosity is the finest spice of life; what I am referring to nearly complete strangers casting vociferous shame upon me all while blissfully knowing absolutely nothing about me. Even more amazing is how perfectly acceptable this is considered to be by most people.
Can you imagine a world where it is considered acceptable and justified to confront strangers with any random notions of perceived insufficiency? Shall I start quizzing people on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty and their plans to affect its progression? Can I castigate strangers for not having a well formed answer? I’ll tell you what, in my opinion, and I’m 9/10ths of the way to saying objectively, the TTIP is immeasurably more important than your or my choice of language. I choose the example subject advisedly, but that subject could be any one of a virtually unlimited number of topics all of which are way, way more important to me than what languages you, or I have learned.
This is what I like to call a non-issue. A non-priority. Go ahead and make it something important to you, if you like. That’s great. Just please keep in mind that I couldn’t care less what phantasms and threats you imagine hide in the recesses of the english language. You probably don’t care how much I hate everything Michael Bay has ever committed to celluloid. I, at least, have the good sense to not confront you with that opinion as if it is your obligation to know it.
That I’ve lived in Montreal this long without learning the majority language is a testimony certainly to my stubbornly selective social isolation; and it is little embarrassing, to say the least, that I haven’t simply picked french up by osmosis. But a shame on me? No. Not.
The unvarnished truth is that I don’t care enough to invest my energy placating the demands of the sort of people I’d really rather agitate. French may well be a part of your identity, it is certainly a part of the city’s identity, and it is undoubtedly a part of Quebec’s identity. But do I care about your identity? No, not really. That’s yours. Your thing. All I really know for sure is for a select few of you part of that identity is being an intrusive jerk. Identity is a mirror, a descriptor, not a code of conduct. The world changes and grows. Deal with it.
Here’s the thing; I have lived in an anglophone neighbourhood, and frequented anglophone businesses, and enjoyed anglophone friends, and worked for anglophone companies. I didn’t need french. I don’t care about french. French is like english in that it is a utility. It is a communication protocol. French is to a conversation what the HTTP protocol is to the internet. Do you care about the HTTP protocol? No, of course you don’t, because it doesn’t matter. The sites matter. The people matter.
The people matter a lot, actually, and recently I have been lucky enough to be introduced to and mostly warmly welcomed into a new community in Montreal. The specifics of that community are immaterial to the point, excluding that these members happen to be mostly french.
So there you go; after 15 years of dealing with the snide, crass and juvenile baying of french-first jerks to no effect at all, I’ve now started looking to carve time out of my schedule to learn french. My level of caring about said jerks and their opinions about french or Quebec remains at exactly zero, but all it took was a couple cool folk I like to spend my time with and the simple desire to be less of a burden to them by forcing them to use an alternate language.
Magic, right? There’s a reason to move learning french into my priorities beyond ignorant, ideological xenophobia. My priorities follow lifestyle demands with little resistance or fanfare, and with no need for senselessly obtrusive laws or screeds. Do I expect I’ll be more like the kind of people who would author such ignorant things once I’ve loaded another communication protocol into my head? Obviously not. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise.
The lesson to learn, dear jerks being jerks, is if you want others to agree with you, you should probably set about being open, cool people instead of insulting and bullying. You’re free to keep that part of distinct culture all to yourself.
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