(A bit of a caveat: this entry talks a lot about Canadian stuff that may be of little or no interest to some of the BeatnikPad’s international visitors. Apologies.)

I watched the second half of a rather fascinating documentary this weekend on the CBC. The CBC’s documentary program Rough Cuts broadcast “X-Change”, which followed the experiences of two young men who “trade places”.

The Poutinecatch (for there always is one) is that one of the men is a young, brash Albertan, who from what I could tell was a fairly heavy right-winger, and deeply anglophone and not ashamed of it. The other was a hardcore separatist from Montreal, Quebec, who speaks both officlal languages but believes that Anglo Canada is “suffocating his culture”; he believes Quebec should vote “Oui” and separate from Canada. The Albertan went to Montreal for a couple of weeks, the Quebecker to Alberta.

It made for some really interesting dynamics as the two men got used to their new environments, while at the same time attempted to assert their own polarized viewpoints. The Quebecker seemed to be a genuinely friendly guy, who repeated said, “It’s not like I / we hate Canadians: we just want to protect our culture. Assimilation into an English culture is killing our language, and putting our unique culture into jeopardy.”

The backbacon guy from Alberta, on the other hand, was too young, not very well-informed, and just too damn arrogant. He opens the show with the quote, “I speak English. I live in an English country. I figure [in Montreal] that’ll be good enough.” His friends weren’t very sympathetic, either: “Fuck them,” one said during an interview at a party, “no one cares about them right now, anyway.”

Another telling scene from the other perspective was when the Albertan was speaking English to an older woman while in a very pro-French Montreal neighbourhood. A man screams out at the woman en français, “Stop speaking that fucking language in my neighbourhood!”

Now, I may be a bit biased because I do have a bit of an obsession not only with French, but with all languages… but I’m completely lost on why some Canadians fight the concept of bilingualism tooth and nail. Why is it such a huge deal to learn another language? The last time I checked we were still claiming to be a bilingual country, and to have two official languages; why hasn’t the government made a bigger attempt to encourage both languages throughout the country?

I do believe that French (and all world languages, to some extent) is faced with a challenge to remain “pure” in an increasingly Anglicized world - I noted with some irony that even the separatist’s French was peppered with Anglicisms - but I don’t believe Quebec should leave Canada, and I have some issues with the sometimes seemingly racist overtones of the separatist movement. Still, I’m totally perplexed and digusted by the reverse: a country that only playacts at being bilingual, but which provides little or no acceptance and education in both of the official languages.


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