Since I wrote my previous post, I’ve been thinking some more about what it meant for me to be living in a bilingual country. As you may know the language question is a very touchy subject for many Québécois and even if it hasn’t really been the case for me I can see how it could: simply look at the comments that post generated.
I’ve never really thought of Canada as a French-speaking place even if it’s our second official language. Canadians, to me, are English people. Québécois are French. Strange isn’t it? Especially since more and more “Québécois” don’t speak it. For the last few years we’ve been experiencing some issues with minorities and how accommodating we, Québécois, are as a nation (I’m using nation here, in the broad sense, not as a specific separated nation). There’s been a lot of public uproar about how we bend over backwards to welcome emigrants. I do agree with some of the issues brought up, like the separation of Church and State. That being said, I don’t agree with allowing a kid to wear his kirpan in school; if we take Church/religion out of schools, etc. than it should be applied to all. (Sorry, I digressed.)
I wrote “choosing to learn the language of the country you choose to emigrate to”, because I believe that. If one wants to integrate one should learn the language spoken. We have some Vietnamese friends who choose Québec as their home because we spoke French here, as well as some Lebanese friends. Immigrants will often regroup in neighbourhoods, churches, etc. and will want to preserve their heritage; their culture and I fully respect that. At the same time, if they are truly adapting to their new land as being their home, they should integrate. Integrating doesn’t mean (at least it shouldn’t!) letting go of who one is. Whenever I go somewhere I try to learn about how they live there, how, what they speak, etc. in doing so, I find it opened me many doors. If we were to move outside Canada, I would adapt to our new surrounding. I wouldn’t expect everyone to talk to me in English. When I went to Japan in 1999, I felt a little lost that I couldn’t get around on English alone, and sure was happy I had my little two years of Japanese lessons behind me, when training in a remote area. I was the only one (non-Japanese) who could ask for water after training, and trust me, that was worth all my efforts of getting up every Sunday morning for those Japanese lessons.
I think too many of us take things for granted when it comes to languages, here. I expect to see signs in both French and English, especially when it comes to Canadian, but also because we are in Québec some of us think that French should be the only language (I don't think so). As far as I know we are still part of Canada. I don’t really expect to speak French when I call a federal government office (which I do, too often) and honestly I’m always surprise when I actually do get one.
We have Italian friends whose parents, have been here for over 50 years, still don’t talk neither French nor English. Why? Because they only shop, live and interact with Italians in Little Italy. My in-laws were very much like that. My MIL was more Hungarian than many Hungarians living in Hungary, but even if she could speak French and English, she closed herself off to Québécois (a lot, not completely). Some of it was “self-preservation” or wanting to keep her cultural heritage. I also know she's not an isolated case, I have Greeks friends/relatives who told me the same thing, as well as Portugese. I don't think that where they're from matters and what and how they chose to live here, that does.
I think it’s sad my MIL never truly embraced the fact that she lived in Québec nor wanted to share and discover our culture as well. But, I'll give her one thing she sure did well; she sent her son to French school so that he could learn proper French, and that he did.