The French-English language debate… again

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin.

Opting out of “hi” is demeaning to the thousands of English-speakers in Quebec

On Nov. 30, 111 votes were submitted to the National Assembly endorsing the use of “bonjour” as a substitution for “bonjour, hi” among businesses and the retail industry in Quebec, reported the Montreal Gazette.

Soon after, the hashtag #bonjourhi flooded social media to support keeping the former greeting. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also made a former federal civil servant, William Floch, the new English-language community secretariat to “rebuild bridges with an estranged English-speaking minority,” reported the Montreal Gazette.

In my opinion, it is totally understandable to use Bill 101 and French immersion to promote French among the children of immigrants and Quebec citizens as a whole. However, asking merchants to omit the word “hi” from store greetings discriminates against anglophones and their right to speak their native language. According to the 2016 census, a total of 286,275 people only speak English in Montreal compared to the 1.4 million people who only speak French.

I believe it is offensive to these citizens because it risks alienating them and making them feel unaccepted when they arrive at a store and are not greeted in their spoken language.

While it is true that French is the official language in Quebec, it is also true that multiculturalism and diversity are celebrated within the province. Therefore, I believe that, in order to be true to our values and avoid hypocrisy, we ought to keep the “bonjour, hi” greeting to maintain an inclusive environment for both francophones and anglophones—not to mention allophones who might still be learning either language.

Giving customers the choice to speak either French or English is much more convenient than leaving them with only one option. Many people are not comfortable speaking French or they feel self-conscious about their fluency. Therefore, stripping away someone’s choice to speak a language is wrong because it goes against their freedom of expression and risks leaving them uncomfortable.

I believe there are other ways to encourage Quebecers to speak French that do not infringe on their freedom of expression. These alternatives can include playing more French radio stations in certain retail stores and businesses, and the promotion of French advertisements on public transit and in shopping malls.

We must allow the members of our society to decide which language they prefer to speak because it’s a personal decision. Choosing one language over another shouldn’t be forced on customers. We should allow the client to decide, especially in a customer service environment where their needs should be heard and met. It completely defeats the purpose of customer service when you are putting the customer in an uncomfortable position.

In addition, many anglophone customers are less likely to return to a store if they feel unwelcomed. Therefore, this change could negatively affect a business’ sales in the long-run. We need to remember that Quebec is a province within Canada—where the official languages are both English and French.

Lastly, Montreal is a very tourist-friendly city, and we must maintain our hospitality towards visitors by showing how bilingual and multicultural our city can be. I believe this push towards bonjour-only would discourage English-speaking tourists from travelling to Montreal.

This discrimination will only hurt the government in the long-run because many citizens who feel threatened by this rise of a French-speaking environment may choose to leave the province and make a new life for themselves elsewhere. According to CBC News, 10,175 anglophones left Quebec between 2011 and 2016. Although the economy was a large factor in that change, we can’t ignore the possibility that anglophones might feel uncomfortable living in a province that doesn’t respect their language preference.

Do we really want to foster an environment where anglophones, immigrants and tourists are not accepted in a city that strongly promotes diversity?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


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