The Definitive Guide to Switching Between French and English in Québec
At the Dépanneur, the Caisse Populaire and waiting in line at the SAAQ
In business situations, there is one rule and it is the same as anywhere else in the world: The customer is always right.
The Good Faith Clause: For months I had to visit the Royal Victoria Hospital twice a week to se a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist. Both were English-speaking. The Ocupational therapist always greeted me in French, apologized profusely for not speaking it better, and tried really hard. The physio greeted me in English and made no effort to find out my preference. I eventually asked the Occupational Therapist if we could speak English. She had been very respectful and made a sincere effort but my English was better than her French and we mutually agreed that the communication would be easier in English. Because the physio never made an effort, neither did I. I only spoke French with her and she eventually had to deal with it.
At the Yacht club, Bingo and your local chapter of the Bilderberg group
When speaking to Montreal Anglos in social situations, I always speak French. The Anglo usually responds in one of three ways:
French: The Anglo answers in fluent French and that’s that.
Franglais: The Anglo responds in a half French/half English bastard tongue. I can understand him/her, so it’s cool. I, however, stick with French. Franglais is great for Hip Hop lyrics but I have no inclination to trade my ability to converse in two of the world’s greatest international language for the regional creole of Federal government secretaries.
English: My fellow conversationalist answers in English, I respond in French, he continues in English. We both understand each other, we are both speaking the language of our choice. All is good.
The rules above are exactly the same for Anglo-Québécois addressing Francophones.
How to avoid being labelled a Maudit Anglais if you don’t speak French
French-speaker in Québec have very high expectation for their Anglo neighbors. They’ve been telling us they are fluently bilingual for three decades now and, get this, we believe them. That is why some visitors to Montreal and Québec sometimes faced with an aggressive response when speaking English. To avoid this use accents and dress like a tourist. If you can pull off a British or Australian accent people will not expect you to be able to speak French.
Sri Lankans, Philipinos, Canadians and other Immigrants
There are two schools of thought concerning the proper way to communicate with our new countrymen and women.
The pseudo-cosmopolitans: They believe that everyone who is not from Québec speaks English and that they are ‘helping’ immigrants by communicating with them in English. This school of thought is very widespread in Québec City and other places that have little to no contact with actual immigrants.
The AngryFrenchGuys: We assume immigrants are just like real people and would appreciate to understand the social conventions of their new home as soon as possible, therefore we only speak French with them.
English-speaking visitors to Québec frustrated by the Switch – the habit of Francophones of switching to English as soon as they hear the slightest hint of an accent your speech – should refer to the rules above. The Francophone can switch to English if he wants to, but who is forcing YOU to switch with him or her? Just keep on speaking French! That or pretend to be a German tourist.
These are the rules. Put them on the fridge. Carry them in your wallet. Now you know.