In Montreal People Who Don’t Speak English Are Uneducated Bigots
About 10 or 15 years ago Blockbuster opened their first Montreal franchise on Ste.Catherine Street, between the Forum and Guy Metro. About every second evening me and my roommate JF would walk all the way up the hill from St.Henri to rent some videos because, a. we had no real professional or social obligations to speak of in those blissful days of our early twenties, and b. because the only commerce going on in St.Henri back then was the sale of beer and steamed hot dogs.
At Blockbuster there was this one employee that we called Tommy. Poor Tommy, we used to say, he just doesn’t get it. He wasn’t a bad bloke—although a bloke he certainly was—but he always had a look of confusion on his face and permanent hesitation in his movement.
One phenomenon that absolutely mystified Tom was that almost every single night me and JF bring to his counter a movie in English, and then proceed to address him and conduct the transaction in French.
Every single time Tom would pick up the VHS, open the box, read the title aloud, and then, with a grimace, tried to warn us: Mais… sé en Anglèse.
Je sais, I would answer. C’est cool.
Tom would then take our money and stare at us as we left the store, dumbfounded by these two French dudes who kept renting movies they couldn’t understand!
Poor Tommy. He just didn’t get it.
Mercifully guys like Tommy are rare in Montréal. We French bastards and Angry separatists are usually able to consume our hearts fill of Anglo-American pop culture and simultaneously uphold our right to be served in French simultaneously, without any problem. I can go to a downtown cinema, buy my ticket in French, buy my Pepsi and gummy bears in French, ask directions to the pimpled employees in French and even share my always entertaining and insightful commentary on the movie with my companion of the evening in French, and still enjoy the new Transformer movie in the original English version.
I don’t switch to English when I buy my Engelbert Humperdink CDs at HMV. I don’t try to order in Japanese when I order sushi. I can go to a bookstore, purchase a book in English and even discuss it with a librarian, speaking only French. Even when I go to McGill’s library to photocopy scientific papers and gawk at young girls from New Jersey I make it a point to speak exclusively in French with the staff.
Not only is speaking French not a problem at McGill, I’m pretty sure I get better service than English-speaking chumps. Staff seems to light up and come to life. It’s like it’s something new and interesting happening. Oh, French! I know this! I can do this!
Or maybe I’m just better looking than you are…
This said, poor Tommy’s are still out there.
Last week Eric Amber, the guy who runs the Ste.Catherine Theater downtown, sent out an email to all of Québec’s cultural media and institutions promoting his venue’s lineup as part of the Zoofest, a new comedy festival run by the folks at Juste pour Rire/Just for Laughs. When a few people complained that the email was only in English and demanded to be contacted in French or taken off their mailing list, mister Amber blew a gasket.
His theater’s shows were in English and, therefore, there was no point advertising them in French, essentially wrote the promoter, who, like poor Tommy, cannot comprehend that someone who has learned English does not immediately abandon his tribal language.
« You obviously can’t read English because you are an uneducated bigot », was the eloquent response of the theater to the demands for a French email. « Go fuck yourself. »
Sure, I’ll do that in a sec., but before I go I’d just like to point out to the Eric’s and Tommy’s out there that there are roughly 500.000 to 750.000 Anglophones in Québec and about 3 million Francophones like me who speak, read and consume English-language culture but still expect to be informed and to buy our tickets in French.
If you think you can run a business by only catering to « real » Anglos while four fifths of your potential market is jacking off in the shower, good luck with that.
We have our answer! As I’m about to upload this post, I learn that Eric Amber and the people at St.Catherine Theater do not want money spent by people who still nostalgically hang on to their backward cultures. He is shutting his theater down and moving on to some other city where only people who have completely abandonned their primitive ways are allowed to talk back to the Anglos, somewhere like Toronto or Singapour:
« Due to the overwhelming racism and bigotry in French society toward minorities and non-french cultures, Theatre Ste-Catherine will be closing in protest. Effective immediately TSC will no longer be accepting bookings and will closed permanently Dec. 21, 2009.»
Cool. Now maybe some uneducated bigot like Gilbert Rozon, who happens to run the biggest English-language comedy festival in the world, or André Ménard or René Angelil can buy back the theater and make some money while Eric Amber relocates to Peterborough where no linguistic and cultural bastards will try to crash his productions.