Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Little Clarification

So, I don't know how much those of you who are from other countries know about Canada, specifically about Quebec. So here's a little background that might make our situation a little more understandable.

The thing about Canada, is that it started as a colony not of England, but of France.

What is now Central Canada was once valuable property because it was full of wild animals, and fur was THE hot fashion item. Not only were there lots of furs, but Canada had (still has, actually) this great system of rivers and lakes that meant you could travel all through the forests by canoe. And there were lots of people here who would gladly swap you valuable furs for some shiny glass beads or an old cooking pot.

Once England found out what a killing France was making, they had to get in on the action. So, two different parts of this big land mass were settled by two different groups of people. One section English, one section French. Some parts having both English and French settlers. A little while later there was a battle about this. Guess who won? England. But they were nice enough to let the French stay.

Fast forward a few hundred years and you get the complex politics of Canada, especially Quebec. While most of Western Canada is mainly English (well, technically its new immigrants from all over the world that are told they have to learn English to fit in), and much of Central and Eastern Canada is bilingual (speaking both our official languages), Quebec is aggressively French speaking. So much so that there are laws about signs, language, education and cultural protection. So much so that dyed in the wool Quebecois (decendants of the original French settlers) want Quebec to be its own country. There's even a political party whose mission is to seperate Quebec from Canada.

In the midst of Quebec, there is Montreal. Back in the day when boats were still the main form of transportation, most Canadian immigrants funneled through the port city of Montreal. Many stayed. Many were Irish, Italian, or Jewish. They chose English as their preferred language of choice. When things got sticky with Quebec, and it became aggressively French, those English groups (who had also been here for generations) became a minority.

So, in Montreal, the Western side of the city (closest to Ontario) speaks mostly English, while the Eastern side of the city (closer to the rest of Quebec) mostly speaks French. English speakers around here are called Anglophones, French speakers are Francophones, and people who grow up with both languages are known as Allophones.

And that is your lesson on culture for the day. How does it relate to us?

Well, Andrew is in English school. In order to get into a French Immersion school in the English school board here, we had to fill out all kinds of paper work to prove that we had gone to school in English, otherwise he would have had to go to a straight French school. Andrew and Aaron's daycare lady is from Guatemala and speaks French and Spanish. Its hard to get official things done because all the websites and government workers and phone company people are French and sometimes you can get a translation. All the signs in the stores are French. When you walk into a store in the mall, you are helped in French.

Did I mention that the last time I took French was in grade 8? And it was mostly fill-in-the-blank-congigate-the-verb style French lessons? Yeah. Its been a bit of a stressful year trying adjust. In many ways, Quebecers have succeeded. Even in Montreal, although we are still technically in Canada, it does often feel like we have moved to a new country.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

even though I knew all that, I liked the way you told it Jill