Triviality or… Significance?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

After a long weekend spent in Montréal, it is time to get back to this blog of mine… Believe it or not, my English is kind of “rusted”! Well… kind of… Let’s say I have to trade my French hat for my English hat! Before I get into the heart of my topic, I want to open a parenthesis. For those of you who follow this blog, you certainly noticed that I have short fuses regarding bad French… especially when I come across ads or road signs. I have been advised several times to just let it go… I am fully aware there is not much I can do to correct this lamentable situation. On the other hand, let it go would mean surrending my rights as a Francophone… and hopefully I will get offended by bad French for as long as I will live! The day I would renounce would be the end of me… Then I would become an assimilated product… BUT! Do not worry… this will never happen!!!

Montréal is the champion of road repairs… there is always something going on, year after year… actually, this city’s road network always look like a giant construction site! When I lived there I paid little attention because it was part of my daily life… now that I live in Ottawa, where road repairs are done in a much less noticeable way, I hate driving in Montréal.  Of course, useless to mention that traffic is bumper to bumper most of the time… yesterday, on my way back home, highway 13 looked like a parking lot: since I was literally sitting in the traffic, I had time to read the road signs. I am so used to the ones I see every day in Ottawa that I almost lost the correct French expressions and words from sight… It was pure delight to see “Accès à la 40 Est barré” instead of “Sortie Moodie fermée”, “Accès au chantier” instead of “Entrée de camions”… I never thought one day I would sit in my car and be overjoyed by road signs… it was like seventh heaven! Unfortunately, this feeling only lasted for 90 minutes: reality hit me hard when I reached Ottawa!!! Oh well… 90 minutes are better than none…

Last week, Joseph had sent me a link to an article written by Colleen Ross, a reporter with the CBC. He thought I would be interested in a recent study showing that people living in two cultures might unconsciously change their personalities when they switch language. Ross, intrigued by this study, wrote that she kind of experienced some change herself: she thinks she adopts a more aggressive behaviour when speaking German and displays more joie de vivre when speaking French. Of course, German is not the most romantic language in the world! I tried and learned it for a while and yes! because of the pronunciation, I do believe I sounded angry all the time! When I flirted with Italian language, because of its fluidity, I felt I sounded too mielleuse… which certainly does not agree with my personality! Since language reflects culture, it somehow activates identity… I really do believe our mother tongue triggers who we are only because, depending on what language we learned first, we do process information differently… Yet I do not believe that switching language modifies personalities or identities.

Unilingual people living in bicultural or multicultural environment are different from the ones living in one culture… only based upon the fact they get exposure to other cultures than theirs. For instance, unilingual Anglophones living in Québec are quite different from those who live in Ontario or Alberta… Even their English is different: they use gallicism the way Francophones use anglicism… they are branching the toaster instead of plugging it… they go to the dépanneur because they do not remember the word in English… they will talk about their kitchen skills instead of their cooking skills… they paint with a spatula because they do not know what a palette knife is for!… they take the métro in Montréal because the word subway was never in usage… they go to the pharmacy… And yes they do exude exuberance and joie de vivre! Without having to switch language!…

Back in the early 90s, I had a couple of students in a large national accounting firm… partners were a mix of Anglophones and Francophones… most of the time, they would not get along too well… referring to each other as “Maudits Anglais” and “Damn Frenchies”… One year they had a three day national conference in Calgary and they all attended. After they came back, I noticed a drastic change regarding rapports between Anglos and Francos… and of course, intrigued, I had to ask “What happened in Calgary? What drug was used in the food?”

The answer I was provided with did not really surprise me… When the Anglophones got to Calgary, they immediatly mingled with the English-speaking crowd, leaving the few Francophones on their own… At dinner, on the first day, they were sitting with colleagues from different cities in Canada when they suddenly realized they had absolutely nothing in common with these guys! Then they could see and hear their Montréal French-speaking colleagues having a blast! When the Anglos at their table started to comment on these loud Québécois and make fun of them, they took sides with no hesitation! They moved to their Montréal colleagues’ table and never looked back…  Afterwards Anglos and Francos reconciled because they had taken consciousness of their similarities… before this experience they had only looked at their differences…

For or against this study’s results, I firmly believe that exposure to bicultural/multicultural environment is a plus and people who stay confined in their own culture are missing out… what they would never do or say due to their cultural background might be acceptable in another culture… therefore are they expressing all facets of who they are or could be?…

“La meilleure façon de ne pas avancer est de suivre une idée fixe”

Jacques Prévert

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4 Comments

  1. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    September 3, 2008 at 12:55 am

    When I think about it, I find it strange that my husband and parents don’t know the “me” that is “French”. It’s a whole part of my identity that they can hear about, but not experience. That’s one of the reasons I want my kids to speak French. I want to take them to Paris and Quebec’s Winter Carnival and meet some old friends. I want them to be a part of that “other” life of mine, and experience it with me.

    My French-teaching colleague and I were just discussing our first days of school (it was today!) We have to cover a lot of rules, procedures, etc. the first week, and it’s always in English. We shared how we really dislike teaching in English. The second I switched gears into a little immersion, my first day jitters disappeared, my voice gets higher, I’m happier and more at ease, doing my thing!

  2. September 3, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Diane… what an insightful comment! Thinking of it now, I realize most of my family and friends do know only half of me… The French-speaking ones do not know the “me” who lives in the English world and the English-speaking ones do not know the “me” who lives in the French world…

    Same thing when I want to tell about some event that occurred in my Anglo culture to my French friends (and vice-versa)… somehow it always sounds like a bad translated movie. Something is missing… Would you say we have two identities? Or one mixed identity?… Personally, I do feel my two cultures are strongly blended together… and they both made me who I am! 😉

  3. corey said,

    July 29, 2010 at 1:43 am

    hey what a nice blog you had 🙂


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