Is there really anything wrong with just saying Bonjour instead of Bonjour-Hi?
Bonjour-Hi – Quebec is once again making international headlines. It’s the same issue that has become somewhat of a blight on the province and a conundrum on the language landscape – from the ‘Pastagate’ fiasco in 2013 to the recent Parti Québécois motion in the National Assembly calling on businesses, especially retailers, to no longer use the ‘Bonjour-Hi’ greeting to welcome regular customers and tourists. The reasoning behind the motion is that only saying ‘Bonjour’ will help to further protect the French language.
The French language is the foundation of Quebec’s unique and rich heritage, but globalization is changing everything. The younger generation doesn’t see border lines anymore, they see opportunity. Languages and different cultures are merging, creating new ways of thinking and living together on this planet. It’s hard to accept and yes, sad to see these changes happen so rapidly – especially when it is the very fabric of one’s identity. Anglophone, Allophone or Francophone in this province, the French language and culture is part of who we are and what makes us unique – whether consciously perceived or not.
Then why does it appear as if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in Quebec’s National Assembly? In just the past few months, Quebec has gone from reaching out to the Anglo community with open arms, to folding those arms back in with a grunt.
Last August Premier Couillard reached out to English-speaking Ex-Quebecers, those who fled the province since the ‘Quiet Revolution’, with a passionate plea for their return, ‘We need you for a better future for all Quebecers… this is the moment to come back and build Quebec, the new Quebec with us’, he said. It received a lukewarm welcome, but then on October 11th Couillard took it a step further, appointing longtime cabinet minister Kathleen Weil as the first minister responsible for English-speaking Quebecers in the party’s history. It was followed on November 24th with the appointment of William Floch as the new ‘Secretariat for the English-speaking community’.
It was a first for Quebec and one the community welcomed, albeit cautiously given the province’s history with the language issue. Any trepidation was unfortunately confirmed when the Parti Québécois introduced the ‘Bonjour’ only motion. When opposition leader, Jean-Francois Lisée called on Premier Couillard to say that the English word (‘Hi’) was ‘un irritant’, Couillard dismissed it as nonsense and then said, “What he is trying to do here is create an artificial crisis, a confrontation between English and French Quebec.”
The word ‘irritant’ was dropped from the motion – but then the inexplicable happened. The National Assembly passed the motion unanimously – the Liberal party included. Even Premier Couillard and Minister Kathleen Weil voted for the motion. There might actually be some merit to a unilingual ‘Bonjour’ greeting, but whatever were they thinking after stretching out an olive branch to Anglos?
In one quick ‘motion’, they succeeded in alienating the English community once again. The motion itself is not a law and there will be no penalties if employees and retail staff ignore it and continue to greet people with ‘Bonjour-Hi’.
The real damage done is to the trust Anglos, and even Allophones, have in the Liberal government. Their promises now appear to be like an election year carrot-on-a-stick before the ‘anglo’ horse. It’s a shame. Creating discord between the ‘two-solitudes’ was completely unnecessary, especially when the gap was slowly closing on its own – and in a harmonious way.
Bonnie Wurst – firstname.lastname@example.org