Friday, 8 March 2013

Communication - An Executive Decision

The reason I bore you on language is because I think communication is really important. It's who we are. We are social, co-operative animals. For all the downside to it, the remarkable achievement that is modern civilization, was only possibly because we can explain precisely what we mean to one another, and many generations have been able to make a jump start on knowledge using both the oral and written word. No creature could build a city if he had to spend his whole time learning everything his ancestors did from scratch.

I have a new policy in my business. I had to decide, as a small Ontario business, how I was going to deal with Quebec. It's not as simple as it sounds. If you are not familiar with the issue, I'll explain. For a long time the Quebec laws have included special provisions for the French language to be treated as superior to the English language. This has led to things like it being compulsory for signs in French being larger or in front of the English equivalent. There are also certain rules regarding documents within businesses, and so on. It's all petty and silly, but for the most part one can shrug it off and ignore it.

In France itself they have similar laws, some sillier than others, but France has one national language, and they are entitled to do this. Canada has two national languages, and the rules are lopsided. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say, just lately it has all become ridiculous.

Articles like this have caused much mirth:

But there's a far more sinister aspect to it, with children losing access to English language education, and a definite racist view towards English speakers in Quebec.

I would be shooting myself in the foot if I ignored the need for customer service in French, and I am able to offer it. I'm not fluent but with the aid of a dictionary I am fully capable of dealing with customers in French by e-mail. So I do.

I have stopped short of listing items with French subtitles (except for ONE item, just because I happen to like the French word so ner ner ner ner ner), or creating a French description. I could do it, I've done it before, and I would happily do it on request. I get a lot of business from Quebec, and it's possible I could increase it if I offered a fully bilingual site.

However, I also get a lot of business from Sweden, Poland, Kazakhstan (yep), Italy, and South America. How many languages should I translate my site into? Anyone online has the option to translate a web page into their own language through Google or Bing and I leave that up to them.

There's one area though, where I have been undecided. I have considered sending out my customary "Thank You" confirmation e-mail in French to Quebec customers, as a courtesy, unless their name is obviously not French. I've been thinking about this for a long time. Take the high road, sort of thing. Never mind the silly attitude of the Quebec government, individual people are quite different. Not their fault.

Yes. It is. If we are going to get some sanity back into this entire situation, the people of Quebec have to do it for themselves. If somebody cannot cope with written English, and contacts me in French, as a polite person, I will continue to respond in French.

But I will not be offering French as an alternative automatically. The people of Quebec must get a clue, and tell their goverment to stop it. Cut it out. This is stupid. This is harming Quebec children, harming relations between neighbours, between provinces, and making the people look dumb. We know the people aren't dumb, so it's time they demonstrated it. They vote and they lobby. They have to do it. I can't.


  1. Keep doing what you are doing, Melanie; there is simply no pleasing some folks and an English name in Quebec is no guarantee that the customer is, in fact, English. To someone outside the province; Jean Blackburn is an English woman's name - in Quebec, it is, more than likely, a man. Consider my boys - last name is absolutely French but their given names are extremely English. Nah, keep on, keeping on. As for the current downswing of linguistic relations, a lot of it is media generated crap. Francophones are getting fed up and they are voicing their opinions, you just don't hear about it.

    1. I'm sure they are. But they have to act. This is the problem with humans. They complain but not in the right way.

  2. I have discovered that at my workplace, many people are opting for the most basic language of all-- grunting and pointing.

    Example, while working the carving station :
    ME: Ham, turkey or prime rib, sir?
    Customer: HNUHHH ( waves plate vaguely)
    ME: HRNUHH? ( points at beef) or HRUNNNGH? ( points at turkey)

    I have considered responding in kind, but unfortunately, my bosses take an unkind view of my bilingual accommodation to Grunters.

    1. I hear all over the place how teenagers talk in grunt, but who taught/allowed them to do that? Mine get a tea towel across the ear if I hear "I seen it" or "Eh?" never mind anything else. But yes, if we accomodate it, it will only proliferate.

  3. English seems to be the default common language around the world. English is the official language around the world of pilots and air traffic controllers. How does Quebec handle that?

    1. Easily. This is all fake, you see. It's politics. Educated people such as polits can speak perfect English, and do. They tell the goverment to fuck off. It's the little people who get hurt by all this. Mais, c'est la guerre.

    2. Transportation is under Federal jurisdiction and therefore the language laws of Quebec are not applicable.

  4. Yes, Francophone people are getting fed up, but those of us who unfortunately don't follow the French media don't often become aware of it. A francophone friend of mine, originally from Ottawa and fluently bilingual, actually wrote a letter to his MNA saying that the recent hysteria involving petty language infractions is not what the OQLF was originally created for.

  5. I have 3 customers who either do not speak English, or choose not to. I do considerable business with them and we have agreed, because my business french sucks.. to deal by email, which gives me the opportunity to ensure I can translate what I want to say, into decent french. Then they email me back in french and I translate it back to english if I can't figure it out on my own. It works..

    I am gobsmacked at the stupidity and stubbornness of the OQLF and Pauline Marois.. they are truly doing a huge disservice to the youth of Quebec by suppressing English so much, by making it a bad thing.. the world does business in English..or Mandarin... NOT FRENCH.. ESPECIALLY QUEBECOIS FRENCH.