I have always defended the need to protect the French language in Quebec. We all know that geographically Quebec is surrounded by an English speaking world. It is bordered by the rest of Canada’s mostly Anglophone provinces, as well as our great neighbour to the South, the United States of America, which prides itself on being a mostly English language melting pot.
Quebec also receives a fair share of English language influence from a predominantly anglophone mass media. It is therefore contextually easy to spot the vulnerability of the French language and to understand the desire for protective measures that aim to ensure its survival.
However, I was shocked to learn through my regular perusal of MTLBlog that the Quebec Language Police may be forcing a store located on Saint-Denis Street to close its doors due to a series of perceived language law violations. The store in question is called ‘Chez Geeks Jeux & Accessoires’ and they specialize in a niche market, notably, the sale of board games.
The language law violations apparently include the owner speaking to customers in English, selling board games that are English-only and having a business website that is in English only.
First of all, I do not recall ever being served in English in Montreal no matter where I go. Whether it’s the Bay on St. Catherine Street, l’Affiche on St. Denis Street or Starbucks on Mont-Royal, it simply has never happened. I’ve had my share of folks on the sidewalk reply to my ”bonjour” with a ”hello”, but I’ve never once been greeted in English by the employees of a store.
Interestingly, plenty of people shop at those used CD stores that sell English only music from English only musicians, and nobody is forcing those stores to shut down. Many of those used CD stores even use anglicisms in their titles, like Cédé Truqué, where CD stands for compact disk (the right term in French is disque compact or DC, so if anything it should be called Décé Truqué!)
In this particular case, the guy has a French language sign: ‘Chez Geeks Jeux et Accessoires’. He is selling a product that is mostly made in English and that Quebeckers would not otherwise be privy to buying because simply put, big companies do not produce French versions, just like the Beattles and Joe Cocker do not translate their music into French. Again, nobody is stopping stores from selling CDs produced by the Beattles or Joe Cocker even if the product is in English only.
The owner of Chez Geeks apparently even produced the game instructions in French for those games that did not come with translated instructions. That is what I call going above and beyond. Personally I feel that his website could be made bilingual, but that otherwise he is not a threat to the French language. Simply put, the Language Police are showing themselves to be more than a little ridiculous in this case.
Regardless of my understanding of Quebec’s right to protect the French language, I also consider that Montreal is a port city that will naturally attract many immigrants with different languages and cultures. Just like Vancouver, where folks may often complain about Chinese only stores, but quickly forget that there are no such stores in Prince George or Bowser. In other words its not epidemically problematic. There are no Chez Geeks in St. Ignace de Blainville de Kamouraska, and therefore the Language Police should concentrate their resources and energy elsewhere so that Chez Geeks can continue to pay its taxes and Quebeckers can continue to get their hands on board games that otherwise would simply never be available in la belle province.