Two Solitudes And One Loneliness

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O Canada...

O Canada...

Not only I betrayed France by crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but apparently I also betrayed French language. Oh, that’s great.

Summary: Quebec’s official language is French. Not English. Not both languages. French. The province is also quite a fighter: given its heritage and the preponderance of French, there’s an ongoing debate regarding the status of Quebec. Some want to separate from Canada (they are known as separatists or sovereignists), some wish to separate in theory but wouldn’t actually vote “yes” in a referendum and some are fiercely against separating from Canada (they are known as federalists).

The issue is complex and highly political. It took me years to understand it and yet, I sometimes quite don’t get everything. It’s also one of Canada’s most touchy subjects, so it’s hard to speak without offending anyone. Not that I care anyway.

Some Quebecers would argue as follow: philosophically, the province isn’t a province but a nation, where people speak the same language and have distinct society. Culturally speaking, Quebec is different: it has its own artists, its own musicians, its own writers. And Quebec has a painful history: English have for long dominated Canada and therefore, Quebec.

But the whole issue mostly revolve around languages. Quebec is the only province in Canada where French is the official language (only the province of New-Brunswick is bilingual). And it’s also the only place in North America where French is widely spoken. Despite some Canadian leaders’ efforts, the country is not bilingual yet, even though French is much more than a foreign language in a lot of places in Canada. So, French language has to be protected in North America. And the best way to do that would be for Quebec to be a nation. Otherwise, French language would be doomed forever.

And here I am. I’m French, almost Canadian now. I speak French and English. And I live in Ontario, not Quebec. See where I’m going? My seat isn’t always comfortable.

Regardless, note that I’m a French teacher, so I must care somehow. I do. I like French language – I like languages as a matter of fact. I’m just not sure how far you can go to protect one. I was born as French and this language was given to me at birth. I like it because I can make nice sentences and read literature. But I don’t think it should be a burden on my back nor a “gift” I should defend no matter what. That’s probably why I chose to live in Ontario and why I chose to live in English, except at my current work where of course I speak French most of time.

It’s not because French is disappearing in North America, as I’ve heard many times, that I will take arms, move to Québec and run with the pack. I try to make my students love French, that’s about it. I don’t convert – I offer.

According to some Quebecers, speaking French outside Quebec is useless and bound to fail. Basically, all French speakers should all gather in Quebec and defend French. Besides, the dream of a bilingual country is naive at best. English on one side, French on the other. That’s it. Canada’s bilingual and bicultural culture is often expressed in this term: the two solitudes.

How much time did I hear that? Too many. I was even called a collaborationist by a few Quebecers. Sold to the enemy, like the French who collaborated with Nazi Germany during WW2. Ouch, it hurts. Their stupidity I mean, not the comment.

I don’t want to live in Quebec. I have nothing against it, but I just don’t feel close to the culture. Like I wouldn’t feel like living in Paris, or Munich for example. Nothing personal. It’s just not for me. I feel comfortable in English Canada: I like its multiculturalism, its politics, its culture and its people. It’s my home now.

Immigrating to Canada – or to anywhere in the world – also means landing in the middle of battles we, immigrants, neither started nor are responsible for. Yet, we are “forced” to take a side. Or try to make things better, somehow. We can’t see the issues the same way locals do because we don’t usually have the same background and we don’t always share the same history. But it could be seen as a chance: how about resetting everything? How about forgetting the old resentment and rivalries?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Interesting thoughts … but your ‘reset’ will never happen. Don’t be ‘forced’ to take a side. Sometimes I’d like to immigrate just to become more of an observer and less of a participant.

  2. I grew up in Temiscaming, Quebec. I believe that our town is not separatist. Because we are closer to Ontario than the rest of Quebec we shop in North Bay, Ontario. You are more likely to run into separatists farther out east.

    Back home the mosquitoes are very bad, it gets very cold in winter, working at the pulp and paper mill is the main employment. Which is some of the reasons why I now live in a suburb of Kansas City. But I have to tell you it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Where French and English live together, intermarrying, playing hockey, softball, hunting, fishing.

  3. Yes I read about the historical background and language aside, it is the same between China & Taiwan – it’ll never …;(

  4. Yah Zhu… After comg to Canads I got to know abt this difference a lot… Relaised the same during my Montreal trip.

    My take on this…. Irrespective of language its still possible to be a 1 country. It helps to evryone.

    In India we speak more than 13 languages… still 1 country… it worls well

  5. This is an interesting topic and you have a unique point of view. Being American, I don’t really have a stake in that battle but it seems to me that language is only a tool and we should use whichever once is most comfortable for us.

  6. In ethno-nationalist conflicts, it is the party that perceives to be under threat that mounts the pressure. Besides, identities function in a dichotomising way: i am who i am because i am not you. That dichotomisation might be a way of mounting the pressure or, in general, reacting to the threat, perceived or not. So, and according to what u said about quebecois fears of linguistic elimination (and therefore identity) it’s not at all weird the way the quebecois behave.

    What i didn’t get though is, is the english speaking bit more relaxed? Is it more integrative, acceptable to change, etc?

  7. Ghosty : I know, sometimes I’m a dreamer… you may say 😉 You’re right, observing is good as well and pretty relaxing too usually !

    Keshi : anytime ! It’s a sexy language you know 😀

    Spyder : I must admit I don’t know this part of Quebec well. I’m not saying that all Quebecers are pro-independence – actually, the province is quite divided. But it’s not only Quebec’s northern part which are pro Le Bloc, but also Gatineau… where most people work for the federal government. Weird to me.

    I know it’s possible to share a country and let both culture bloom and live. I know some great people, either French or English who try to make it possible. But let’s just say the whole language situation is strange for an immigrant like me !

    Shionge : oh yeah, same with Taiwan and Mainland… two great places with smart people, nice cultures yet it will never end. I studied that…but at least the language is the same :mrgreen:

    CM-Chap : I know very little about India, I didn’t know there were 13 languages for example ! I love places where more than one language is spoken. It’s such an opening on the world…

    Art : I also tend to consider languages as tools to communicate. Of course, they are also the reflection of a culture… I like the way you put it in your comment.

    Itelli : wow, what an analysis ! Once again, the “us and them” dichotomy… you’re so right.

    To me, English Canada is more welcoming and more open to change and to different cultures. To me. I stress on that because other people have a total different feeling… I guess I just feel comfortable here. I quite don’t identify myself to a nation or a specific group, so I enjoy living in a country where there’s a true melting pot of cultures and languages. Some immigrants love Quebec because of its strong identity. Depends on the people I guess.

  8. It’s a very good post Zhu. I haven’t been to Canada yet (just seen a bit up from a plane window but that doesn’t count does it? lol) but I have always had these questions in mind: how is it to live with the constant language battles over there. Do the Quebecers and English Canadians think they belong to the same country? Etc. I can’t wait to have the chance to visit someday and take a taste of it.
    As a French teacher, what French language do you teach? Is it your native tongue or the official French Canadian language, which can be quite different sometimes?

  9. I was born as a French and this language was given to me at birth. I like it because I can make nice sentences and read literature. But I don’t think it should be a burden on my back nor a “gift” I should defend no matter what.

    I feel exactly the same about the Welsh language that was forced upon me. It was literally speak welsh or die when I was in school, which in turn made me hate it. Luckily that hatred has melted away over the years and now I quite enjoy it. I still can’t speak it, though. Language should definitely be offered not forced.

    I think the French language is very sexy. I could never get the hang of it. I was better at German.

  10. That’s for leaving me a comment, because now I’ve gotten to check out your blog! How wonderfully interesting. I’m from the U.S., but I’ve always wanted to visit Canada. For some reason, whenever I find out someone is from Canada or they live there, I automatically like them, lol. I don’t know, I just always love the Canadians (I’ve written about it several times in my blog). I look forward to reading through your archives as well as all of your future posts. 🙂 — P.S. I also tend to like the French, although I must say, I haven’t come across too many French people in my life.

  11. Whenever your French genes revolt and dominate your psyche give me a call… a call to arms that is:) French people and rebellion have always been close friends. At present it seems the english speaking people are trying to lure you into a false sense of security that everything is ok…In time the frolic dark side of this French rebellious woman will be ready to upturn the english status quo of Canada.

    One day, you are going to see the “wisdom” behind my words friend. Probably the same day when you are going to be a senile 100 year old who wont know which way is up:)

    Oh well, live the dream of linguistic tolerance for while it lasts:)

    Seriously though, great post and good to know you treat such subjects with a mixed blend of levity and seriousness at equal measures that doesn’t tire and is always fun:)

    Keep those posts coming!

  12. I lived in Ontario for a couple of years and I found it a very interesting debate. As traveled to the West to Victoria, I saw they were more British than Canadian. But at the end of my stay, I did see learn french, could order food when I went to Montreal, fill up a speeding ticket which was entirely in French. And yet wondered that some countries like India have 32 official languages and they don’t talk about separating based on language or culture.

  13. Hi!

    It is a problem that India has also faced. And India is not bilingual, its multilingual. So when the most spoken language, Hindi was chosen to become the national language, there was stiff resistance to this move, especially from the southern states.

    Hence India is a country with not one official language but as many as 22 languages, in addition to English.

    However of late, English has overtaken all tother language in terms of importance, and has become the integrating language for the nation. Strange, isn’t it?

  14. FroggyWoogie : it all depends on people, but to a certain extent, no, they don’t feel like they belong to the same country. Quebec call us, English Canada, the ROC (Rest Of Canada).

    As for teaching, I teach my French… but I give the equivalent in Québec when I know it (i.e : les toilettes FR – la chambre de bain QC). There isn’t a huge difference to be honest… people speak a bit of both “languages”.

    Ys: I don’t know the situation in Ireland now, but some people compared it to the one with Québec. It’s a great chance to learn the local language… but yeah, if it’s forced there’s no point. There’s a difference between brainwashing and teaching! I love Gaelic though… sounds so mysterious !

    Empress Eve: I was browsing blogs yesterday and I’m really glad I stumble upon yours. I like your theme and your writing ! I’ll be back soon, you’re in my feed. And even though I’m French, I have nothing against Americans – isn’t it great ! 😛

    Deadpoolite : ah, my favorite Greek ! My mythic Greek ! My Hellenic counterpart ! Yeah, my brain is weird these days… one side want to revolt and the other just want a cup of tea. That’s what happens when you live between French and English I guess ! 🙄

    The Pilgrim : thanks for stopping by ! I guess you understand what I mean since you lived in Ontario. I don’t know Western Canada actually, but I can imagine it’s much more British.

    Mayank : India is a fascinating country ! So I guess it’s like China. Mandarin was chosen but there are like 50 dialects/ languages. However, the process went smoothly in China as far as I know…

    India really impresses me. Sure, it has its challenges but the population looks really qualified and really energitic.

  15. Mayank : India is a fascinating country ! So I guess it’s like China. Mandarin was chosen but there are like 50 dialects/ languages. However, the process went smoothly in China as far as I know…
    India really impresses me. Sure, it has its challenges but the population looks really qualified and really energitic.

    Well the 50 dialects of China cant really be compared to India’s 22 languages, as the 22 other languages are “officially recognised”. At last count, some organisation had identified over 1600 dialects being spoken in India.

  16. I’m torn in this situation because I’m an immigrant. Some people who are born in Quebec are not even bilingual and I wonder why not? Why French is imposed to immigrants, and not to Anglophones? I am better at both languages compared to native born. It’s a shame for them.

    bluefishs last great read…Rules about flying

  17. I grew up in English Canada but I live in Montreal now. I love it here, much better than, say, Toronto. I am not sure if I could live elsewhere in Quebec, though.

    What makes you think Quebecers don’t say “les toilettes”? They do, especially for public washrooms. “Chambre de bain” is for a bathroom (in a house). As someone who learned French through being in French immersion in school in English Canada and now lives in Quebec, I feel very strongly that Canadian schools should teach Canadian French, not European French. Teaching English Canadians to speak European French is like teaching Quebec kids to speak British English.

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