Bonjour-Hi, Bye-Bye?

Last year, Québec lawmakers passed a unanimous motion that called on businesses to replace the renowned “Bonjour-hi” with a simple “Bonjour.” While this does not seem to garner any importance, the social circumstances of Montréal’s multiculturalism are at risk. This motion signifies the hard-pressed tactics used by political parties such as the Parti Québécois (PQ) to preserve the French language. Imposing language restrictions in the workplace reflects the rigidity of certain individuals and the antagonism harboured by these peoples towards anglophone communities.

The bilingual greeting is not an “irritant”, but rather a reflection of the multicultural society in which we live. McGill is a melting pot for students of different cultural backgrounds with the highest percentage of international students among Canada’s top research universities. I believe that, while there is room for improvement, we offer a great range of cultural resources for our students. MISN and ISS offer student outings and get-togethers to help international students settle in. Student associations cater to cultural exploration and fostering relationships. I myself joined the Hong Kong Students Network in order to socialize with people with a similar upbringing.

When I first arrived in Montréal, I was a Secondaire 1 student (Grade 7) in a brand new city. My French language skills were shoddy at best and I attended a French immersion school in order to improve. I was an outsider and I felt that bilingualism was crucial in a bilingual country. Therefore, I sympathize with the need to preserve the French language and Québecois traditions.

That being said, I sense a hostility from certain populations towards anglophone culture (and vice versa). The competition between English and French speakers stems from centuries of poor governance and oppression. In recent decades, English acquisition of businesses and infrastructure have created rivalries in neighbourhoods like the Plateau. Michel Tremblay’s hit “Les Belles Soeurs”, a tragi-comedy based in joual (working-class vernacular), illustrates the blunt reality of 1960’s Québécois families. The staunch differences between English and French are visible in the characteristic language employed by these families; many words in joual are adaptions from English because husbands journeyed west to work on projects to support their families. Upon returning, aspects of the English language were incorporated in the working-class vernacular, a speech that is both stigmatized and revered.

While the shift from “Bonjour-hi” to “Bonjour” claims to preserve the French language, I would argue that it is segregating Quebecers on a deeper level. The people that live in our province come from Canada and around the world; the use of multilingual greetings should reflect the diversity of these people.

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