Québec, explained…or not

Checking in from a train somewhere in Nova Scotia, to relate a funny conversation I had in a youth hostel in Ste-Anne-des-Monts in Gaspésie (rural northeastern Quebec) with a young, bilingual Montreal Anglo photographer who had been in my rideshare, and an even younger, slightly naive Dutch tourist on a cross-Canadian tour.

Dutch girl: Good evening.

Photographer: Good evening.
Me: Hi!
Dutch girl: You speak English!
Photographer and me: Mm-hm…
Dutch girl: I didn’t realize people spoke so much French here.
Me: Well, that’s kind of the way it is, especially in this part of Quebec.
Dutch girl: But I asked a woman in a shop a question in English and she didn’t understand a word I said.
Me: This is Quebec and people speak French… if someone walked up to you in Amsterdam and asked you a random question in German, you’d be kind of caught off guard, right? *grumbling internal monologue about how no one does research before they travel anymore*
Dutch girl: But in Amsterdam, everybody speaks English.
Me: Amsterdam is part of the global economy; I wouldn’t say the same for rural Northeastern Quebec.
Dutch girl: But this is Canada. And people speak English in Canada.
Photographer: Yes, but people speak French in Quebec.
Dutch girl: But it’s not as if it’s a different countr— (Before the photographer or I can explain how it very nearly became its own country, a look of dawning comprehension crosses her face)
Dutch girl: Well, you speak English beautifully.
Me: It’s our first language.
Photographer: I was born in England.
Dutch girl: But you live in Quebec.
Photographer: Yep.
Dutch girl: And you speak English.
Me: Uh-huh.
Dutch girl: but I thought you just said people speak French in Quebec.
Photographer: We do speak French. It just isn’t our first language.
Dutch girl: But I thought you said French was the first language in Quebec.
Photographer: It is, but not for the anglophones.
Dutch girl : Angl— *gives up, shrugs, goes back to packing.*
Actually, it’s not just a question of research, this province can be pretty confusing when you think about it!

About msmarguerite

Young Quebec City-based freelance journalist. once and future nomad. I blog about life, about travel, about things I notice and every so often about work. I enjoy language learning, singing, swing dancing, skating and...other stuff, sometimes. My heart is somewhere in East Africa, Haiti or Eastern Europe. English, français, русский, malo slovensko, un poco de espanol, um pouco de português ndiga ikirundi, mwen ap aprann kreyòl...
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1 Response to Québec, explained…or not

  1. However, A good number of Dutch people speak German, given that they share a border with Germany and all. Plus Dutch and German are so close, they would understand each other quite well 😉

    Seriously, though, most people around the world speak their mother tongue plus English.
    They may not be fully fluent but they speak enough and read enough to get by.

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