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.
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.
Dutch girl: And you speak English.
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!