Anglos away: The myth of tolerance

Anglos away: The myth of tolerance

By Ross Murray

In the history that Quebec anglos have written for themselves, we’re the good guys. Sure, it wasn’t always that way (oppressive bosses, bullying kids, something about fat ladies at Eaton’s), but today’s anglos cast themselves, quasi-martyr-like, as those who have seen the lumière, who have chosen, yes, though they are compelled to struggle as the gentle lily doth toil in the field or some such metaphor, to stay. We are the good anglos: tolerant, sympathetic, perhaps a bit smug, but wanting only the same acceptance of our language and culture that we have offered the French.

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousUntil, that is, we travel.

Leave Quebec, and anglos find themselves looking around some New England town and grumbling, “What’s with all the French?”
Like admitting that Leonard Cohen can’t sing or that Cirque du Soleil could really use a few tigers, openly complaining about French tourists outside Quebec is taboo. It’s something anglos speak of only out of the corners of their mouths, the way one might gossip about a colleague’s drinking problem or an acquaintance having joined the Green Party.

“I went camping in Maine last year and it was absolutely overrun with Quebecers,” we say through pursed lips, like we’re remembering a sex dream about Pauline Marois. “Everywhere I went, French, French, French.”

These are not just rednecks, although (since we’re being honest), the English community has plenty of those too. I’ve heard these comments spoken aloud by enough “good anglos” to safely assume it has been guiltily thought by many, many more – enlightened anglos who pull into a Vermont campground and roll their eyes at the sight of all the Quebec licence plates… just… like… theirs…

So why is this? Why do otherwise liberal, French-embracing anglos get so het up over encountering leurs voisins québécoises when they travel out of province? Why does it matter that “the French have taken over Old Orchard Beach” when Old Orchard Beach is a nightmare in either official language?

Other than adding a level of difficulty to eavesdropping, who cares if, on the beach, one hears the bassoons and oboes of French rather than the horn section of English? Given that Quebecers are generally less obese than Americans and that the myth of the Speedo is greatly exaggerated, shouldn’t we in fact be grateful?

Surely anglos can see that French Quebecers deserve overcrowded seaside vacations as much as English Quebecers do. Shouldn’t they, as my family did recently, be allowed to camp within hearing distance of the vast American economy rumbling up and down the Maine Turnpike all friggin’ night long? Who are we anglos to deprive our fellow Quebecers from the gouging prices of tourist-trap restaurants, the manic frustration of beach traffic and the begrudging amiability of American retailers?

There is, of course, no rational reason for travelling anglos to feel this way. And it’s not, though it may seem on the face of it, explicitly anti-French.

Instead, this craving for a vacation in English-only betrays a lingering patronizing attitude towards the place of French in their lives and in the world. English Quebecers have not necessarily accepted French but have merely accepted the situation history has forced them into. They don’t truly embrace the French fact; they’re simply resigned to it.

That tolerance, however, ends at the border where the “allos” are replaced by “howdys.” In other words, French is just fine… in its place. “We cede Quebec,” we seem to say. “Can’t we have the rest of the world?”
Good anglos may be repressed but their arrogance never fully is.

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, but for many English Quebecers, it narrows the thinking. Anglos should not be so confident, however, that this land beyond Quebec is their land. Instead, they should bear in mind that, French or English, they are equally despised by the locals.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Ross Murray

Ross Murray is an award-winning humorist and radio contributor and the author of two books ‘You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?’ and ‘Don’t Everyone Jump at Once’. Raised in Nova Scotia, Ross has lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec since the early 1990’s with his wife Debbie, four children and far too many pets. After all this time, Ross feels comfortable calling himself a Townshipper; his neighbours call him something else.

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