Driving to Where English is Exotic: How it Went In Quebec
Thought you’d like a follow-up to my last post, about the impending driving trip to a French-speaking world in Quebec Province. Here’s how the trip went.
My last post was about how lucky we are to be able to drive to another country and another culture–and then I left for five days in French-speaking Quebec Province.
In Drummondville, where we spent most of the trip, hardly anyone spoke more than minimal English, and even though we were attending a major music and dance festival an hour and a half from the US border–we did not encounter anyone else from the US.
I don’t speak French but can get little pieces, especially when there are cognates with English or Spanish. My wife can speak a bit but often doesn’t understand the responses. We found ourselves using a weird combination of Spanish, French, and English. It worked reasonably well in one-to-one conversation. We were completely lost when, for instance, the various festival MCs did their 10-minute introductions of each performer.
I actually think this is a very healthy thing: to be reminded that the US is not the only culture, and English not the only language. When we visit foreign countries, we shouldn’t expect others to understand English on our behalf. If I’m going to one country for a period of time, I’ll try to listen to an introductory language CD or tape set (libraries often have these). So for instance, when we went to the rural Czech republic several years ago, we were armed with two cassettes’ worth of phrases. And even with our very rudimentary knowledge, we were translating for many of the other people in the music camp we attended.
We’ve been around a lot of other places in Quebec where French was the dominant language, but plenty of people spoke English: Montreal, Quebec City, and our second destination on this trip–the lovely city of Sherbrooke and the charming nearby village of North Hatley.
Canada is theoretically bilingual. However, just as in many parts of English-speaking Canada, people have little or no French–here, many people in the smaller cities had little or no English, even though they’d supposedly studied it in school. Signage was pretty much entirely in French, though we did find one bilingual exhibit at a cheese factory.