Thank you for saying ‘merci’

Some say Quebec signs are sending the wrong message

By Martin Patriquin

Long known as the humourless enforcers of Quebec’s language laws, the Office québécois de la langue française (OLF) has chosen to put a friendlier face on its new campaign to promote French in Montreal. Its slogan: “Merci de me servir en français” (“Thank you for serving me in French”).

Not everyone, however, is pleased with the message plastered on signposts throughout downtown Montreal, and on the reusable shopping bags the OLF has been handing out for free. For Mathieu Bock-Côté, author of La dénationalisation tranquille (The Quiet De-nationalization) and a frequent contributor to Quebec’s identity debates, the new slogan sends the wrong message. “It’s a form of reverse integration,” he says. “We’re now thanking people for speaking French, as if they’re doing us a favour. We’re saying we’re surprised we can still function in our own language.”

The perceived decline of the French language in Montreal made headlines earlier this month when Parti Québécois MNA Pierre Curzi released a study claiming English would overtake French in the city by 2016. Curzi’s report included the grim warning that “the anglicization of Montreal and its surrounding areas must be reversed if we hope to prevent the anglicization of Quebec as a whole.”

The OLF insists promoting French as the language of business is a key part of that battle, pointing to a 2008 poll that found six out of 10 francophone Montrealers are reluctant to switch to French when addressed in English. “Someone who enters a store with a bag that says ‘Thank you for serving me in French’ is reminding the business owner of an obligation to provide service in French,” says OLF spokesperson Martin Bergeron. “The message isn’t, ‘Thank you for having served me in French,’ but rather that French is expected.”

Assuming Curzi’s numbers are right, Montrealers should know in six years whether that message was heard.

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