The Anglo Bubble

I have discussed before my journey with the French language, but I haven’t gone into depth with regard to my perceptions of the anglophone community here.

Over the past thirteen years, I have gotten to know the francophone community of Quebec. It was very gradually via one point of reference before moving here and then very rapidly by immersion after moving here. But I had no connection to the anglophone community here before moving here. And after moving here, it was only via a few people at work that I started to learn about it. It was really not until I became connected with the YULblog community in September 2005 that I began to learn more about anglophones living in Montreal. Actually, my first post was a notice searching for other anglos living in Montreal.

When we moved here, there was a leap of faith on my part. One of the foreseen benefits of moving here would be that both my wife and I could speak in our own languages and our children could easily learn both languages. Now I knew that outside of Montreal, the French language is largely dominant. Even right up to the US and Ontario borders. But my expectation was that the island would be close to half and half, English-French. Now, this is more or less true west of Papineau, but French is still king.

In my first year here, I was a bit surprised how secondary English is here. At least compared to what I was expecting. It happens quite often that you really must know French to function properly. Speaking is not quite as important, but you should be able to read. The point hit home once when I was driving down the expressway. They had one of those overhead traffic bulletin boards. It was flashing with a stark pattern and bold words, but it was only in French. It took me a few seconds to realize it was only saying that it was being tested. But for someone who had no idea, it could have said that the tunnel ahead had collapsed.

So when a friend said he was considering McGill for graduate studies and that his wife would need to find a job, I was quite hesitant as to what her prospects could be because she had not yet learned French. I knew from experience that finding a favorable job where you would only need to speak English is a quite difficult (at least in our profession). Granted, a good number of employers in Montreal seem to be quite open to qualified people coming in and learning the langauge as they go (like in my case), but it’s a difficult road.

Which brings me to the bubble. Having pointed out the difficulties, it is still possible to live here with very limited understanding of French. I seem to run into more and more people living in this situation. It fascinates me knowing how strong the French culture is. I understand that it is what remains of what once was a much larger community. And most of those who cannot speak French are non-natives like myself. But I still find it impressive for someone to live here with limited French-speaking abilities.

That said, Quebec itself (and parts of the Maritimes) is a francophone bubble within the rest of North America. There are people here that live, eat, and sleep Quebec produced items and entertainment. There is still many outside influences, but not as strong as if a common language was shared. So the Anglo Bubble is a bubble within a bubble, but with lifelines extending out to the surrounding Canadian and American anglophone cultures.

Yes, you have similar situations in large American cities. In Chicago we had strong Hispanic, Chinese, Polish, and Korean neighborhoods where you could easily live your daily life in those languages. There are stretches of streets with nothing in English. But it was still not on this scale or with this setup.

In the end, the Francophone culture and Anglophone sub-culture is what makes Montreal a great city. It creates an energy through it’s relative harmony that no other city can match. Let us hope it continues like to be this way.

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~ by Frank on February 18, 2007.

3 Responses to “The Anglo Bubble”

  1. One of the upsides of living in the Anglo bubble in Montreal is getting a “small town” feel (close social connections within the bubble) while getting all the metropolitan benefits of living in a big city.

  2. The Island of Montreal is 20% English-speaking with another 25% speaking a language other than English or French (although most of these immigrant groups associate more with the English community). The Anglophone community in Montreal has always been the one to accept immigrants, whereas the Francophone community was extremely closed until a few decades ago, and to a large extent remains so. Just look at the debate on “reasonable accommodation” for one example.

    The reason you need to read French to get by is the French Language Laws that the government of Quebec imposed on the province in the 70s which made public signage in any language other than French illegal. Before this most of Montreal was bilingual, with the most suburbuan areas in the West Island being unilingually English and the residential parts of the East End being only in French. The linguistic unity that you seem to infer from this facade is nothing more than an illusion. In fact, behind the government-sponsored Francophone varnish, Montreal remains a city whose heartbeat depends on all three of its communities (English, French, Immigrant) equally.

    Only in understanding this dynamic can you come to understand Montreal.

    PS: English Montrealers invented bagels AND smoked meat. Montreal’s other signature food, poutine, wasn’t even invented here, but in Victoriaville, Drummondville, or some other Quebec town, depending on who you ask.

  3. Jordan: You may be interested in this post that I wrote a while back.

    Yes, I kinda waver between thinking it’s balanced to thinking it’s heavily francophone. Montréal is quite interesting in that these three groups co-exist. But you have to agree that off island it is quite one-sided.

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