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Quebec Anglophones and Francophones: a (not-so-charming) Valentine’s day tale

By Florencia Flow

“I remember” is the slogan we can see written on cars’ plates while wandering the streets of Quebec. 

It did call my attention the first time I saw these words in 2018 when I was only an alien, an ex-pat convinced that my life in Quebec was going to be easy because of my knowledge of English. 

I knew French was ALSO, a language that individuals would typically use to communicate in the province more often than in the rest of the great white North, but I truly did not know that there was something we all had to remember.

I had to investigate, so I dived head first into the depths of the ocean of information and misinformation we call the Internet, trying to find the truth and only the truth about this motto. 

My extensive search left me puzzled, with one eye looking into the past and one looking into the present. I met the founders, fought human-sized French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds, and danced with the Bonhomme de neige (a cheerful snowman that arises on the streets of Quebec during carnival times) until finally, I got to know the meaning of I REMEMBER (Je me souviens, originally in French). 

These words speak about an unarmed and endless war between the English and the French, a love-and-hate relationship that continues year after year, and seems like it does not want to stop anytime soon. 

In 1939, the phrase JE ME SOUVIENS first appeared in the Quebec coat of arms. It replaced the old picturesque and amiable motto “La Belle Province” (Easy to comprehend in any language: THE BEAUTIFUL PROVINCE).

Most people prefer to remember merry memories. Still, in this case, the province decided to remember and never forget that, a long time ago, there was a war that resulted in England and France sharing territory, and well, the French were not so delighted with the results. 

The wish to remember how France gave birth to Quebec and never cut the umbilical cord carries the whole province to a constant debate. 

Once you make yourself comfortable in the territory, you will start learning about absurd things such as language laws like Bill 101, which introduces strict guidelines to ensure that French is treated as the official language in workplaces and educational institutions. You can also encounter the language police, which will, for example, fine restaurant servers for not speaking French to their clients. To give you more detail, business owners have to name their stores using French names.

The battle does not end there, and Quebec politicians move a little further, attempting to make out of the province, an independent country. Suddenly, the catchphrase I REMEMBER looks like a smart and subtle way of displaying dissatisfaction. 

It seems crazy that in 2023, while the entire world fights actual wars on one hand and tries to end segregation and intolerance, on the other hand, there is a special place like Quebec quarreling for such a silly subject like the survival of the French language outside France.

I could compose pages and pages about this affair and probably fill in an entire Bibliotheque, but I better stop right here!

I have to thank Quebec for the lessons, at least if I ever go to France and enter a grocery store, I will be capable of asking for a bag in French, since this is the only thing I learned to pronounce in my four years living in Quebec.

I have to finish giving some good news to whoever is reading this: Hey, life is kind of threatening for English speakers here in the province that does not want to forget, but come over! We still have legal weed, excessive snow, and snow activities to do. 

Next time, when I have again the opportunity to write about what it is like to live in Quebec, I will share some other curiosities like how road stop signs are written in French in the Canadian province, while if you visit France, you will not have to worry, since all Stop signs there… are actually written in English, or how BONJOUR – HI is the official greeting, (yes, French always first!)

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  1. carytutor

    I’ve always been interested in how Quebec is different than France…I’ve lived in Cajun country, LA (the US’s French diaspora 🙂 and there’s not a “fight” there with French and English…it just “is”. Maybe because they are different in the way they immigrated there…I don’t know the history well enough to comment, but I think Quebec does think they have something to “prove” in how “French” they are and I always thought it was ironic that Quebec stop signs say “Arret” and French stop signs say “STOP”. 🙂 It’s a political thing as well as historic.

  2. wjshelton

    If you originally went to Quebec thinking that your “life would be easy” because of your knowledge of English, then you are also admitting that you knew nothing about Quebec in the first place. I’ve been aware that Quebec is French-speaking since I was a child and, at 71, that’s quite a long while. Your talk about “learning about absurd things” and “silly subject[s]” is patronizing and condescending at best. Your post was a waste of time. You obviously learned nothing while there.

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