It hits you without warning. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub about to shave my legs when I realize the new can of shaving cream is eerily familiar.
The label — although I bought it here in downstate New York — is in French and English.
Quel big deal, vous dites? Non, c’est super!
One thing I really miss about Canada, where I was born and raised, is seeing French on everything you buy even if your first language is English. A bored little kid, even in Edmonton or Iqaluit, ends up reading it on the back of the cereal box, learning by default. You just end up knowing weird words like “rabais” (discount) or, if you’ve ever lived in Quebec, “depanneur” (which literally means someone who helps you out; “etre en panne” is when your car breaks down) which is — natch — a corner or convenience store.
The U.S. has such a thing about bilingualism. Some people froth at the mouth with indignation when a voicemail prompt says to hit another number if you want to continue in Spanish.
The French got their collective butts whipped on the Plains of Abraham on Sept. 13, 1759 when Wolfe defeated Montcalm; Montreal succumbed soon after that and Canada became English-dominated. The Quebec license plates, forever middle finger raised in reply to les maudits anglais, say “Je Me Souviens” — “I Remember.”
But Canada remains officially bilingual, which really pisses people off in places like British Columbia (its name might be a clue), as opposed to Manitoba or New Brunswick which still have some significant pockets of French-speakers. English speaking Canadians know they’re Anglophones, Anglos, and those who speak neither English or French allophones.
I miss seeing two languages everywhere, a reminder that life — certainly in a culturally as well as fiscally intertwined global economy — can never be seen through the lens of one tongue and one point of view.