Last night at the bar I had a typical Montreal introduction to a friend’s friend – I learned his name, that he was studying at McGill University, and when he planned to leave Montreal. The fact that the end of our acquaintance was implicit in our introduction is one of the facts of speaking English and living in this city – one’s eventual departure is often a foregone conclusion.
None of my English speaking friends remained in Montreal after university and, as I recently turned thirty, a second exodus of friends has concluded, with good men and women going to the US South, Italy, China, and northern Canada. If I can deduce something about our age group, it is that the marking of (or impending) three decades on this earth gives one the need to ‘get on with it,’ whether it be career, relationship, or other opportunities for growth, and the economics, linguistics, and politics of this city do not outwardly foster these goals. As I have been an English speaking resident here for most of my twenties, the city has the remarkable quality of having one’s social circles deflate by virtue of such periodic departures – Montreal renews your solitude on a regular basis, and I can wake feeling like a newly arrived tourist, with coffee or beer to be had alone.
There is something parasitic in the anti-Anglophone policies of the Quebec government, as related to the influx of young Anglophone students, armed with government loans, credit lines, and daddy’s Amex, funnelling considerable money to the slumlords, retailers, and government coffers of this city and province — and leaving, by virtue of policies designed to make them want to leave — before having to rely on the government infrastructure or social services that they fund: all tit, no tat. As I have paid a considerable amount for university, and have held full time employment in this city, I can assure you that no tax officials have ever complained that my money speaks English. I imagine that my neighbours in St. Henri, a poor borough of this city – proud Quebecois whose multi-generational family business was that of the welfare cheque – ever gave my tax dollars the same dirty looks they gave me and my friends.
This macro-parasitism and the hypocrisy of subduing a minority, one that bolsters the local economy, is perhaps better reiterated on the micro-scale. In one of my early years of university, as my jaywalking conflicted with a hurried driver and I offered him a one-fingered instruction as to which way he should steer, he began yelling the phrase “Anglo go home!” in increasingly louder and more urgent tones. Perhaps it was the quizzical look I gave to his earlier epithets that gave it away, perhaps my English speaking mouth has a peculiar shape or Quebecers have a sixth sense for this sort of thing, but this was my first introduction to these Quebecois values. The stark contrast to this would be the summer months, when Montreal’s multiple festivals, largely relying on English-speaking celebrities for, say, the jazz and comedy portions, attract a large English-speaking tourist contingent. Wherein for a few warm months, ‘Anglo go home!’ becomes a five dollar bottle of water and overpriced knick-knacks. To an English resident of this city, this pretense of accommodation reads like the hospitality of a Biblical snake.
Montreal is a transitory city for young English speakers, one that offers much in the way of experiential variety, so to speak. But the segregation and subduing of a linguistic minority by a government that lines its coffers with their money – money often earned and borrowed in other provinces – gives the impression of a cynical opportunism. The English speaker in Quebec partly funds the corrupt government which, in turn, uses her as a scapegoat for the target practice politics of smoke screening its own corruption. A full-bellied dinner guest renounces their host, after dessert and coffee have been served.