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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

Canada can use its words to ease tensions as Quebec drops the 'hi' : Mochama

Parti Québécois passed a motion asking merchants and employees to greet customers with only the word 'bonjour' — the rest of the country can help, writes Vicky Mochama.

Shopping is already the worst, writes Vicky Mochama, who would much more prefer a terse nod and shop staff to look as unavailable as possible.

Bernard Weil / Torstar News Service

Shopping is already the worst, writes Vicky Mochama, who would much more prefer a terse nod and shop staff to look as unavailable as possible.

Bonjour, hi!

For some, it’s a welcoming greeting meaning “hello, hi.” (That translation comes courtesy of ten years of French education, folks.)

For others, it’s a hostile attack on the French language and the Québécois. Naturally, many of the latter are in the Parti Québécois who passed a motion in the Quebec national assembly inviting "all merchants and all employees in contact with local and international clients to welcome them warmly with the word 'bonjour.'"

Basically: drop the ‘hi.'

It’d be easy to look at this debate and think: Quebec gonna Quebec. There's a tendency for the rest of the provinces and territories to look at language kerfuffles in Quebec and think “That’s A Vous Problem.”

All of them are seemingly a long time coming. Or, as the Toronto Star’s analysis put it, “The language debate has been simmering since at least 1759, when British troops defeated the French colony of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham.” That is both technically accurate and delightfully dismissive.

Perhaps there is a simple solution to this centuries-old debate: we should just use “bonjour, hi” nationally.

I do not like being greeted at all when entering a store. I’d much more prefer a terse nod and for the shop staff to look as unavailable as possible. Shopping is already the worst. Turning customer service into a scavenger hunt greatly improves the experience. (In fact, I like the setup many Toronto restaurants employ; you’re not sure who actually works there.)

But if I must be greeted, I’d prefer for it to be in both official languages. And I suspect a lot of store employees would rather not speak at all than to do so in two languages, which would serve me very well.

The PQ motion is not legally binding so there’s no real worry that an unthinking cashier is going to serve hard time for saying 'hi' — though I would like to see that gritty prison drama. (Also, “warmly” is a lot to ask from anyone making minimum wage.)

I see no reason why this motion shouldn’t become a nationally enforceable law.

For all the talk of bilingualism, you can exist in many parts of the country without ever hearing French. Over a decade’s worth of French language education and all I can contribute is the correct pronunciation of poutine — a skill I display more often than is healthy.

Some in Quebec are concerned about the shrinking role of the French language. The most recent census data shows that the percentage of people who consider French their mother tongue has decreased to 78.4 per cent in 2016 from 79.7 per cent in 2011. (Presumably, they’ll be beyond thrilled to have so many French-speaking Haitians arrive.)

Still, the rest of the Canadian federation should do what it can to help Quebec out. That 1.3 per cent loss over five years is stinging. The least we can do to ease over 200 years of drame is make them feel comfortable when they go shopping.

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