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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Un bagel avec du smoked-meat, s'il-vous-plaît? (Pastagate Part Deux)

I lived in Montreal for many years before coming to Ottawa - I lost count, maybe 5 or 6 years I spent there... 

The city of Montreal possesses a very original and interesting cultural history, an intermingling of the past which traditionally includes three majorities who are the French, the English, and Jewish cultures. Although, in recent times - mainly due to language woes - many Anglophone Jews have exiled themselves to seek work outside the province of Quebec. Because of this, numerically, there are now around 90,000 Jews who claim Montreal as their home, therefore demographically placing them seventh in rank after those other ethnic groups outnumbering them (including the Italian and Arab populations) (1). 

For the most part, historically, the English arrived since James Wolfe's victory over Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 1759, a defeat which paved the way for an assault on Montreal the very next year... The fall of Quebec therefore marks the end of French rule in North America, with the exceptions of Louisiana and the Islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Thus, this is where a large part of English-speaking Quebecers find their origins, because it is in the course of the second half of the 18th century that, under the British regime, United Empire Loyalists and Anglo-Scot Protestants communities arrived on the Island of Montreal and decided to stay. These early Anglophone Protestant communities did extremely well for themselves, prospered, and would finally come to represent Quebec's upper class, the ruling elite that would last until as recently as in the 1960s when the Révolution tranquille (Quiet Revolution) brought about many changes in the Province of Quebec. Following the death of Maurice Duplessis, in 1959, secularization ensued, and since then many more changes would transform Quebec society. Most notably, these social upheavals brought about Quebec nationalism which would set the stage as early as in the 1970s for all of the sovereignty or independence/separatist movements that exist to this day.

These days, in Montreal (and the rest of Canada), since secularization transformed our vocabularies we no longer say English Protestant and French Catholic societies or cultures, but rather instead the correct terms seem to be Anglophone and Francophone. There exists, however, aside from "the Anglophone and Francophone communities in Quebec," those who, as Ira Robinson puts it, "were classically referred to as the two solitudes, it could be said that the Jews of Montreal in this era formed a third solitude of their own" (2). From less than 500 Jews reported to live in the Province of Quebec in 1871 (Robinson 2013), at the time of the Canadian Dominion Census was taken, from this point "[t]his situation would change drastically at the very end of the nineteenth century" for "[a]t that time a massive wave of Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe, seeking economic betterment and equality of opportunity came to Canada as it came to the United States, England, Argentina, and other countries hospitable to immigration" (ibid.). 

Below, Ira Robinson describes what is essentially the birth pangs of Quebec's Jewish community:

This new Yiddish-speaking cohort of Jewish immigrants caused the Jewish population of Quebec to increase by more than 800% between 1901 and 1931, from approximately 7,000 to 60,000.  These immigrants, who quickly made Yiddish the third most prevalent language in Montreal, after French and English, were at first poor in material resources, but rich in both cultural heritage and in a desire to put down roots in their new home.

For a variety of reasons, the Jewish children of these newly established communities would integrate themselves into the English-speaking Protestant schools. Hence, the majority of Jewish Montrealers are Anglophones, with only about 25% of the 88,500 Jews living in Montreal claiming French as their mother-tongue (3). The Francophone element of the Jewish communities in Montreal actually form a part of a later wave of immigration - this time in the 1950s from North Africa - where from French-speaking post-colonial régimes - the Sephardim Jewry of this period came to Canada and moved to Montreal where until then most of the Jews there were in fact European-cultured Ashkenazim (Robinson 2013). 

All this to explain why, as an integral and undeniable part of Montreal's culture, smoked meat sandwiches and bagels abound, along with cream cheese and lox, knishes, schnitzels, gefilte fish, among other Jewish culinary delicacies. A smoked meat sandwich is therefore in bon Québécois for the native Francophone Montrealer just that - meaning it is un smoked-meat sandwich. Bagel does not translate either, for it is simply un bagel in Canadian French, nothing more nothing less. Although the former (smoked-meat sandwich) is composed with English terms that are used to describe something that certainly does not find its culinary origins in England, regardless, due to many socio-historical circumstances in Montreal's rich past - this is the name of this cultural reality that the term connotes. And the same goes for bagel - it just doesn't translate. A bagel is a bagel, and that's that. It's like trying to translate the Italian term pizza. Hence, the terms stay - in English the words bagel (Yiddish), pizza (Italian), and even lox (Yiddish) are found in most dictionaries. These terms are pregnant with cultural meanings that extend far past their language of origins or the words used to express the reality of the "eatable thing". 

These typical Jewish foods that the terms bagel, lox and smoked meat sandwich (or un sandwich smoked-meat if you prefer) represent are not accepted, interestingly, as Canadian words - or even at the very least Quebecois terms - despite the presence of the bagel in Montreal for over a century now. In fact, I cannot help but cringe when I look up the etymology of bagel in North American French dictionaries. For instance, in my old Dictionnaire du français plus (1987 ed.) which is supposedly a French dictionary reflecting la réalité nord-américaine de la langue, in its pages, the Canadian and/or Quebec terms which professors from the Université Laval, the Université de Sherbrooke, along with researchers from the Trésor de la langue française au Québec have included some of these terms commonly used on the streets of Montreal. However, none of this highly esteemed body of professionals interestingly have even considered that the reason most Quebecois know of the existence of the bagel is because of the hundreds of bagel shops to be found on the Island of Montreal where the Jewish community is to be found. In their "bagel" entry in the Dictionnaire du français plus, the root of the term is correctly given as being Yiddish in origin, but "par l'américain" (meaning by way of American English) is added after it. Similarly, the "smoked(-)meat" gets the same treatment, for the origin is simply "mot américain" (an American English word). 

The obvious question that begs to be answered: Have the Québécois (and other Francophones in Canada) been alienated to the point that if it isn't French then it must be English? I sincerely think so, for as "pastagate" has taught us, or at least for the language police of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) and their language inspectors, the term "pasta" appears not to be Italian but rather it comes across as an English word to avoid (a bad anglicisme) even if it is an undeniable Montreal staple in the sizable Italian community who have also made their own important cultural contribution to the city's eateries and foodstuffs. It evidently goes without saying that the Jewish brit (the Jewish covenant of circumcision) is not in my Dictionnaire du français plus nor is bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah for a girl), the popular Jewish coming of age rituals which I have no doubt one would be hard-pressed to find someone in French Canada who is not familiar with the term, let alone many Quebecois Montrealers who have already been invited and been to one. (I wonder if Pauline Marois has ever been...) Who gets to decide what's French language and what's not - I will tell you one thing for sure, it is certainly not the Office québécois de la langue française, but rather it is the people who speak it


            Since 1957, the St-Viateur Bagel & Café (Monkland) has served freshly baked bagels in Montreal.

 Image source: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/Gastronomie/Restaurants/st-viateur-bagel-et-cafe-monkland




Notes

(1) http://www.federationcja.org/en/jewish_montreal/demographics/
(2) Ira Robinson's article, published © 2013 FEDERATION CJA (Combined Jewish Appeal). Accessible online: http://www.federationcja.org/en/jewish_montreal/history/

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pastagate: Can someone translate pizza for me ?

Among those of you who have been reading what's in the Canadian news lately, assuredly you have come across some of the 'Pastagate' articles coming from out of Quebec (see CBC News 'Pastagate' prompts review at Quebec language office). Stories about the provincial language police officers going into restaurants and handing out fines and warnings to establishment owners in regards to inadequate concessions to the sole official language of the province, French - and thus it has been since the Loi sur la langue officielle (Official Language Act) of 1974. 

Some of the more ridiculized recommendations made by the so-called French police include the more sensational charge against the use of Italian terms such as pastacaffe, and botteglia di vino (bottle of wine). Recommendations to change these to their French equivalents pâtes (alimentaires), café, and bouteille de vin were made in order to accomodate provincial standards. This has, if anything, apparently served as an inspirational source of ridicule for media members here in Canada and from around the globe who have found the over-zealous inspectors of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) comparable to that stereo-typified French Inspector Clouseau, as hilariously portrayed in the Pink Panther movies by actor Peter Sellers. 

 
A bumbling idiot stumbling over clues, Inspector Clouseau would only be able to solve a case by accident. So was L. Ian MacDonald (in Montreal Gazette Feb. 26 article A new level of absurdity) wrong for having invoked this comparison between the OQLF inspectors and that idiotic Inspector Clouseau?
On Saturday, La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert penned a scathing account of a recent visit by a singularly enthusiastic OQLF inspector to Holder restaurant in Old Montreal. The owner of the high-end brasserie, Maurice Holder, told Boisvert he was asked to cover up the “redial” and “hold” buttons on the restaurant’s phone with opaque tape, and to do the same for the “ON/OFF” button on the microwave.
The last straw? Being ordered to take down the “W.C.” sign on the washroom door. The initials, which stand for “water closet,” are commonly used to mark bathroom doors in France, Holder pointed out to the inspector.
“We’re not in France,” she reportedly replied.
- See more at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Beef+owner+digs+into+pastagate/8007898/story.html#sthash.wi2Q0H8F.dpuf

Personally, no, I do not think he was far off the mark. Just read the following excerpt from and make up your own mind. For the Montreal Gazette, Monique Muise (Feb. 24 art. Joe Beef owner digs into "pastagate") reports the following details surrounding one these so-called visits made by the tongue troopers (as the Gazette has pleasantly nicknamed them, see Quebec tongue troopers backtrack on Buonanotte's menu) as they paid a visit to the Holder restaurant, a popular establishment in Old Montreal

On Saturday, La Press columnist Yves Boisvert penned a scathing account of a recent visit by a singularly enthusiastic OQLF inspector to Holder [...]. The owner of the high-end brasserie, Maurice Holder, told Boisvert he was asked to cover up the "redial" and "hold" buttons on the restaurant's phone with opaque tape, and to do the same for the "ON/OFF" button on the microwave. [   ] The last straw? Being ordered to take down the "W.C." sign on the washroom door. The initials, which stand for "water closet," are commonly used to mark bathroom doors in France, Holder pointed out to the inspector. [   ] "We're not in France," she [the inspector] reportedly replied.

Made up your mind yet? When I first read the above passage, quite frankly, I could not help from bursting out in laughter, and - with Inspector Clouseau in mind - I can almost faintly hear the Pink Panther theme song in the background as I write this... Da-dum da-dum, da-dum, da-dum da-dum da-dum...

Myself, as a francophone (albeit an Acadian one), with the utmost respect that I have for the OQLF in regards to their past efforts in promoting the use of French in Quebec, and the role they play in general in French Canada as far as linguistic conservationism is concerned (if that's what it should be called); with all this being said, I cannot help but think that this over-nationalistic pride in policing French, in the end, will be the root-cause or undoing of the Péquistes' mainstay on political power. Given the fact that over 80% of Quebec's population reports their native language as being French, one can then wonder why the need for language policing at such ridiculous levels. 

There is therefore no need to translate pasta in Montreal's finest restaurants, just as their is no real need to translate pizza.


Joe Beef owner digs into “pastagate”

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Joe Beef owner digs into “pastagate”

Fred Morin, left, and David McMillan outside their restaurant Joe Beef in Montreal.

Photograph by: Graham Hughes , The Gazette

It seems “pastagate” isn’t quite finito.
The controversy surrounding the Office québécois de la langue française’s objection to the word “pasta” on a Montreal restaurant’s menu continued to simmer over the weekend, with the owner of one of the city’s most famous eateries speaking out about his own run-ins with the provincial language watchdog.
David McMillan, co-owner of Joe Beef on Notre Dame St., said the OQLF recently paid a visit to his establishment and asked him to remove an antique sign above the staff bathroom that read “please leave this gate closed.”
The inspector also apparently had a problem with an “exit” sign salvaged from a beach in Prince Edward Island. McMillan did take down the sign near the bathroom, he said, but last Wednesday’s flap involving the OQLF and Buonanotte restaurant — which used the word “pasta” instead of “pâtes” on its menu — convinced him it was time to take a stand.
“When we first started getting letters from them and the visits from the inspectors, we were just scared of doing anything,” McMillan said. “I had enough followers on Twitter to make a stink out of it, but we just felt alone.”
The Joe Beef chef, whose restaurant is consistently packed, said he loves living and working in Quebec, “but I just get so sad and depressed and wonder, what’s wrong with these people?”
McMillan wasn’t the only one feeling more talkative in the wake of what became widely known on social media this week as “pastagate.”
On Saturday, La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert penned a scathing account of a recent visit by a singularly enthusiastic OQLF inspector to Holder restaurant in Old Montreal. The owner of the high-end brasserie, Maurice Holder, told Boisvert he was asked to cover up the “redial” and “hold” buttons on the restaurant’s phone with opaque tape, and to do the same for the “ON/OFF” button on the microwave.
The last straw? Being ordered to take down the “W.C.” sign on the washroom door. The initials, which stand for “water closet,” are commonly used to mark bathroom doors in France, Holder pointed out to the inspector.
“We’re not in France,” she reportedly replied.
- See more at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Beef+owner+digs+into+pastagate/8007898/story.html#sthash.wi2Q0H8F.dpuf

On Saturday, La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert penned a scathing account of a recent visit by a singularly enthusiastic OQLF inspector to Holder restaurant in Old Montreal. The owner of the high-end brasserie, Maurice Holder, told Boisvert he was asked to cover up the “redial” and “hold” buttons on the restaurant’s phone with opaque tape, and to do the same for the “ON/OFF” button on the microwave.
The last straw? Being ordered to take down the “W.C.” sign on the washroom door. The initials, which stand for “water closet,” are commonly used to mark bathroom doors in France, Holder pointed out to the inspector.
“We’re not in France,” she reportedly replied.
- See more at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Beef+owner+digs+into+pastagate/8007898/story.html#sthash.wi2Q0H8F.dpuf
On Saturday, La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert penned a scathing account of a recent visit by a singularly enthusiastic OQLF inspector to Holder restaurant in Old Montreal. The owner of the high-end brasserie, Maurice Holder, told Boisvert he was asked to cover up the “redial” and “hold” buttons on the restaurant’s phone with opaque tape, and to do the same for the “ON/OFF” button on the microwave.
The last straw? Being ordered to take down the “W.C.” sign on the washroom door. The initials, which stand for “water closet,” are commonly used to mark bathroom doors in France, Holder pointed out to the inspector.
“We’re not in France,” she reportedly replied.
- See more at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Beef+owner+digs+into+pastagate/8007898/story.html#sthash.wi2Q0H8F.dpuf

On Saturday, La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert penned a scathing account of a recent visit by a singularly enthusiastic OQLF inspector to Holder restaurant in Old Montreal. The owner of the high-end brasserie, Maurice Holder, told Boisvert he was asked to cover up the “redial” and “hold” buttons on the restaurant’s phone with opaque tape, and to do the same for the “ON/OFF” button on the microwave.
The last straw? Being ordered to take down the “W.C.” sign on the washroom door. The initials, which stand for “water closet,” are commonly used to mark bathroom doors in France, Holder pointed out to the inspector.
“We’re not in France,” she reportedly replied.
- See more at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Beef+owner+digs+into+pastagate/8007898/story.html#sthash.wi2Q0H8F.dpuf