Canada province urges shopkeepers to stop saying 'Bonjour-Hi'

  • Published
A bakery in MontrealImage source, AFP
Image caption,
A bakery in Montreal

The unofficial greeting in the bilingual Canadian city of Montreal has long been a friendly "Bonjour, Hi!"

But that standard is no more since a motion mandating store clerks to greet customers only in French was passed in Quebec's provincial legislature.

The move reaffirms French as the primary language in the province, where use of English can be controversial.

The motion - which is not a law - was passed unanimously, but the province's premier called the debate "ridiculous".

Introduced by the fiercely Francophile Parti Quebecois, the motion "invites all businesses and workers who enter into contact with local and international clients to welcome them warmly with the word 'bonjour'".

"It's about being original and being ourselves, and being ourselves is a major Francophone city with an Anglophone community," said PQ house leader Pascal Bérubé.

"First thing you have to say, I think, is 'bonjour.' It's about respect, it's easy to understand."

Premier Philippe Couillard, a Liberal, objected to the original wording of the motion, which called the inclusion of "Hi" in greetings "an irritant". He accused the PQ of trying to fan the flames of language war and stoke division in the province.

He said the whole debate was "ridiculous", but agreed to vote in favour of the motion once the word "irritant" was removed.

Media caption,

Where speaking English is a problem

Many in Quebec see their French identity as being under threat. It is the only Canadian province where French is the sole official language.

However, there are also sizeable Anglophone communities within Quebec, especially in the cosmopolitan hub of Montreal.

The Office quebecois de la langue francaise (OQLF) oversees the preservation of the French language in the province - sometimes at the expense of commonly used words.

In 2013, an Italian restaurant came under pressure to remove "pasta" from its menu because it is not a French word.

In 2016, a restaurant called La Mama Grilled Cheese in Quebec City received a letter from the language agency chastising them for their Anglicism.

This year, the language watchdog quietly loosened some of its restrictions, allowing words like "grilled cheese", "cocktail" and "drag queen" back into the lexicon.