Most Canadians are familiar with the Commonwealth. As Her Majesty’s loyal subjects, we’re proud to play a part in the remnants of the British Empire, host to 53 nations and 2.2 billion people. Few are aware, however, that Canada is also a member state of l’Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF), which itself hosts 57 countries and 900 million people (though you could argue that it’s actually 55, since Quebec, New Brunswick, and Canada are each members — but that’s beside the point).
The point is that the French language is not just spoken in France and Canada. Member states of the OIF include Cameroon, Egypt, Greece, Vietnam, Haiti, the Seychelles and Vanuatu, among many others. France’s colonial history means that la langue de Molière is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Though that doesn’t excuse colonialism.
Often, when people think of “The French,” what comes to mind is pretty unimaginative: baguettes, the Tour Eiffel, maybe Québec, or the FLQ, or Jean Chrétien, if you’re Canadian. Few people will ever think of Vanuatu, the archipel of islands northeast of Australia. People are quick to recognize the innate cultural differences between English-speaking countries — we know that the United States and New Zealand don’t have that much in common — but when it comes to French, or any other for that matter, cultural and national identities are essentialized based upon preconceived — and often completely wrong — ideas.
Did you know that Afrique has more francophones than all other continents combined?
This essentialization happens within Canada as well. It seems that for many Canadians, francophones are all part of the same amorphous blob called Quebec that only offers separatism and poutine to the rest of the world. “Are you from Quebec or something?” and “Why are you speaking French?” are the two responses I most often hear when people hear me speak French, and the attitudes behind them are completely unaware of the existence of us francophones hors-Québec.
I think that this attitude irks me so much because the implicit message is that I don’t belong in majority-English territory. It reinforces the idea that Canada must perpetually be a country of deux solitudes, even though we’ve been sharing a postal code for ages.
As for me, I do belong here. I’ve never spent more than a week at a time in Quebec, while I’ve lived in English-speaking Canada my whole life. It’s what I know. It’s what I care about. Osti, it’s where I’m going to stay.