Kitchens threaten French culture in Quebec

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Storm clouds are raging in Quebec over the decline of the French language. The uproar has hit Quebec kitchens and the appliances therein. French Language Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said Quebeckers cannot be proud of themselves unless the markings on kitchen appliances appear in French.

French appliances are the new priority for the CAQ government. After five years in power, it has failed to deliver actual results in healthcare, education, and housing. So why not create a new crisis to divert the attention of beleaguered francophones who have been hard done by with their “English only” kitchen appliances? After all, it’s taken decades for the language police to realize that there is a short supply of French in Quebec kitchens.

Of course, the new rules will make it difficult for anglophones in the Pontiac unless they know how to turn their “French” appliances on or off. Burnt toast will be the new order of the day!

Manufacturers of the appliances, be they stoves, toasters or refrigerators, say that Quebec comprises only 2% of the North American market. Catering to this small market to suit a nationalistic government will lead to increased costs, and some manufacturers may leave the Quebec market altogether, leading people to buy from online stores, provoking a real danger to small businesses across rural Quebec. Pontiac residents can merely hop over the river to buy their cheaper appliances elsewhere. Who wins in that scenario?

But the CAQ government is desperately searching for votes. Its lead in the polls has evaporated.

The language minister promises further changes to language laws. He has said that municipalities which voted “bilingual status” for themselves may be in jeopardy in the next municipal elections, hinting at a French backlash against “bilingualism”. The Minister is becoming very good at beating this dead horse of linguistic divide, trying to wring every vote out of that issue.

Solutions are available and are on the horizon. The ability of manufacturers to use digital materials on everything from dashboard communications on cars, to the pervasive computer and intelligent mobile phone means that kitchen appliances too can receive the digital treatment. Thereby offering communications in any language.

This revolution in appliance-making could be a welcome outcome to Quebec’s language demands. Intelligent appliances will not only rescue the French cause but be a boon to immigrants and the myriad of languages they have brought with them.

It is not evident that digitalizing appliances will make them more reliable and less costly to make. But if it helps placate Quebec’s nationalistic leadership, it may be worth the change.