I have just read a blog entry from Belt Dive Betty, where she writes about getting a rude reception upon entering Quebec. Hopefully, Betty is exaggerating a bit, but I can imagine how it could happen.
I live in Ontario, a mostly English speaking province. But I grew up in Quebec, where the language is mostly French. I am aware that there is a certain tension caused by the language differences, and in the past I have tried to explain that traveling in Quebec is not all that bad, for English speaking people.
To give an idea of some of the prejudices I sometimes see, here is a blog entry by a Canadian explaining his feelings, called "French are Classified world's rudest tourists", and of course drawing a conclusion that the French in Quebec or France are all alike.
I feel that I have to give two explanations before returning to Betty's problem. French Canadians are included as Canadians for purposes of this survey, where Canadian tourists rank third. That means an average of English Canadians and French Canadians, so you decide who is pulling up the average. Also, one of the key categories in the "rudeness" poll was generous tipping. In France, unlike most Western countries, tips are included in the bill. So there may be a reason that French people are called bad tippers. Maybe it's not as much rudeness as it is a cultural difference. The French (in France, not Quebec, there's actually a big difference in tipping) expect the waitresses to be paid a decent wage, not to have to depend on tips for her living.
Now back to Betty's encounter. While I am sorry that this happened, the reason why tourism is dropping off in Quebec, is not because of widespread rudeness, it is actually because of the increasing value of the Canadian dollar compared to the US. Not to say everything has always been nice. But in my experience, travelling in Quebec is far more friendly now than it used to be 40 years ago, and most people I have spoken to agree.
I see Betty's situation as a "worst case scenario". Betty was looking for the tourist information office, where she could have expected a better reception, but accidentally barged into the local office of the "Bloc Quebecois", which is a political party that wants to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada, and set up a French-only independent country. But I don't think this was the main issue that may have led to rudeness. The fact is that lately, separatist feelings have cooled quite bit, so in spite of the original mission of this political party, not all the supporters are actively in the separatist movement. However, just a week ago on a TV discussion (The Michael Coren Show), I heard calls for all Bloc Quebecois members to be hanged for treason, so rudeness goes both ways. Hopefully, nobody got as rude as Michael Coren in the Bloc office, though.
(Read an article "Traitors in our Midst" by Michael Coren to get an idea of what he thinks of Bloc Quebecois)
If Betty had gone into the Tourist Information place first, none of my comments below would matter. The Quebec Tourist Info people speak English, and are friendly and used to dealing with tourists, even dripping wet bikers. I have never deliberately tested the staff to see their breaking point, and I'm sure it is quite high. But even in the "Bloc Quebecois" office, the encounter could have gone much better.
Betty understood French, but I am not sure she tried speaking it. Sometimes French people get annoyed when an English speaking person who happens to understand French, will not speak French. English people feel the same. I have often said that an attempt to speak a language goes a long way. Learning how to say "hello", "thank you" in any language is a good start. But for people who actually understand the local language, refusal to speak the language is actually kind of insulting. I will give an innocent example. I understand French, and can speak it to some extent. When we were in a restaurant in a non-touristy area of Quebec, I let Mary Ann do the ordering even though she struggles in French. She just wanted to practice her French on the waitress, who did not understand English much. But when there were complications, and the waitress was not able to communicate, Mary Ann asked me for help, proudly announcing to the waitress that I knew French all along. Mary Ann did not get it that this was not the most diplomatic thing to do.
And I did notice that the first time Betty mentioned using her "broken French", the exchange went much better.
Adding to the impatience at the Bloc Quebecois office, it was raining outside, and she and her husband were dripping water all over the floor while the conversation took place. I am always kind of aware, when I am dripping wet in motorcycle gear, that I may not be greeted joyously everywhere I go. Especially if I am not a paying customer, or in a normal tourist hangout.
I wish I had the exact dialogue to comment on, but even without it, I can say that this type of thing can be avoided with a little care.
Picture: I grabbed a random picture off the internet of a Quebec Tourist Information place.