No more ‘bonjour-hi’? Montreal mayor calls for French only greetings

Click to play video: '‘Bonjour-‘hi’ greetings on the rise in Montreal'
‘Bonjour-‘hi’ greetings on the rise in Montreal
A recent study from Quebec's French language watchdog found bilingual greetings are being used more often in Montreal stores. Montreal's mayor says businesses need to offer their employees the right tools to learn French. – Apr 24, 2024

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante wants to see an end to the use of the colloquial and bilingual greeting of  “bonjour-hi” by local merchants.

“People come to Montreal knowing that it is a francophone city,” Plante said in response to a question from reporters Tuesday.

“So, though we want to be welcoming to everybody, of course. We want to do good business and everything of course — we should be proud and we should encourage people to only say ‘bonjour.'”

The mayor’s remarks came on the heels of a new study by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française, the province’s language watchdog, on how shoppers are received.

The report shows the use of French-only greetings by Montreal merchants is on the decline, accounting for about 71 per cent in 2023. That is a drop of about 13 per cent from 2010, when about 84 per cent of business owners and employees welcomed customers in French alone.

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The office, or OQLF, also found that bilingual greetings in French and English like “bonjour-hi” are on the rise in Montreal stores. The number jumped to 11.9 per cent last year — a stark contrast from about four per cent in 2010.

Quebec’s minister for the French language didn’t mince words when addressing the findings.

“It sends the wrong message that we are a bilingual nation. We are not,” Jean-François Roberge said. “In Quebec, French is the one and only official language.”

Click to play video: 'Is French on the decline in Quebec?'
Is French on the decline in Quebec?

The study showed that bilingual welcomes in other urban areas in Quebec aren’t as popular as in Montreal. In Laval, which is across from Montreal on the city’s north shore, it was used nine per cent of the time.

In Gatineau, which is next to Ottawa, French and English salutations accounted for 7.4 per cent. Meanwhile, business owners welcomed shoppers in both languages in 6.4 per cent of visits in Quebec City.

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Montreal’s mayor says she herself has never been served by a local merchant who can’t speak French, but she acknowledged that it does occur.

If a store employee isn’t fluent in French, then Plante said the business owners should ensure they are getting access to the programs they need to learn the language.

“We’re in Quebec. The only official language is French,” Plante said.

— with files from Global News’ Franca Mignacca and The Canadian Press

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