I Wonder… Why Bother?

There are times in my daily life when I really do wonder about services offered in French… If it were done the proper way, I would certainly not complain! And I am convinced that intentions behind this willingness to accomodate Francophones in Ottawa are good… There is no doubt in my mind about that!

What bugs me the most is that it is always a travail fait à moitié… I always end up starting from the beginning, ignoring messages letting me know that I can press 9 to get the service in French. Therefore I am always wasting my time… and probably losing my call priority!

Since I have been living in Ontario, there are only two places I am sure to get a real service in my mother tongue: Revenue Canada (of course most of their offices are located in Shawinigan, QC) and Bell Sympatico… other than that, I was never successful at getting the service they are indeed offering.

I remember, back in 1999, when I transferred my business in Ontario… At the time I did not know if the PST also applied on services, the way it did in Québec. I had called Revenue Ontario to get some information… of course, I had pressed 9 for the service in French. After having waited more than 30 minutes on the line, someone had finally picked up the phone… I can still picture myself telling my story! Actually I had been speaking to a wall… why? Because after a couple of minutes, the lady had cut me off saying she was not able to speak French!… Apparently, there was nobody around at that time to take calls in French… Duh! Okay… no big deal! I am able to speak English!… But… what about those who cannot?

Then, around the same time, I had had to get my Ontario driver license and plates… Only the central bureau on Wakley is connected to an inter-provincial network: useless to say that it is always very busy! If you do not get there before 8 am, chances are you will spend the day waiting (it is actually as bad as a hospital ER). When I had been offered the service in French, I had thought it would be rather quick… indeed, the guy had given me #4… Woo hoo! He had also aked me if I wanted the forms in English or French… “In French of course!”“Sorry Ma’am, but we don’t carry them!”“Oh!… so, why did you give me such an option?”“Because, Ma’am, I have no other choices… it’s our policies!”… Great! Anyways… live with it or die!

I had taken a seat… 10 minutes… 20 minutes… 30 minutes… 40 minutes… 50 minutes… and not one single number for service in French had been called! To make a story short, after inquiries, I was told that the French-speaking employee had called in sick that morning!

Some ten years later, one would think that things somewhat improved… ne serait-ce qu’un peu! Unfortunately, my latest experience told me that Ontario and Ottawa still have a long way to go before they can serve their francophone residents!

Friday, at 3:10 pm, I was booked for a routine test at The Ottawa Hospital… Thursday morning, I decided to postpone it to the end of January. With the OC Transpo strike and the rush hour traffic, I thought I would probably be sitting in my car for hours. There was a number to call on the letter I had received (which was written both in perfect English and French) where it was possible to leave a message…

Of course, I had the option to hear the menu and leave my message in French by pressing 9. Why not?… I was given two choices : “Pour joindre le département de tomographie axiale, appuyez sur le 1… pour joindre le département d’imagerie à résonance magnétique, appuyez sur le 2…” Well… I was not booked either for a CAT SCAN or a MRI! I was expecting many more options on the menu… Nope! What was I supposed to do? Leave a message for a department where I had no appointment? Anyone hearing my name would delete my message because I was not on their appointment list…

I re-dialed the number and ignored the invitation to get the menu in French this time… Surprise! I was given more than eight options in English versus two in French! And, #5 was exactly the department I was looking for… a little annoyed I chose to leave my message in French. I admit it was not very nice of me… because I have to say that The Ottawa Hospital staff is great and they do whatever they can to accomodate you. Yet, I could not help it!… Ten minutes later, a woman struggling with French called me back… then I decided to take her out of her misery right away by switching to English (to her great relief), it was not her fault after all! She was very nice and she gave me the day and the time I asked for…

I certainly do not intend to attack these people… I know they do their best with what they have! The problem is that all those places do not have enough bilingual employees on the front line! Yet they insist on offering their clientele service in French when they actually cannot!… All it does is to waste my time and irritate me. I am bilingual and, although there are times I would prefer to express myself in French, I do not make a fuss if no one can speak my language… I live in an alledged bilingual country, but I know better!… Outside Québec, I cannot expect too much… It was my decision ten years ago to move to Ontario: nobody forced me… and even if I have the right to be served in French on paper, reality is quite different. Actually I do not mind…

But I do mind when I am told I can get such service and, then, I have to repeat the process in English because I hit a dead-end in French… After a while, it becomes very frustrating. In other words, DO NOT offer me a service you cannot deliver!… Or you do it properly all the way… or you do not! If I am given the choice between bad service in French or good service in English, I will not hesitate one second!… It is when being bilingual comes very handy!

“Sur le champ des principes, il n’y a pas de place pour la négociation.”

Lucien Bouchard

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 21, 2008 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Hello again R.T.

    As you can see, it isn’t much better in Eastern Canada regarding service in French! It would be interesting to hear from Anglophones living in Québec: is it as difficult to get service in English as it is in other provinces to get service in French?… 😉

    Yet, here, they try… I’ll give them one point for that! And, don’t forget… even if it’s Ottawa, this city still doesn’t have a bilingual status! People are misled because of the Federal Government’s language policies… which government is located in Ottawa. But the city itself doesn’t have the same policies… not yet though!

    And as for people who don’t speak English around here… well… they have two choices: move out or learn how to express themselves in English (they normally opt for the latter)…

    Dans un autre ordre d’idées… there’s a blowing snow storm here. Yikes!!! Thank God it’s Sunday and I don’t have to go anywhere!… Vive le confort du chez soi en hiver! 🙂

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