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10 Times The Quebec Language Police Have Pissed You Off

The OQLF's not-quite-greatest hits.
10 Times The Quebec Language Police Have Pissed You Off

Usually, if you see "OQLF" in an article headline, you're going to experience some strong emotions upon reading.

You may side entirely with the decision made by the organization commonly referred to as the Language Police.

Or, as tends to be the case more often than not, you're left thinking "for real?" and proceed to grow confused as to why the OQLF would reprimand an Italian restaurant for having "pasta" on their menu.

And yes, that did happen.

I once had an acquaintance (whose name escapes me) who said how it should be the role of the OQLF to promote the French language and ensure it thrives, not be a militant organization that fines people and businesses for the most minor infractions or inclusion of English.

Honestly, that point stuck with me, and there is certainly lots that the OQLF does to promote the French language rather than militantly abolish any form of English.

Unfortunately, the moments below fall more into the latter category, as people got righteously pissed off at the OQLF when the stories broke. No doubt one of them inspired the "close down the OQLF" petition, and you can relive the frustration below.

The Whole Trip Advisor Sticker Fiasco

Getting a solid review-score on Trip Advisor, a widely popular American-based travel site, would be a good thing for a bar or restaurant in any other city. In Montreal, with the OQLF on the prowl, not so much.

The most recent OQLF-related story to make headlines, the Trip Advisor Sticker Fiasco began when the Language Police sent a complaint to Sud Ouest bar Burgundy Lion for having a (you guessed it) "recommended by Trip Advisor" sticker on their front window.

A three inch square and about two feet off the ground, the sticker isn't exactly a large part of the bar's signage. And given that many Anglophone tourists would recognize the Trip Advisor accreditation, its justified how the Burgundy Lion management refused to remove the sticker after receiving a formal complaint from the OQLF.

Apparently, said letter is only "one of about 300 to 400 letters" sent every single month by the OQLF to businesses for similar reasons. That's quite a bit of paper for letters complaining about stickers.

When They Tried To Shut Down Chez Geeks

Even the wholesome fun of board games aren't safe from the OQLF, as seen when the Language Police sent numerous complaints to Saint Denis board game shop Chez Geeks.

The list of offenses perpetrated by Chez geek, according to the OQLF, included the rather strange rule of not removing all English versions of a game when the French ones had all been sold. Given the fact that only 20% of Chez Geek's inventory is made in both languages (not all manufacturers are based in French-speaking nations) that would leave the store with next to nothing on the shelves.

Fortunately, Chez Geeks managed to survive its OQLF attack and remains in operation.

Blue Dog Vs. Blue Chien

In operation for over twenty years, Blue Dog, the bar-and-barber combo on Saint Laurent, didn't seem like a likely target for the OQLF. I mean, if they had a problem with "Blue Dog" being in English, they would have said something a long time ago, right?

That's what the owner of Blue Dog thought, until they received a formal complaint from the OQLF regarding the venue's signage. Things got tense when the letter said the bar had only months to comply to the OQLF's demands.

After a mild media frenzy concerning the letter (which was posted to social media by Blue Dog's owner), however, the OQLF backtracked a bit and said the whole thing was a big misunderstanding.

Apparently the complaint was given out because someone at the OQLF saw an old picture of Blue Dog that lacked "bar/barbier" on the front window. So in the end, the whole thing was kind of a moot point, but that didn't stop tons of people from getting seriously riled.

When Saint Lazare Had Enough

Oh Saint Lazare, you may be a small town but you sure have some serious ladyballs, because whereas some folks would just get pissed and complain about the OQLF, you actually took a stand.

A town comprised of about 36.5% Anglophone and 53.3% native French speakers, St. Lazare prides itself on its inherent bilingual nature. That's why St. Lazare thought it was quite alright to have "welcome" written on their town sign.

The OQLF thought otherwise, and didn't just ask for "vous accueille” to be added, but told the town to remove English from all signage.

But instead of being pushed around, St. Lazare found a creative way to say f*ck you to the OQLF: they removed all writing from signs in the town entirely.

Instead, pictograms were put in place, thus voiding the language issue entirely.

Anytime You Couldn't Buy Stuff Online

Here's a rule the OQLF enforces you might not know about, but it has probably made you seriously miff'd: any retailer/business that has a physical store in Quebec needs to have a French-version website. If not, the website will be blocked to anyone online in Quebec.

That particular rule got some major publicity when certain Quebecers were trying to buy stuff on Williams-Sonoma’s online store. Lacking a French side to their site, citizens got crazy pissed that the OQLF was limiting their digital retail options by blocking the site.

So anytime you may have tried shopping online, only to find that the site mysteriously isn't accessible, don't blame your internet provider. If the store doesn't happen to have a French-version website, it's probably being blocked.

When A Facebook Page Was "Too English"

Social media is an interesting online environment. Given that it's inherently "social," do strict Quebec business regulations apply? The OQLF seemed to think so when they went after a woman who operated a small boutique called Delilah in the Parc in Chelsea, Quebec, deeming her Facebook page to be too English.

Despite her in-store staff being entirely bilingual and many of her customers being English-speakers, the OQLF saw fit to reprimand the owner of Delilah in the Parc for posting too much in English on Facebook. They asked for the entire FB page to be made into French as a solution.

Delilah in the Parc's owner didn't take this lying down, saying how enforcing language laws on a platform like Facebook ultimately defeated the purpose of social media, which is inherently personal, even if it's a business's page.

It took a serious amount of public backlash for the OQLF to see things the same way. Following a media maelstrom, with many siding with the boutique's owner, the OQLF said they would soften their stance on social media, and allowed the FB page to stay up.

Regardless, the story riled up loads of people, mainly because of how the OQLF decided to target a very small business for an issue that was arbitrary at best.

Trying To Stop Boxing Day

Everyone in Canada knows Boxing Day, no matter what province you're in. The day-after-Xmas is synonymous with sales and savings, and so is the name itself. That didn't stop the OQLF from trying to abolish the English name this past holiday season, however, as they tried to get everyone to switch from Boxing Day to "Les soldes de l’après-Noël."

In a rare showing of common sense, the OQLF didn't say businesses would get in trouble for having Boxing Day signs, which is a good thing, because I don't think any of them did.

The Grilled Cheese Debacle

No matter if you're an Anglophone or a Francophone, a grilled cheese only goes by one name and that's...well, grilled cheese. I don't think there's much of a debate on that front, but as with most things, the OQLF wanted to make a problem where there really wasn't one to begin with, as was the case with the recent grilled cheese debacle.

The story is similar to others on this list, and goes like this:

La Mama Grilled Cheese, a grilled cheese eatery in the Quebec City area, got hit with a complaint from the OQLF for their sign having the words "enjoy" (which is somewhat justified) and "grilled cheese" (not so much). The OQLF then recommended French alternatives for the latter including "sandwich au fromage fondant" or "au fromage fondu" even though the restaurant's owners know that no one ordering a grilled cheese uses those terms.

As usually happens, the OQLF repositioned themselves on the issue after the complaint got picked up by the media, saying they had more of a problem with "enjoy" being on the sign than "grilled cheese." There was a silver lining to the whole thing though, as La Mama Grilled Cheese said business picked up after they got some exposure through the story.

When The OQLF Got Ran Out Of Town

To be fair, this particular tale probably didn't piss you off, but it does feature the residents of Shawville, Quebec being so righteously angry that they literally ran an OQLF officer right out of town.

After the whole town, who are all predominantly Anglophone, received numerous complaints, fines, and court hearings for not meeting OQLF standards, tensions were already pretty high when an OQLF inspector came into town, snapping photos of English signs on certain storefronts.

Not simply taking it in stride, a group of residents (including the mayor) started following the OQLF inspector throughout her trip. Things got awkward, then heated, and eventually ended with the residents of Shawville pretty much driving the Language Police officer right out of town.

Kind of intense, and you can read more on the story here.


Oh, Pastagate, you put Montreal on the map in the worst way ever.

If you aren't familiar with the story that took over news sources all over the world in 2013, it can basically be summed up in a sentence: The OQLF tried to force an Italian restaurant to remove the word "pasta" from their menu.

Why? Because "pasta" isn't French, which anyone with half a brain could have told you. But it's not as if the restaurant (Buonanotte, btw) had English on their menus. They simply listed their Italian dishes in Italian, you know, because it's an Italian restaurant.

The inherent ridiculousness of the complaint wasn't lost to anyone. In all honesty, it seemed like something that would appear on The Onion. But real it was, and Pastagate will forever go down as one of the most ridiculous moments in Montreal history.

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