Cafe Bonjour/Hi to open as Quebec government mulls ways to ban greeting

By Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — There’s little doubt about what greeting customers will hear when they enter Dave Plant’s soon-to-be opened Cafe Bonjour/Hi, even as the Quebec government looks for ways to ban the popular bilingual greeting.

Plant, 32, chose the name about a month and a half ago, after an employee of his other restaurant jokingly suggested he name his new cafe after the phrase that has become an unlikely lightning rod in the debate over linguistic rights in the province. 

“It’s a touch controversial, it’s bilingual — and  we’re going to be in a bilingual neighbourhood, so that’s important — and I just thought it was kind of funny,” he said in a phone interview.

The distinctive hybrid greeting has been widely adopted by retail workers in Montreal in an effort to welcome a diverse clientele. But it has also become a source of controversy among those who fear the gradual erosion of the French language. 

On Friday, the minister responsible for the French language said the province was looking for a way to ban the greeting, as a way of building on two unanimous motions passed in the legislature calling on store clerks to stick with a simple “bonjour” when greeting customers.

Simon Jolin-Barrette did not specify how he planned to accomplish the task, but insisted to reporters that “people want to be welcomed in French.”

While he did not exclude legislation, he said he was not looking at any solutions that would require an army of inspectors to act as “language police.”

Plant thinks it’s quite amusing that he and his yet-unopened cafe have unknowingly become symbolic ambassadors against the government’s proposal.

But he’s willing to embrace it, given that he already spends much of his day chatting about current events with the locals and tourists who frequent his existing restaurant, Bouffe Dave Plant Food.

“I enjoy talking politics and disucussing and debating, so I’m cool with that,” he said. “And the staff in the cafe is going to be bilingual anyways.”

On Friday, Jolin-Barrette cited a recent study by Quebec’s language watchdog that suggested the use of bilingual greetings was increasing as a reason to strengthen language laws. 

The Office quebecois de la langue francaise found that between 2010 and 2017, use of “bonjour/hi” in Montreal doubled, representing eight per cent of all greetings in 2017. Exclusively English greetings also increased, occurring 17 per cent of the time in 2017, up from 12 per cent in 2010.

French greetings remained the norm, but they were down to 75 per cent from 84 per cent over the same period.

Plant, for his part, isn’t losing any sleep just yet over the possibility of government action against his chosen greeting.

On one hand, he finds it “troubling” that the government seems to want to limit what language people use when greeting one another, and feels any law along those lines would be unconstitutional, unenforceable, or both.

On the other, he says the controversy is helping him get the word out about his new cafe, which is expected to open in November.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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