Speaking French is key to business

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Richard Smith is arguably the voice, if not the face, of the new Anglophone Quebec: the business class that has learned to do business in French - albeit with an accent - over the last few decades.

"My father couldn't order a meal in French," he says.

A while back, Mr. Smith interviewed for a job in the same field his father had been in - and he was expected to know French.

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Unlike a lot of his colleagues in the Greater Quebec Movement, which advocates bilingual education for everyone, he comes from a family that has been in Quebec since the 1830s. But, he says, "I'm the first generation since my great-grandmothers to be able to conduct a conversation in French."

French is now a language in which money can be made. For several years he has been in the cellular-phone business. "It used to be that French Canadians would come into the shops and talk among themselves, and then turn to whoever was going to wait on them and speak to them in English. They didn't expect to be waited on in French."

But that's changed, and that's why Smith decided, well after he reached college age, that he needed to learn French. Nowadays, he says, about half of his customers are French.

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