sugar sammy

Last week Public Radio International’s “The World” featured  Canadian Comedian Sugar Sammy.  Sugar Sammy has found a way to poke fun at the hot issues surrounding the French and English language conflict in Montreal and other regions in Quebec, from the perspective of an Indo-Canadian living in French Canada.

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Francophone – Anglophone tensions are up in Quebec right now (the only Canadian province where French is the sole official language – English speakers represent the minority) and have been highlighted with the latest news frenzy over an incident dubbed “Pasta-gate.” The international news has targeted the region’s well-funded language law enforcement that cited a restaurant for using the Italian/English word “pasta” instead of its French equivalent and tried to ban it. (Click here for a good article about the incident from The Guardian.) Last time in Quebec, when exasperated that I couldn’t find someone who spoke English  (It’s still hard for me to get used to a French-speaking region a short drive from our U.S. borders),  I was quickly reprimanded for the belief that they should speak English. Why shouldn’t I speak French? Point taken. Resistance to the global move towards English language supremacy is nothing new. And there is a long history involved with the Quebec conflict, much more complex than language alone.

The Quebec-born son of Indian immigrants, Samir Khullar – or Sugar Sammy as he goes by – has found a way to get the dueling French and English speakers of that region laughing at each other and themselves –  at least during his shows.  I think it’s brilliant – it may not change policy today, but laughter is always a good icebreaker and I believe begins the process of compassion and understanding.

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Sugar Sammy believes in a demographic in Montreal that live in French and English on a daily basis. After years of doing separate French and English shows, he has started to do bilingual stand-up comedy shows – something he was told would never work – to French and English-speaking audiences. He has experienced much success, with sell-out shows. He even has the politicians playing along.

Sugar Sammy can make you laugh in four languages – English, French, Punjabi and Hindi . He now does four separate shows: in French (En français, svp!), in English (Illegal English Edition), the bilingual show (You’re Gonna rire) and a new show aimed at Quebec’s Indian immigrants and their offspring (Indian Edition). As a half Mexican/half German with a French first name, I’m intrigued. I’m crossing my fingers that our summer trip may coincide with an Illegal English Edition show because, sadly, we don’t know French. Yet.

I remain convinced that bilingualism is a true gift – I send my kids to full Spanish immersion public school in California. I just hope we can all get along and appreciate our capacity for speaking different languages. In a place like Quebec it might be a long shot. But Sugar Sammy might just make it a little easier and a lot more fun.

Photo credit: CBC

You can learn more about Sugar Sammy here. 

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5 responses to “sugar sammy

  1. You have brought attention to such an interesting dilemma regarding the official language of Quebec. I think that having a comedian poke fun at it is helpful, as laughter often diffuses anger and can encourage those involved to lighten up a bit. Living so far away from Quebec, this issue is not on my radar, but it’s good to be reminded of it. I went to college in Maine which is very close to that part of the world. Interesting post!

  2. As someone who lived in Montreal as a six-year-old, slightly-built little girl who was terrorized and regularly pushed around physically by 12-year-old boys simply because I was a visiting Anglo, I know the issues in Quebec run deep. I’m a firm believer that heritage languages need to be promoted and take precedent but also believe that applying the same aggression and attitude to international visitors is just plain rude, and very shortsighted when it comes to encouraging tourism dollars. This seems to be the exception to the rule, though, now. They’re getting better at spotting visitors and on a recent visit to Montreal I was treated indulgently for my unsophisticated mangling of their beautiful language and they always switched to English as soon as they noticed I was out of my linguistic league. I’m sorry I don’t have much opportunity to practice my French, though–come to think of it–I’m doing so in Belgium right now as I type this. Good for Sugar Sammy for keeping the dialogue going in a friendly, funny way.

    • thanks for your comment Lesley – I especially appreciate your local, up-close perspective. In booking our hotel in old Montreal for July, I did appreciate that all correspondence is in both english and french – in addition to their facebook page and web site. I imagine, a hard stance on “french only” ends when they are wooing tourists to visit. Because I love speaking the local language anywhere I visit, I will need to brush up on the basics. Maybe sugar sammy will come your way – he seems very funny – and wise and brave to attempt to bridge this divide. It’s unfortunate that you had such a negative experience as a child, and glad that things seem to have changed for the better.

  3. Can`t wait to hear more about Sugar Sammy. I`ve been learning Japanese for 3 years. When I moved to Japan, Japanese people said, “You will learn Japanese. Just practice.” French Canadians said to me, “You will NEVER learn French- it is TOO HARD.”

  4. Pingback: 48 hours in montreal | bringing travel home

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