Chicken Little meets Petit Poulet

While browsing the internet this morning I discovered an updated version of Petit Poulet (that’s the French name for Chicken Little). In this version, Petit Poulet is having his breakfast of toast and coffee when he reads an online news item saying “Le ciel est en train de tomber!” (Th sky is falling!)

He quickly emails a warning to all his friends, then sets out to warn others. He meets a hen, a duck, a goose, a pigeon and tells them all “Le ciel est en train de tomber!” They ask him how he knows and he answers “I read it on the internet.” “Then it must be true,” each one says and they all follow him to town, shouting the warning as they go.

In town they meet Bernard the fox, who listens to their story and then tells them he knows a place where they will be safe. He leads them out of town, across fields and up a hill to a cave. “You will be safe from the falling sky here,” he says.

The next morning the fowl have all mysteriously vanished. Bernard the fox is seated under a tree, his tummy quite round, typing out another story on his laptop to post on the internet.

A generation or two ago, Hugh MacLennan wrote a novel about the English and French in Montreal. The title was Two Solitudes. Let me introduce you to Chicken Little and Petit Poulet in this setting.

Chicken Little grew up on the west side and was taught that he must insist that others speak to him in English. “If we don’t, his parents say, one day we won’t be allowed to speak English at all”. This was at a time when the four major department stores on St. Catherine Street were all English. The staff were instructed to never speak French for fear of offending the tender ears of their English clientele. Those stores are gone, but there is still a large English school system, an English children’s hospital and a brand new English general hospital. Yet Chicken Little lives in fear that his parent’s prediction may one day come true.

Petit Poulet grew up on the east side where there was one French department store, also now gone. Most businesses and financial institutions were English and it was difficult to make one’s way in life without speaking English. The Roman Catholic church claimed to be the sole bastion of the French language. The dominant financial institutions and retailers are now French, but the Catholic church has shrunk to a shadow of its former self. Petit Poulet is nervous about the state of French in Montreal.

The latest census shows a small decline in the use of French in Montreal. There is some speculation that this is largely due to a subtle change in the census questions and the way the results have been analyzed. Remember, Mark Twain once said: “There are three kinds of lies, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Nevertheless, the internet news reports of the census results are enough to convince Petit Poulet that “Le ciel est en train de tomber!” and he sets off to warn all his friends.

Meanwhile, the government of Quebec has ruled that the employees of federal government agencies dealing with the public must speak French. To Chicken L:ittle this is the catastrophe that he has so long feared. He shouts “The sky is falling!” and sets out to warn everyone.

What happens when Petit Poulet and Chicken Little meet? Will the feathers fly? Or will they talk calmly, listen to one another and realize that Bernard the fox is up to his old tricks?

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