Friday, November 18, 2005

Québec's shtick

"As Québécois', we are full of contradictions, but that's all part of our charm." - S. Fortier

Quoted and translated from my translation professor, commenting half-jokingly on Québec.

I don't think many people outside of Canada realize the strong separatist sentiments that exists in Québec, often a feeling of paranoia of being assimilated. And yes, I am using the word "paranoid" here. Although I am an Ontarian and am not a permanent resident of Québec -- school year only -- I am taking the liberty to comment on Québec. I am welcoming comments from you all, as usual.

Québec feels ostracized predominantly because of its language and the lingering effects of being beaten by the English. It is worthy to note as to how many of the other provinces in Canada also have distinct differences. What about Alberta? It is the province of money, of oil; the way of life is slightly different there as well as the way most of the residents think. You can't be a vegetarian, and you have to be slightly pigheaded. Albertans think a hell of a lot differently than us here. I even remember attending a Trade show in
Peace River, Alberta; there was a table set up for the Separation Party of Alberta. After telling me a bit about themselves, they said if I were an Albertan resident, I could sign their petition for a referendum. I practically laughed in their faces.

And what about Nova Scotia and Newfoundland? It has its own culture and a very distinct culture at that. You can get really hokey accents coming from that area, as well as drinking traditions, a large fishing industries, and a lot of funny different sayings. Also, aren't people from the east coast said to be more laid-back?

Actually, it seems as though every province as its own identity... except for maybe Ontario. Sure, sure, it has its idiosyncrasies and its attractions. We have Niagara Falls, Toronto, the CN Tower, Algonquin Park, Parliament, etc ... Okay, so Ontario hosts Parliament in our nation's capital, Ottawa. That's pretty much what Ontario has going for it. Though it may be cool to say that you are a laid-back Newfie, who can drink like no other, no one is proclaiming far and wide that, "Yaa, check me out, for I am Ontarian!"

I think that Québec sees Ontario as the embodiement of Canada because of the fact that we have Parliament and that we are their next door neighbours. It also goes without saying that Québec also has a hate on for Alberta, but they seem to really like British Colombia. I do remember having a non-serious debate about BC and Québec separating from Canada and forming their own nation called "Quélombia", but that's another story.

This reminds me of my exchange program in which I lived in Alberta and Poland. Half-way through the Canadian phase during
Canada World Youth, it was time to teach the Poles and Ukrainians about Québec. Our two Québécois', Vicky and Simon, taught the Europeans that Québec was somewhat different from the rest of Canada. They have different music, different comedians, different television shows, and different school system. They considered themselves Québecois over Canadian. They didn't know the national anthem, not even in French.

Songs were always a problem, though. I remember sitting around countless bonfires with my group, and we would always come to the discussion of what song to sing. The Europeans were always asking us to teach them a "traditional" or a well-known Canadian song. Us, the Canadians, could never find a song that all eight of us knew. All Anglophones would know a song, but then the Québeckers wouldn't. And then sometimes the Québécois' and Ontarians would know a song, and then the others wouldn't. And then there were the sad times when the Newfie and the Canadian-Colombian were alone in knowing their songs.

So, what was there to do? Learn a Polish song, of course. We learned "Jal Jal" at the beginning of the program and about halfway through, we learned a fun and upbeat Ukrainian song.

So, what did the Europeans think of this strange Québec phenomenon? My Ukrainian counterpart called it "disgusting". She said that it was really sad that Québec hardly related to Canada. We didn't have unity, we didn't have understanding; she saw this as fundamental rules for a country. How could people from the same country be so different and not even relate to the rest of the country, she asked me.
Later on, we had a talk about First Nations and about our wide variety of immigrants we welcome every year. It is very different when you come from a country of mainly only Poles and Ukrainians, in our case, and all you know about Canada's First Nations are their infamous Indians!

This reminds me of my acquaintance Hilary, whom I sit beside in translation class. She is from New Hampshire and does not know about the FLQ (Front Libération Québec), doesn't know who René Lévesque is, and certainly doesn't know about the strong separatist feeling. Even though our University is in Québec, Lennoxville is English, and if you contain yourself to the town and University's bubble, you can avoid a lot of the Québécois culture, the séparatistes, and even French itself.
Anyway, last class, we started talking about René Lévesque for some reason or another. As Hilary had learned her French in France, she really knew nothing about this. She was surprised, though. She didn't know that the separatist and sovereignist sentiments were so strong. She was surprised to hear of things, such as French being required by law to be written larger than English, that Québecois' often have biaseness towards English-Canadians, especially Ontarians, (I'm not saying the opposite doesn't exist), and that they seem to be concerned about small things, like street names, that may be inadvertently attacking their culture, history, and language.

For example...

Lennoxville has become part of the City of Sherbrooke. One of our main streets in Lennoxville, Queen Street, was deemed too English by the City of Sherbrooke, as it referred to the Queen of England that they feel they have no connection to (I am sure many of us do not connect with the monarchy either, but anyway). So, the City of Sherbrooke decided to plague us with some more Québec pride by naming the street, Rue René Lévesque. I don't think you can get any more Québec than that. For those who don't know, René Lévesque is the one who founded the Parti Québécois. Click here for more information about him.
Anyway, this idea was also eventually rejected. Since the Lennoxville area was settled mainly by Anglo-saxons, they decided that it would be silly to name it René Lévesque. So, now, they have decided to respect the "anglo-saxon" tradition, whatever it may be, and decided to re-name the street, "Queen Victoria" (said with a French accent, no less).

Funny? Interesting? Strange? I don't know. Québec has always done things a little different; sometimes just for the sake of being different, sometimes because of culture and tradition, other times just because they prefer to do things like that. As an outsider, what is my opinion? I think Québec has a right to have its language and culture respected, though I also think that Québec is sometimes too paranoid. A little paranoid about being "assimilated" and "taken over" by the English. I can see where they are coming from; hell, even my mother, when she was in her twenties, considered herself a sovereignist when she lived in Québec. The thing is -- let's get real here, people -- how on earth would Québec survive on its own? Would separating themselves from the rest of Canada create a medal-like barrier that would trace the borders of Québec to ensure that nothing English ever infiltrated the "nation" of Québec? That's impossible, seeing as how English is now a very dominant language. And what about Québec's economy? Any moron can see how this would be a most unwise decision; it would be pandemonium, and their population would drop.

Besides, the rest of Canada isn't trying to attack Québec, so tone down the whining and start working with us here. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy living in Québec; I love the French language, and I like their bike paths. It is just ridiculous that Canada, as a country, can't even decide whether or not we should build our nation or take it apart.

Then again, if Québec does manage to separate, I am packing my bags and moving into Tex's cheap (on account of the drop in property value), albeit beautiful, old, Victorian house by the river in Magog, Québec.


Tex Texerson said...

Canadian and American culture permeates the very fabric of Quebec society!

If Quebec separates, they should expel all non-Quebecois companies. No more cigarettes.. Only Molson breweries, although despite being founded in Montreal, I highly doubt they would want to operate their business from a separated Quebec. Ha! Do you suppose there's a Quebecois company that makes bingo accessories? What would french people do?

I suppose they could watch Les Glorieux, nevermind that their top three forwards are Russian, Finnish and Slovakian, and their top two defensemen are Western Canadian and Russian. They would have to go too. You know, hockey isn't even originally Quebecois. It must go!

I'm not even sure what Quebec culture is. From my own personal observations, I'd say it's beer, cigarettes, welfare, racism, scooter gangs, driving badly, blissful ignorance, strip clubs, loud mufflers and pregnant teens.

You know, when it's put that way, I guess it real is worth preserving.

Effovex said...

Nice! Undisguised bigotry! In this age of political correctness, such a public display of asshattery is a rare thing indeed.

My hat is off to you, tex.

Tex Texerson said...

Thanks, I try. Unfortunately, I'll never top the legislated bigotry our fine government enforces.