I am American

In an interview titled "The author who posed in a pink suit... and survived" published by The Globe and Mail on April 2, 1998, Michael Ignatieff states: "Quebeckers walk around with this fantasy of how different they are, but they are just North Americans who speak French. They take the minor difference and magnify it."

Yes!... of course!... There's a lapalissade, or a truism, if you ever wanted one. What else are the Québécois supposed to be, if not North Americans? I was raised on Kraft Dinner watching "The Flintstones". How can you get more North American than that? Like the rest of the country, the province is submerged by USA's cultural production.

Along with many Québécois, I craved on American TV. "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Get Smart", "Happy Days", "Hogan's Heroes", "M*A*S*H", "Taxi" and "WKRP in Cincinnati" are mere examples of the cultural icons I was being spoon fed as a teenager. None of these shows have ever been dubbed in French. Yet, I was able to appreciate their humor. They were better at introducing me to my second language than my English teachers.

Humor takes many forms. I also liked magazines and movies. I was a big fan of Jerry Lewis. How can you not love the man? Jim Carrey obviously did. As for reading, Mad magazine "What, me worry?" did it for me. So did the raunchier National Lampoon magazine.

Now... USA's cultural production is rich and diverse, but why would anyone restrict her/himself when there's so much more? Like the majority of young Québécois, I was a huge fan of Louis de Funès. He appeared in 145 movies. He was simply tireless... a comedy machine... I also read French comic books such as Rubrique-à-brac and humor magazines like Hara-Kiri. Reiser drew some pretty nasty strips in the latter, sort of like Robert Crumb did in the USA. France, along with Belgium and Switzerland, has a rich comic books tradition.

The American way of life and France's cultural production are important parts of all Québécois' entertainment intake, but there's more to it. Over the centuries, Québec has managed to integrate both these important sources of inspiration and make them into its own. The Québécois have grown to love and celebrate their distinctiveness. Canadian content is alive and well in the province (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3) and it's very much different from what other provinces enjoy.

I find it odd that Canada's national newspaper deemed Michael Ignatieff's statement newsworthy and put it on its front page as the quote of the day (la citation du jour). I mean... let's suppose a sovereigntist went: "Canadians walk around with this fantasy of how different they are, but they are just North Americans who... [fill in the blank]. They take the minor difference and magnify it." Would Montréal's La Presse or Le Devoir have printed it on their front page? I doubt it.

I am American, but United Statian, I am not...


Anonymous said...

I want to begin by saying that I love your blog.

I would just like ask what the very last sentence of this post means, "United Statian I am not."

I am Californian born and raised but there was a period of time where I was living with my then partner of two years in Québec City, he was Québécois.

He was working in a bar in the bus station en basse-ville and I would visit him at nights when it was slow. I was with a friend and we were all talking and drinking, going in and out of French and English. I started saying something to my friend and boyfriend when a guy at the bar turned around to me and asked in French why I was speaking in English. I responded in French that it was because sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable in French and lack the vocabulary or feel better conveying an idea in English and since I was speaking to two bi-lingual francophones, I did not see a problem. He looked surprised and apologized. He told me that he was sorry but he thought I was Québécois because I had a pretty good accent and thought I was just being stupid by talking in English when I was perfectly capable of speaking in French.

It was a harmless enough mistake...the debate came when I told them gentleman I was American. "Je suis Americain," j'ai dit. "Being moi, aussi je suis Americain."
"Ah, bon?" j'ai répondu.
Il a dit oui pis il commence a expliquer comment tout les habitants de l'amerique du nord (et du sud d'ailleurs) sont des Americains. Ensuite il m'anonce que je suis un "etats-unien." Je n'avais jamais entendu de ça de ma vie. Il était très passioné de ce principle. Mon seul problème avec cette idée c'est que c'est écrit dans mon passport "American" et c'est pour ça que je dit 'je suis Americain." Ce n'est pas pour exclure personne, c'est juste comme ça, le mot "United Statian" n'existe pas. Qu'en pensez vous?

Michel Bolduc said...

When you call yourself "American", most recognize that you mean "American from the United States", but "American" also means "from America". From where I stand, the discussion you had with the gentleman sums it up rather well.

The fact that a word doesn't exist shouldn't stop anyone from being creative. "United Statian" is simply shorter than "American from the United States". In everyday Canadian French, the word "États-Uniens" is building momentum. It's not in dictionaries (yet), but that's how a language evolves.

The very last sentence of my blog entry allows me to acknowledge my Americanity wholeheartedly while avoiding any confusion, i.e. I am from America, but not from the United States. No exclusion intended, simply clarity... and an invitation for English-speaking Canadians to acknowledge it as well.

P.S.: Thank you very much for the kind words. It's always appreciated.