2009/09/06

Becoming Québécois

I have fond memories of my French-speaking North American upbringing in the Eastern Townships. Both my parents were, and still are, typical Québécois who knew English enough to get by. I, on the other hand, knew English because I liked it. Most of my cultural references were North American bands, TV shows and movies. All my French-speaking friends spoke English fairly well. My few English-speaking friends spoke French fairly well also. Each and everyone chipped in to compensate for anyone's linguistic limitations. All was perfectly fine.

As a teenager, I would often spend my weekend nights in any of Lennoxville's joints, the Georgian Pub (a.k.a the "G"), the Golden Lion Pub, the Len Pub... you get the picture. The music scene wasn't all that diversified, but it still was kinda cool. It felt right and I didn't think much of all the Québécois stuff. I still had fun at the Saint-Jean celebrations on the slopes of Mont-Bellevue in Sherbrooke, but Paul Piché wasn't my cup of tea and I couldn't care less for the sovereignty movement. What can I say? I was a Canadian who spoke French... it was as simple as that.

When the time came to choose an institution for my undergraduate studies, Bishop's University was it for me. I knew I could expect some kind of cultural shock, but I felt pretty confident about my decision.

As much as I was familiar with the "Lennoxville scene", I wasn't prepared for the student body mix of the institution. Half of it encompassed young men and women from other provinces. The main thing that struck me was how different they were from the Anglos I already knew, Anglos who managed in French and were familiar with Rock et Belles Oreilles, Offenbach and Plume Latraverse.

I felt these young people from outside the province didn't know their country very well and it pretty much blurred my understanding of how Canada differed from the USA. Still, I was more than willing to exchange and help each of us get more acquainted with the other. In most cases however, my curiosity was simply equaled by their indifference. And as if my dismay weren't enough, two events rattled the delicate linguistic stability of my Bishop's years. First, the notwithstanding clause was enforced by the Bourassa government to maintain the restriction against the posting of any commercial signs in languages other than French. Second, the Meech Lake Accord unraveled.

Needless to say, my studies in my second language were an eye popping experience. It broadened my horizons, but not in the way I expected. It very much challenged my Canadian sense of belonging and heightened my awareness for my own cultural specificity. It helped me appreciate the richness of the distinct society I live in and gave meaning to the motivations of the sovereignty movement.

I realize of course that most of the young Canadians I met were having their first experience away from home and were taking advantage of the leniency of my province to experiment with some of the facts of life. But I've been complementing my news intake with national media for a decade now and, too often, find myself frustrated with the way some of my perspective is being portrayed. I wish Canadians in general were more knowledgeable of this country that we share.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, I can equally say that the general knowledge about the 'Rest Of Canada' in Quebec is notably poor. I can provide numerous examples of educated people making incorrect observations of places like Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax, the Prairies, etc. I hear the refrain again and again that 'there's nothing over there', meaning throughout the rest of the huge country. I get told not to go to those places, and when I tell people that I used to live and work in Calgary and enjoyed it, I get looked at like I must be out of my mind. Yet I only heard people speak of Quebec outside the province with respect or indifference. I hear many, many people in Quebec speak of the other provinces with ignorance.

Michel Bolduc said...

Yes, there is some cultural chauvinism from Québec toward other provinces. Montréal also has a bit of that toward the rest of the province. And I'm sure you'll find similar behavior between other parts of the country not involving Québec.

Ignorance is everywhere, but it's easy to correct once you've recognized it.

Jake Bonn said...

I was a big part of the Crew that kept " The G " alive and breathing during it's final years.I miss that crew, some solid folk. I wonder where they are today. Sure, we had our fair share of off days... but all in all we kept the politics outside of the bar.The Eastern Townships region is the best part of Quebec and always will be.

Michel Bolduc said...

She gonna twist the knife
Yeah! I think she's got the right