A day in the life

"Dad, what's Pure Laine?" asked my daughter as she looked at my blog over my shoulder. "Simply put..." I replied "the expression 'pure laine' identifies descendants of the first French settlers who arrived here some 400 years ago. Now... be careful if you use these words to describe yourself. Sadly, some people confuse the expression with a symbol of exclusion from the province's majority towards its minorities."

Both my children are being raised as true Montréalais, mixing at school with first and second generation immigrants from all over the planet. Wow!... when I was their age, growing up in the Townships, mixing with Anglos and people from Chicoutimi was considered cultural diversity. Times have obviously changed.

My wife and I spend a lot of time with our children and, by extension, their friends. They are always welcomed to spend some time at our place. Having them over is often like going on a short trip without leaving home. Accommodating them (if you can even call it that) takes very little open-mindedness. I mean... finding chicken weenies isn't that hard, nor is pointing in Mecca's direction. During one of these short "in-house trips", my wife prepared some maple syrup dumplings for dessert, a sugar shack favorite that Muslims and Jews seldom get exposed to. My daughter's friend had obviously never tried it; she liked it so much that she left with the recipe.

I recently stopped by this young person's place to pick my daughter up. While chatting with the lady of the house, her relaxed husband leaned over and told me he tried dumplings with the whole family. "How did you find it?" I asked. "Weird." He replied. "Weirdness is a relative concept." I added. We all burst out laughing.

Once in a while, a friend of my children's invites me on facebook to become her/his friend. I take it as a compliment and always jump at the opportunity. In this day and age, Web socializing can't be ignored. Getting involved is just another way to better understand the world my kids are growing up into. I don't actively participate, but I sometimes browse their profile. I can see all kinds of interests.

When I see young teenagers with international roots embracing Québec's culture with open arms, it just gives me hope for this nation of ours.


Parizeau is at it again

The Toronto Star just published an editorial on Parizeau's most recent, and probably last, essay [Google translation]. As it is so often the case with English media, arguments against Québec's sovereignty are exclusively economic. Here it goes: "Quebec is burdened with a $150 billion debt, high by provincial standards, and would have to assume another $100 billion as its share of the national debt. It would also lose equalization payments worth close to $80 billion over the last 15 years."

Yep!... Québec is burdened with a $150B debt, which is less in gross domestic product (GDP) percentage than the USA's and the average of OECD countries. Québec would have to assume another $100B, which is less than Hydro-Québec's market value. Québec would also lose equalization payments worth close to $80B over the last 15 years, which is less than the amount it sent to Ottawa over the same period ($38.4B in 2006 alone).

What on Earth is wrong with these editors? Have they even read the damn book? Don't they get that Québec's sovereignty isn't about money? What's wrong with their readers? Don't they get that they're being fed one side of the coin only?

Yep!... Premier Jean Charest's Liberals and other federalists should challenge Parizeau's claims head on; I'll be listening carefully when they do.


Anglos are Québécois too

"Oh!... I thought you were from Ontario." I spontaneously dropped. He looked at me in dismay and replied: "God no!" As it turns out, the English-speaking acquaintance I was chatting with was a damn proud full fledged Montrealer, a member of the minority within the minority. There are many Anglos like him.

Karl Moore is an associate professor at McGill University. Of Irish-Finnish descent, he's married to a Québécoise Pure Laine. On June 24th, 2007, he wrote an article for the Toronto Star about his Québécitude, "Ich bin ein Québécois". Speaking the language of the majority is important, he concedes, but it's not the only thing: "I tried to do an interview in French for the 10 o'clock news for Radio Canada. As a regular viewer, I was excited to be on this program. However, after a few minutes of trying, the journalist from Radio-Canada, in the midst of gales of laughter, put me out of my misery and switched to English."

The average Jean-Guy thinks all Anglos are the same. He doesn't see it, but the vast majority that's still around after thirty years of Bill 101 wouldn't live anywhere else. Ok... most won't admit it wholeheartedly, but their staying here, despite the Charter of the French language, is a tribute to this distinct society that we share and many will demonstrate the affection they have for our province.

On June 24th of this year, the Montreal Gazette published an article titled "Québec, je t'aime! 24 things we love about our province". The list goes like this:
  1. Bring your own wine
  2. Ça sent la Coupe
  3. Cheap chic
  4. Construction holiday
  5. Humble hyphen
  6. Political contrariness
  7. Rules of the road
  8. Sexy male dancers
  9. Terrasse-ville
  10. Tout le monde en parle
  11. Ubiquity of stripclubs
  12. Xavier Dolan
  13. Bikes and cigarettes
  14. Cheese, please
  15. Fleeing the city
  16. Chocolate blueberries
  17. Extra! Extra! Four daily newspapers
  18. Made for Québec
  19. Marriage? Why?
  20. Multilingualism
  21. One per cent
  22. Vistas
  23. Têtes à claques (available in English here)
  24. Quebec City renaissance
Say what?... that doesn't make them Québécois? Well... what are we suppose to call residents of this province if not Québécois or Quebecker? Of course, as in any society, you'll find individuals who won't embrace the ways of the majority. Is that a reason for alienating them? Isn't that the behavior of many Québec nationalists towards Canada? Do some people question their Canadianity?... hmmm... ok... bad example, but I trust you get the idea.


A sovereigntist leader in Toronto

On November 11th, 2009, the Royal Ontario Museum held a debate about the impact of one of Canada's most significant battles. The debate, between Bernard Landry (former Premier of Québec) and Jack Granatstein (Canadian historian), examined whether Britain's victory over France on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 was ultimately good for New France, its inhabitants and their descendants.

The event didn't spur much curiosity in local and national media. The National Post did publish an interesting overview of the Battle before hand, but nothing afterwards. The radio of Radio-Canada sent Mark Starowicz to cover the debate. His report is available in French here.

Over 500 Torontonians attended. It unfortunately was more or less a rehash of many clichés, Mr. Granatstein denouncing the cash pipeline from Ottawa to Québec and Mr. Landry puffing up the vision of a paradisiacal New France. He did however take the opportunity to outline that his support for sovereignty is not driven by resentment towards Canada, but rather by a concern to give a worthwhile culture the leverage to fully control its destiny.

According to the reporter, there was no clear winner. But the former Premier's eagerness to participate did inspire some respect from the audience.


Dan Aykroyd on Québec's nationalism

An Ottawa native and the son of a French Canadian mother, Dan Aykroyd is very familiar with the relationship between Québec and the rest of the country. As a young adult he often came to Montréal where he actually got his first acting gig. He was there on November 15th, 1976, when René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois came to power. Here are his impressions on the event, as reported in today's La Presse [Google translation]:

"My friends and I were at the victory's parade. It was a very vibrant evening, but we had mixed feelings. We know how proud Quebeckers are of their culture, but as Canadians from Ottawa, we were worried because Quebec holds an important place in our hearts."

On June 17th, 1994, Aykroyd received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree at Carleton University. The comic actor, writer and director made a passionate pitch for National Unity, a plea for tolerance for all Canadians, as reported by the Canadian Press the following day:

"I have a great love for the French Canadian people. It's an issue that is very divisive and burning on people's minds and I just want to say formally that I love Quebeckers." Aykroyd told graduates he has heard a "lot of rancor and tremendous hostility" directed at Québec and its people, especially in Western Canada. But it's also an issue in the Eastern Ontario town where he maintains a home. "That's exactly the kind of discrimination, racism and supremacism that we've got to avoid in the world if we're going to change things."

Aykroyd called for "a sane and just solution - whatever that is" in the event Quebec opts for separation. "If the majority of Quebeckers vote to go, what are we going to do? Send in the army? Of course not. We're going to help them with their ship of state. It's a democratic process. Let them decide for themselves. But unless and until Quebeckers vote to separate, Canadians should encourage them to "continue in nationhood with Canada, albeit with the proper recognition that their rich and highly contributive culture deserves."


Being Québécois

"Boy!... do Frenchmen ever crave on you guys!" I was told by an English-speaking classmate during my Bishop's University years. "Le Québécois, c'est une langue qui gratte!" he added. "What do you mean, Québécois is a language that rakes?" I asked befuddled. My friend had just met with a few international students who were discovering the Québécois accent in real life.

Those were the late 80s. Québécois singers were invading France. They're still very much present today, but that particular period was especially rich and the French reception was very positive. The phenomenon gave much exposure to the particular way French is spoken on this side of the Atlantic, a tad more guttural than its European counterpart to say the least.

I always liked cultural encounters. I'm usually very enthusiastic and blunt about such situations and, from time to time, my curiosity has been interpreted as invasive. I've experienced the feeling. I've also learned to be more tactful with those who would rather blur their cultural differences.

While travelling France in the early 90s, I was having supper with English-speaking tourists in a youth hostel. A few were from Canada and obviously spotted my origins. Most were from Australia, New Zealand, England, the USA... and hadn't realized English wasn't my first language. Upon ordering more wine to the passing garçon in French, all eyes turned on me.

"Where did you learn to speak French?" I was asked. "It's my mother tongue" I replied. I was then the center of much attention about my province and what it's like to be Québécois. Here are a few examples of what I (might or should) have said. Being Québécois is:
  • giving English-speaking North Americans a little bit of France without the Parisians and giving Frenchmen a little bit of North America without the Americans;
  • feeling as comfortable in Paris as in New-York;
  • being reminded by a Parisian garçon that you are in a French bistro, when feeling at home and nonchalantly ordering nachos to satisfy your late afternoon munchies;
  • listening to Plume Latraverse on your iPod while visiting the Louvre and making perfect sense out of it all;
  • being able to make the rapprochement between a tartiflette au reblochon, a French dish from the Savoie region, and a poutine, a North American greasy spoon favorite;
  • having the opportunity to appreciate French movies and their American remakes in their original versions, e.g. La total with Thierry Lhermitte (an easy going police comedy) and True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger (a overblown popcorn movie); Nikita with Anne Parillaud and Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda;
  • having the option to easily steer away from McDonald's or Tim Hortons to eat a decent meal at a decent price;
  • giving a North American fast food classic, a burger, a Mediterranean twist with lamb meat garnished with steamed spinach, garlic and feta cheese (ok... this one's not typically Québécois, but it sure is a good example of interculturalism, whereas multiculturalism would have offered an exotic side dish with an ordinary burger);
  • turning a North American greasy spoon favorite, poutine, into a "Tunisian" meal, by adding merguez sausages, or turning it into a gourmet meal, by adding foie gras;
  • going beyond pâtés and appreciating rillettes and cretons for what they are;
  • being able to choose from over 200 different local cheeses that rival with centuries of European tradition and savoir-faire;
  • realizing that more people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean are familiar with your own culture than people on the other side of the Ottawa River and being labeled by some of them as closed-minded;
  • watching or reading your own national media on a local issue and getting the impression the report was prepared by a foreign journalist;
  • listening to homegrown music, watching homegrown TV and movies and feeling that unmistakable sense of belonging.
So they say...