French-Canadians are really nice. I know that some people consider that to be not such a compliment, but I don't mean it in a "damning with faint praise" way. Niceness is a fundamental part of their bearing and it permeates every level of society. My mom's cousin, who is a jewish anglo born and raised in Montréal likes to point out that they "had a ten-year revolution and only two people were killed!"
I saw two things when I first came here that demonstrated the caring and gentle nature of the Quebecois. The first was when my girlfriend and I were walking up St. Laurent, just above René-levesque. This is a sort of seedy section of town, on the way to the corner of St. Laurent and St. Catherines, where there are prostitutes, drug-dealers, punkers squeegy kids, etc. I mean this isn't Hastings and Main or anything, but it's definitely got the lower side of Canadian society.
There was a homeless guy (sans-abri) passed out on the sidewalk. He was old, with a white beard, the mahogany-tanned ankles and neck of someone who has been outside for a long time. He also had a kind of nice backpack with lots of little acoutrements hanging off it, including a plastic mug, and a nice penknife. He was fairly well equipped. As I was approaching him, two teenage boys came towards him from the other side of the street. They were grinning and pointing at him. They looked to be about 14 or 15, dressed moderately street. I was getting all geared up for a confrontation, worried about protecting some passed out guy with my girlfriend there. I was coming from NYC where interacting with anyone poor is generally avoided.
The kid said in french, "look at that nice knife" and then leaned torwards the guy. "Monsieur? Monsieur?" He gently shook the old man on the shoulder. "Ca va? Monsieur?" He had a look of genuine concern on his face. We kept moving and the two boys were still hovering over the old man, peering into his face and leaving his stuff alone.
A couple weeks later, we were on the bus. There was a woman seated behind the bus driver where he couldn't see her. She was clearly in a bad way. Her hair was a tangled mess, her clothes were filthy and she was mumbling and shouting incomprehensibly every now and then. She revealed an almost empty big bottle of Black Label (that's a cheap beer that makes a powerful 40 ouncer). I was watching her antics with the bemused and cynical air of the long-time city dweller, feeling a bit superior to the nervous people around her.
We took the bus to the end of the line. There's a metro station there, with people waiting for other buses. There was also a gang of hip-hop'd out teenagers, with bikes and skateboards. Everybody started to get off the bus except the woman. The bus driver gruffly ordered her off the bus, but she wouldn't go. A young man who'd been on the bus walked up to her. He was dressed in normal jeans and a yellow rain shell. He looked like a Canadian university student. He crouched by the woman and spoke with her gently. He then stepped outside the bus and called someone on his cell phone. He came back on the bus and helped her off, putting her on one of the benches at the bus stop.
Soon, an ambulance pulled up and two EMT workers came, sat and talked with the woman and took her away. While this all went on, the group of kids were watching and commenting. After, and I don't know how this happened, the kids all ended up gathering around the guy in the yellow jacket while he explained to them that she clearly had an addiction to alchohol and who could say what terrible things had happened to her to put her in this position but that it was best that she could go somewhere where she could remain safe and maybe get some help. I couldn't believe it. But I swear to god this really happened. I thought I had been pretty tough on that bus, not being worried about the woman, but that guy in the yellow jacket was truly the coolest. I felt pretty proud being Canadian at that moment. And felt that maybe one day I could have the balls and the selflessness and the sympathy to really give someone a hand in public.