A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Ces enfants de ma vie by Gabrielle Roy. We were given an extract from the book in our french class, just the first couple pages where she describes all the different kids coming to their first day of school in rural manitoba during the depression. It grabbed me right away so I went out and bought the book at one of the many used bookstores on Mont-Royal (how awesome is it that I can now go to french used bookstores as well as english ones!).
I was reading it on the train on the way home from school when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to face a young adolescent male with long unkempt hair and a ramones style jacket. "Ça c'est un excellent livre! Vraiment excellent!" he said. He was full of enthusiasm. I was sort of taken aback but managed to say "Je pense que oui, mais je viens de le commencer." (I think so, but I just started it). He said, "Excellent, excellent" and then went back to the other side of the train.
I rode the subways in New York for almost 10 years, almost always with a book and nobody ever said a word to me.
I rode the rest of the way filled with happiness. I have had so many interesting conversations about books here in Québec. There is a lot of DaVinci Code on the metro, but there is a lot of other books as well. I don't know if people are better educated or they read more because of their shared, protected culture, but they are a very book-friendly society. And people are comfortable to have intelligent, rich conversations about any genre, mysteries, science fiction, comics. It doesn't have to be an intellectual book for them to appreciate its value and feel that it is worthwhile to discuss.
It's the same with my colleagues in my kung fu class. They are mostly french-canadian and of course we spend a lot of time discussing martial arts movies. I was immediately impressed with their critical language. They weren't just "c'est débil! Ben hot!" (it was crazy, very cool) but also "mais la fin ne se tien pas" (the ending didn't hold together well). Their liking or disliking a film hinges more on its overall aesthetic success than on how much ass is kicked, though the ass-kicking is important to them as well.
I can't offer much explanation for this phenomenon, but I can say that it is better than the divided society of intellectual haves and have-nots (and morons on both sides) that flourishes in the states and the west. That's not to say that there aren't social and educational hierarchies here. I just find that the general level of discourse and appreciation of ideas runs deeper at every level. It's extremely refreshing and constantly reminds you that life can actually be quite rich and interesting when people around you are ready to talk about things other than work, sports or the weather.