Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When it's small, Nationalism can be kind of cool

(note: image from here.)

This post is not very timely, as it was inspired by the fête de St. Jean Baptiste almost two months ago. But I need to get back and track and my thoughts are still relevant.

If you don't know this already, St. Jean Baptiste is a major holiday here, probably the biggest one (though how you measure holiday size, I don't know). It's a provincial (or national, depending on your perspective) that is strongly enforced by the government. There are ads in the paper explaining how your employer must give you the day off. The day not falling on or directly after the weekend caused major consternation this year, with all kinds of scheming to try and get Monday off as well. There are massive concerts in Montreal and especially Quebec City and smaller ones in towns all over the province. It's origin is in an obscure Catholic holiday that they barely even celebrate in France anymore, but it became significant to the colonists of Nouvelle France and grew over time to eventually become the celebration of Québec as a culture and a nation.

Everybody dresses up in blue and the fleur de lys. What struck me was a gang of girls on Mont-Royal wearing sexy, revealing outfits all themed around the Québec flag. They also had little Québec flags painted on their cheeks and arms. What they reminded me of were European football fans during the world cup. I imagine for them, they are proud to be Québécoise, but it's also just fun for them to dress up and celebrate. When a jaded old anglophone (with a Y chromosome) like myself sees that, it suddenly makes me think that nationalism is kind of cool and fun. And this led to a train of thought that gave me an insight as to a point of difference between Quebeckers and the rest of Canada.

In Canada, we tend to grow up with a pretty cynical and skeptical education, especially towards politics. A lot of this comes from the British political tradition as well as from living north of the United States. We pride ourselves on not being all rah-rah patriotic. That kind of behaviour, in our lessons, leads to, at best, the kind of annoying cultural ignorance that marks the worst stereotypical American tourist, or at worst, Nazi Germany. Behind that is a general Protestant resistance to any kind of celebration or pleasure. So for a lot of us, when we see someone vaunting their national pride, our reaction is one of distaste. It puts us off and makes us suspicious.

The Québécois, on the other hand, are brought up being taught a lot of pride in their history and culture. Moreover, as children, their day-to-day culture is full of both popular and social elements that they consume in a natural way (like singing songs at camp or watching TV shows with their friends). Just to give a concrete example, any group of Quebeckers sitting around a campfire will share a large body of songs that they all know the words to and will sing together. During St. Jean Baptiste, entire stadiums will sing along with the group on stage to some favorite classic from the '60s or '70s or even much older. Many of these songs are about Quebec or being Québécois.

So their nationalism is natural to them and mixed up with their normal cultural expressions. What we may see as a potentially frightening political expression is usually much more cultural. A lot of people who celebrate their identity with such enthusiasm couldn't give a shit about whether Québec should be an independent nation or not. They just love who they are and where they come from. And they like to celebrate it.

So when they take a look at anglophone Canada, they see a kind of cultural void. They don't see the quiet pride, the sometimes vehement (and sometimes prejudicial) dislike for the U.S., the small shared things that make us Canadian, the ability to instantly name any Canadian who has made his or her name in the U.S. Sure, we don't have much. But it's important to us and we are aware of it. Those Québécois who have spent time in the west recognize this, just as those anglophones who spend time in Québec recognize that celebrating Québec pride is valuable and important.

The solution is, again, that we need to spend more time together.

1 comment:

Christian Jarry said...

Been a while since I read your blog but I felt I had to applaud you for this.

There was a conversation about this whole issue on RPG.net a couple of years ago that derailed into nationalists being crypto facists and that bugged me so much that they couldn't understand an issue that simple.

I'm quite happy to see some people can take off their bias and analyse the situation as it really is. Thanks for showing me openness is still present Conan!