Friday, October 22, 2004

À Mort le Canada!

I have encountered very little negativity towards the english here in Montréal and none directed towards me personally. It's around but very subtle. I'm sure things are different in other parts of the province and in other districts, particularily farther east, of the city.

You do see some graffiti every now and then. It was a bit of a surprise to see the one above. It's part of a long wall of really cool graffiti that divides a bunch of condos from the railroad tracks. There is certainly a lot of low-level antagonism towards the government, but one (at least one in the west) doesn't tend to think of Canada as this evil oppressor for whom one wishes death. I think the typical english canadian response to seeing this might be "oh well that might be taking things a bit far there, eh?"

Even crazier, in the Rosemount district this spring, around the time of the federal election, someone had put a large sheet outside the front of their house with the words "I'd rather be under the rule of the United States than subject to the Canadian Government" or words to that effect. For many Canadians, that would be a fate worse than death! I seriously considered knocking on their door and trying to explain to them how good they had it. My french was definitely not up to it at the time and I didn't want to get locked into the trunk of a car. But I stood outside the house for a few minutes, marvelling at the sentiment. What combination of ignorance and bad experience caused such a level of resentment in someone who had a beautiful house in a beautiful neighbourhood in one of the wealthiest and most comfortable countries in the world?

People will reveal their political positions, though they are rarely aggressive or offensive. My landlord was doing some repairs in the backyard. I went back there to ask him a french question. He happened to be talking to our neigbour to the north (not the one getting smoked out, but another yuppie). My question was "on dit j'habite à Canada ou au Canada?" [Do you say I live in Canada using à or au?]. We had a brief discussion about this (it's "au Canada"), using other examples, like "J'habite à Montréal." Then my neighbour said, "Premier, on habite au Québec alors au Canada" and gave a firm little smile. This translates to "First you live in Quebec, then in Canada" which I took to mean that in her mind the primary political and cultural entity that she inhabited was Québec, that basically she was Queboise before Canadian. And she was suggesting that since I am here in Quebec, I should also think the same way.

I didn't get her gist until I was back in the house because I was still trying to keep all the prepositions straight in my head. But I actually don't agree with her position at all. I'm glad I didn't figure it out quickly enough to say anything because my french is not good enough that I could have done it in a diplomatic way. I do sympathize with her position, but I think it is based on the same emotions that drive someone in Surrey or Windsor to think that French-Canadians get all kinds of special treatment. I think we should be Canadian first, with our regional cultures a very, very close second. They should be important and recognized, but they should not rise above our national consciousness as united Canadians.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hehe I LOVE Canada and her institutions but I have the same distain for nationalism that you have for Quebec regionalism. We should see ourselves as citizens of humanity first, and in a better world perhaps we should only identify ourselves as Canadians regionally, not politically. (gives that same evil lil smile of ze neighbour) =)