How to tell if you're from Quebec
by Valerie Bourdeau
To my delight, we now have a counterpart to the (English) Canadian culture test.
Valerie is a Quebec native who flew to Ft Lauderdale with a gaggle of
snowbirds and elected to stay there. She married an Anglo and is now fully
assimilated, or possibly working as a double agent for the Oui forces.
If you're Québecois..
Poutine and Ragoût de Pattes de Cochon
- You're not French, and you most likely do not identify primarily as a Canadian, regardless of your opinion on sovereignty. You're distinctly Québécois. However, for the purpose of this document, French means French-Canadian, and English means the rest of Canada, unless specified otherwise. Anglo also means Canadian who speaks English. All clear? Let's continue.
- You're familiar with a large group of French celebrities who, when they attain a certain level of fame, are treated almost like family. You know Marc Labrèche, Claire Lamarche, Guy Mongrain, the old RBO, Macha Grenon, Marina Orsini, Véronique Cloutier, Richard Séguin, Robert Charlebois, Paul Piché and many many others and keep up with their upcoming projects and personal affairs in celebrity magazines like 7 Jours.
- You really don't care about the queen, and don't consider her relevant, unless you were alive when she was crowned in which case you might feel a twinge of vague loyalty.
- You know the words to the national anthem in French because they teach it in school, but you don't find yourself singing it very often unless you're a sports fan. You might know some of the words in English too.
- Hockey is way more than a hobby, it's a religion. Other professional sports don't have much of a following, as we've seen with the Expos. You enthusiastically cheer on amateur Québécois athletes in international competitions, which are followed more assiduously than in the US or the rest of Canada.
- You mostly get your news and information from French newspapers and TV. RDI is a 24-hour news channel, the French equivalent of CNN.
- If you are religious, you are probably a non-practicing Catholic. The Catholic church used to have a strong influence politically and socially, practically controlling the province, but that's not true since the Révolution Tranquille in the 60s which brought separation of church and state.
Oui and Non and Other Political Headaches
- You don't consider insects, dogs and cats to be food, but snails are, as are pigs feet.
- McDonald's and other fast food places are everywhere, and are considered cheap and unhealthy. Poutine is found in every fast food restaurant and subject to many baroque variations. You mostly shop in supermarkets, but open-air markets and specialty shops are also popular.
- Traditional Québec cuisine is rustic and sticks to the ribs. Poutine, tourtiere (meat pie), ragoût de pattes de cochon (pigs feet stew), oreilles de christ (deep-fried salted pork fat yum) and maple syrup are familiar dishes that are usually only eaten around the holidays or on a trip to the cabane à sucre (where they make the maple syrup, dontcha know).
- Mustard comes in jars or squeezable bottles. Shaving cream comes in aerosol cans. Milk comes in plastic jugs, Tetrapaks or bags. Every package is printed in both French and English thanks to Bill 101.
- You like bacon crisp, and back/Canadian bacon is called ham.
- You probably have cable TV, a phone that works, indoor plumbing and other amenities common to industrialized societies. Utility companies used to be public, then privately owned but subject to government rules, and now they are working towards complete deregulation.
- Bathrooms have toilets in them, and most likely a bath or at least a shower. You don't have a dirt floor, and you eat at a table, sitting on a chair. Your place might not have AC, but it is heated in the winter.
- You get at least two weeks of vacation a year, and a quarter of the working population opts to take the last two weeks of July, a period called vacances de la construction because it is one of the working conditions construction workers are entitled to since the 70s. You like to be around other Québécois when on vacation, especially in foreign countries, so you tend to hang out in Québec ghettos in places like Hollywood FL and Old Orchard ME.
- Public transit in big cities is very good. If you live in Montreal, you don't need a car at all. Cabs, buses, Metro (subway) and a great network of bike paths get you anywhere you need to be. Planes and trains will take you anywhere in the country faster than driving.
- Almost every store (even the tiny convenience stores called dépanneurs) accept ATM cards. With an extensive ATM network, direct deposit and online banking, you can now go years without having to write a cheque.
A Distinct Society...
- There are two levels of government that matters: provincial and federal. Both follow the Westminster (British) model of government. It's a multi-party systems on every level, but only the major parties (Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Bloc Québécois) ever get elected. At the head is the Prime Minister of Canada, and there is a prime minister for each province.
- You have a firm opinion on the sovereignty debate, reduced to Oui and Non camps (the question is "Do you want to separate from Canada?"). You like to discuss it at great length. Regardless of where you stand, you probably agree that Québec is a distinct society that deserves protection from assimilation. You may have some hostility towards Anglos, but most likely it is more out of concern for your own interests than out of real resentment, despite inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the issue. You follow the debate closely, especially around referendum time.
- You don't consider yourself a socialist, and definitely not a communist, however you enjoy socialized health care despite all the problems inherent in the system. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases... except perhaps if you're a Native living on a reserve. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be sad.
- You find taxes ridiculously high and a sales tax of 15% is way too much. Tax time is a pain because you have to file with both federal and provincial government, unlike the rest of the country. With an important health care crisis and budget cuts in education and every other major public service, you wonder where the money is going.
- Outside of major urban centers, the population is mostly white and speaks French. You probably don't consider yourself racist but you may be ignorant of other cultures. Multiculturalism is a big city thing. The Natives are regarded with animosity and perceived as lower-class citizens-- smugglers and drunks with undeserved perks from the government.
- You speak French, at home, at work and at school, but you're bilingual or you at least know a little English because it's a requirement for most jobs. You may resent the rest of Canada for not making as great an effort to learn French.
- French spoken in Québec is different from French from Europe, with distinct local expressions and accents. Pushed to the rural extreme, Québec French is called joual and is almost completely unintelligible to Europeans.
- School is free through high school, unless you go to private school. Colleges and universities are subsidized by the government, but they're by no means free (tuition can be up to $5000 a year). You can get a scholarship, but only an academic one, not for athletics.
- After high school and before entering university, most students spend two years in a CEGEP earning a Diplôme d'Études Collégiales (similar to an undergraduate degree) and getting the partying out of their systems.
- University is three-four years long depending on the program, excluding graduate studies.
- You'd be hard pressed to name the capitals or the leaders of all the nations of Europe. You can name all the provinces and place them in the right spot on one of those puzzle maps, but you might not remember all the capitals. And where in frozen hell is Nunavut?
- Dates are in the DD/MM/YY format. The decimal point is a comma. In official documents, the 24-hour system is used, 7 PM is 19:00, but in practice you use the 12-hour system. A billion has 12 zeros, 9 zeros is a milliard. You use metric mostly, except for height where feet and inches are the standard. Temperature is measured in degrees Celsius.
... With a Distinct Culture
- You may be interested in international politics, but local politics are more relevant to you. You are more interested in what Bernard Landry is doing than in what's going on in the U.S. In general, you do not wish to get involved in wars that do not directly concern you, and you have a proud history of fighting conscription.
- You may observe Remembrance Day, but to a lesser extent than Anglos. The red poppies sure are pretty, although you might not know why they were chosen as a symbol.
- You expect marriages to be made for love; arranged marriages are unheard of. You can get married by a justice of the peace, but you will probably choose to get married at a Catholic church. Of course, a man can only take one wife at a time. Divorce is unfortunately common.
- A person who has sex with another person of the same gender is considered a homosexual. Gay couples are entitled to the same benefits as unmarried heterosexual couples (common law unions). You may be prejudiced towards homosexuals, but you do not wish to deny them basic rights.
- Tutoiement (informal second person singular, accompanied by calling people by their first name) is usually the rule when meeting people of any age, at school and in the business world. However, the elderly, authority figures and other people deserving of more respect get the formal treatment (vouvoiement, second person plural and use of title and last name)
- Women have a right to be topless in public, but it's a purely symbolic perk.
- You think of the U.S. as a powerful neighbour with a lot of money, but rather ignorant about Canada and generally the outside world. You despise American tourists and find them rude and condescending.
- You're not too aware of American politics, and know little about their history. You cheerfully go to vacation to Cuba, and are surprised when you learn of the embargo.
- You think of Europeans as being more civilized than Americans or even Canadians in some ways. You still identify somewhat with France, although grudgingly.
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns. They are trusted, but often ridiculed as fat mustachioed doughnut eaters.
- If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
- The biggest meal of the day is in the evening.
- The people that you most often hear jokes about are the Newfies. In a torn country, it's nice to see such unity in the choice of laughing stock.
- There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night, but crime is fairly low and you feel safe almost everywhere.
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children.
- You've left a message at the beep, and used email.
- Taxis are generally operated by immigrants, mostly from Haiti. You wish they knew the city better.
- You think that welfare and unemployment payments are a good idea, but you think that a lot of people abuse the system. Welfare recipients, called BS (for Bien-Être Social, a derogative term) are often seen as lazy and a burden on society.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor's first, and years and years of training. There sure are a lot of lawyers. They wear robes in courts, no wigs though. Professionals are worthy of respect, even lawyers.
Space and time
- Québec TV culture is immensely popular, if not cult-like. You watch all the téléromans (high-quality dramatic miniseries usually only lasting one season) with passion. You love sitcoms and comedy programming, and support the hundreds of local stand-up comics and comedians when they tour the province. You have watched Les Filles de Caleb, Lance et Compte, La Petite Vie, Chambre en Ville, Scoop and you never miss the Bye Bye on New Year's Eve. There are French news programs, talk shows and many wonderful children programs.
- American movies are dubbed in Québec. Many Québécois have never heard Tom Cruise's real voice. If your English is good, however, you prefer to see the original version. You see every French movie, and many of the imports from France.
- Best-selling American books are translated into French, often not very well. In school, you have studied all the great Québec authors such as Michel Tremblay, Félix Leclerc, Yves Beauchemin and Gabrielle Roy.
- When it comes to music, radio stations play all the most popular American bands as well as all the local stars. You know Bryan Adams, Shanya Twain, Ashley McIsaac, Alanis Morissette and other Canadian bands, but you might mistake them for Americans. You know all the classic Québec stars like Céline Dion, René and Nathalie Simard, Ginette Reno, and Jean-Pierre Ferland, although you might think they are quétaines (kitsch) and you listen to the current French pop and rock. You also know the most famous stars from France.
- Ballet is highbrow entertainment, but local theater is very popular, especially in urban centers. You have probably seen some plays by Québéc authors. At the very least you've seen Broue, a cult play reminescent of the American sitcom Cheers that has been running since the late 70s. Théatre d'été (summer theater, usually lighthearted comedies running in smaller venues) is also popular.
- You are vaguely aware of an Anglo culture, but you are more familiar with American products. Even then, your exposure to English media is limited unless your English is very good.
- Regardless of your political leanings, you love those Heritage Minutes. They were remade in French, and they even added new ones!
- You love comics, which you call bandes dessinées or BDs. You are familiar with Lucky Luke, Astérix, Mafalda, Gotlib and Tintin. Local comic artists usually draw for humor magazines such as Safarir.
- Christmas is in the winter. You spend it with your family, give presents, and put up a tree, even if you're not Christian. You also probably eat a traditional meal.
- Action de Grâce, or Thanksgiving, is on the second Monday of October. It is not celebrated in Québec like it is in the rest of Canada.
- The day for fireworks, bonfires and parades is June 24 (Fête Nationale du Québec, also known as La St-Jean Baptiste). You get some good ones on July 1st too for Canada Day. In some cities, there are fireworks on New Year's Eve. You can catch incredible fireworks every week all summer at La Ronde, in Montreal, for the Benson and Hedges fireworks competition. If you live in Montreal, it is likely that you watch them every week from your balcony.
- If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's fifteen minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable. You get more leeway in the winter, however.
- If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet. Maybe three feet would be better. However, kissing on both cheeks when you meet or leave someone you know well, family or not, is custom, especially for women.
- About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, antiques, and produce sold in open markets. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.
- Once you're past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place. People have to invite each other over-- especially if a meal is involved.
- When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it's only good business to 'play hardball'. Some foreigners pay excessive attention to status, or don't say what they mean, and that's exasperating. You tend to be more familiar and friendly in business than Anglos.
- If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than an hour or so.