Afterthoughts: Montreal and La Nouvelle-France
It’s a shame most Americans see Quebec as “just another part of Canada.”
Quebec doesn’t feel anything like Canada. Sure, on first impression I made the same mistake, but my views changed rapidly while living in Montreal. The more I learned about local history and culture, the more I became confused over why Quebec was still part of Canada.
Why hasn’t it declare independence?
Of course, there’s benefits to unified masses of diverse people, but there’s a profound difference between the Quebecois mentality and the Canadian-American/Anglophone way of life. Le Refus Global, the Quiet Revolution, and the Quebec Referendums are all signs of deep cultural and political activism - something seemingly unnatural to docile Canadians. I say docile for many reasons, but mainly because Canada is the only rich country I’ve ever visited with limited internet access. (Even Guatemala is free of bandwidth caps!!! Shame on you!)
The Quebecois are not sheep. They get mad, protest, and then make their own rules to fit their own way of life. They have the best health care in Canada. They allow anarchists to live independently of the government. They have well-reasoned, intellectual discourse in cafes and on the radio.
Also, they consider new ideas. (gasp!)
In the spring, Quebec voted overwhelmingly against Harper (sacrificing it’s own political party, the Bloc Quebecois, in the process) as the rest of Canada marched one step closer to doom by re-electing him and giving his party majority rule.
Quebec is definitely not Canada.
It’s also not France. It’s something distinctly in between. Something to be proud of, I would say.
Quebec has it’s own culture and economy. It produces more films, music and literature than all other provinces combined. Also, I noticed a large variety of products in city stores baring little “Produced in Quebec” stickers. Everything from fine cheeses to T-shirts and shoes.
As Canada’s second largest economy, Quebec could easily be it’s own country. It even has popular tourist attractions like Charlevoix and Gaspesie. Considering all these differences and advantages, I was surprised Quebec hadn’t already declared independence … but I guess that’s a long, complicated story or something …
Either way, I had a great time in Montreal. There were just enough crazy people roaming the streets to keep me sane and the cheap rent was marvelous after living in Brooklyn. Beer prices could’ve been lower, but, then again, the drunks pay their fair share for public services in Quebec.
Though terribly cold in the winter, the residents are what makes Montreal pleasant year-round. From dirty Centre-Sud gutter punks to over-educated Plateau bobos, I enjoyed meeting all the locals.
They were good people.
Most importantly, Quebecois did what the French never could: they made me want to learn their language. Overall, I found Quebecois to be more optimistic and open-minded than their European ancestors. They smiled and made me want to talk to them, while Parisians simply made me want to run away.
I didn’t feel like I was living Canada at any point during my six months in Montreal. It felt more like a liberal-progressive island lost in a vast sea of conservative anglophone diplomacy. (U.S. included.)
I watched happily as garbage trucks collected compost door-to-door in Le Plateau Mont-Royal. I laid down smiling in Parc Lafontaine on grass without chemical pesticides or herbicides. I was cheerfully injected with three vaccines for a quarter of what they cost in the U.S. and gladly paid for them without health insurance (or waiting in line). And I accidentally stumbled into a million free street festivals throughout the summer simply because, hey, people have to enjoy themselves sometimes.
But I was a bad tourist. I didn’t see or do much in Montreal. Nor could I speak to many people. In reality, I felt like my experience was limited by language barriers. I couldn’t penetrate the culture. When I told this to a friend he said:
“Well, I guess that’s our culture. We spent so many years fighting with the British that if you speak English we don’t really let you in.”
What can you do?
Regardless, I enjoyed myself. More than anything, when I look back at Montreal, I can’t help but wonder if Quebec is a small remnant of everything North America could have been …
… the lost Nouvelle-France.
© Diego Cupolo 2011