This is one of the many interesting comments I have read on montrealgazette.com :
2:44 PM on February 9, 2011
« The Quebec government has stopped the French population from learning English by denying them access to any public English education (not so for those that can afford private). Then they made sure to create a bloated civil service where tons of unilingual French people can find a job – no English required, no English hired. We pay them with our taxes and voilà, no need for English.
Only problem is that they are beginning to wake up and are realizing that there is a whole beautiful world out there and they are missing out on it. This 101 will backfire sooner or later. »
We are seen as closed on ourselves. Interesting. This is a good example of the simplistic and mistaken anglos’ view on quebecers. This view of us closed to the beautifull outside world has something funny to it. And I understand that this beautiful real outside world is the english world.
The question is interesting. I think we are open, let’s say connected, to our own world, to the english north american world, and to another world, the francophone world. And I think that total globalization is an illusion. To explore these questions, I will look at the immediate world surrounding me.
Québec has a modern exporting economy. We export 51% of our GDP. Our first trade partners are the USA. There must be someone here somehow connected to the outside world.
Perhaps the cultural univers could best illustrate my thoughts.
Connected to our own world
As a father of three, I sing to my daughters. Our songs. Many of these songs, Evangeline or Le Plus Beau Voyage for instance, tell about our country and about us.
Anglos quebecers sing to their children too, I wonder how many of those english songs simply name this land, Québec, Saint-Laurent, Anticosti, Ungava, Montreal, Manicouagan? Not songs that glorify Québec, not songs that tell about the Québec people, simply songs that refer to the territory where they live.
My daughters also hear Lady Gaga. But they are still too young to understand the lyrics. And when I hear « Rah rah ah-ah-ah! /Ro mah ro-mah-mah/Gaga Ooh-la-la!/Want your bad romance » I can’t help thinking that they don’t miss much. (But this is another discussion…)
I remember that my brother in law, anglo montrealer, once told me about the firt time he heard Leonard Cohen’s songs. He told me the feeling of realising that these songs where songs from his country, songs from his home town, songs from one of his own. It was an odd though to me since I have always heard songs from my homeland and from my people.
My daughters are connected to their own world, which I believe is a good start in life.
Connected to north american english world
We are also connected to north american english world.
Is there an american movie that we have not seen? Arnold, The Godfather, De Niro, Brad and Angelina, Spielberg, Apocalyspe Now, Forrest Gump, you name it. I have seen some of them in english, most of them in french. Speaking english is not even necessary to be connected to that north american culture since most of it is translated in most major international languages.
We also see british movies, Trainspoting was a big hit here, The Full Mounty too.
Not only spectators, we are active participants. You might have heard about Le Cirque du Soleil in Vegas (and about Céline Dion). Two of our movies have been nominated to the Oscars, Le Déclin de L’Empire Americain and Incendie. Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions Barbares even won an Oscar. If an english canadian movie ever wins an Oscar, we will see that movie just like anyone.
And besides the cultural univers, may I remind you that in the 1988 election, when Mulroney campained in favor of the free trade agreement, québecers strongly supported him (63 seats in Québec)? Québecers were more in favor of free trade than Ontarians (who feared among other things for the Autopact). In my view, favoring free trade is in some way being open to the outside world and it is in some way being self assured of our ability to compete…
I will not name the list of all american movies, TV shows or books that we know, the list would be endless, and you get the point, we are just as connected as you are to the north american world that surrounds us.
Connected to another world
We are also connected to another world : the french speaking world. French is spoken on all continents by roughly 200 millions persons. It is a language associated with elitism, culture and higher education.
Let’s look at cinema again. We see a lot of french movies. To us, Gérard Depardieu is un monstre sacré, but he is more or less unknown in America. To me, Audrey Tautou is as sexy as a woman can be. You might have seen her in The Da Vinci Code or on a Chanel no5 poster. I have seen her in movies such as Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, in Coco Avant Chanel, in L’Auberge Espagnol, etc.
Many french actors, writers or musicians are part of our cultural univers. We know Depardieu’s work just as much as you know Jack Nicholson’s.
There is more than France. There is Belgium. We all know Jacques Brel. Tintin, the comic book character who never had a great popularity in America, is a cultural icon in Québec.
And Tintin is not alone, Astérix and Obélix, Gaston Lagaffe, Achille Talon, the smurfs, Spirou and Fantasio are well known characters in Québec. You will find these comic books in any mainstream library, and on nearly every Québec family bookshelves . They are another link to France and Belgium.
There another part of the francophonie that is as huge as it is most often forgotten : west africa. We share with them the french language.
So when my sister in law teached in Africa for a year, she went to Senegal. Why Sengal and not Kenya? Because senegaleses speak french. If we spoke english, swedish or mohawk, there would be no interest from senegaleses to have teachers from Québec. The french language is a link. And why do they appreciate quebecers? Because we have no colonist past.
I look in my CD collection, there is Amadou et Maryam from Mali, Daby Touré from Mauritania, Salif Keita from Mali. Because my sister in law speaks french, she went to west africa, because she went to west africa she brought back west african music. So now, we often listen to west african music. The french language is a link to another world.
A few months ago, an african singer, Tiken Jah Fakoly, was interviewed at Tout le Monde en Parle (sunday night tv show, large audience, mainstream). In french, he told about his views on the situation of Africa and on its future. Interesting interview. I remember that I then though that, without the french language link, he would not have come to Québec and that it was interesting to hear his thoughts without the filter of translation.
There has even been interesting cases of crossing of québécoise and african music. The Diouf brothers from senegal joined Les Colocs. Now, in our music, there are french-wolof song, for instance Paysage. Let alone its musical qualities, this song is very interesting, its as québécois as a song can be, a part of the lyric is in wolof and most of the french lyrics were written by Charles Beaudelaire (french poet 1821-1867). This song blends Québec, France, Senegal. Wow. So many links. From Les Colocs and the Diouf brothers, there is also Tassez-Vous de D’là, a song half french half wolof. You will say that I am an elitist music connaisseur, well, Tassez Vous de D’là was elected song of the year in 1997. That qualifies as music that everyone knows.
There is another example that I find interesting : the hit song Alors On Danse. The case is interesting because I have some quantified figures about it. You will notice that the video on YouTube has been viewed more than 25 millions times, wich qualifies as a large audience. Stromae (Alors On Danse), born in 1985, Rwandese father, Belgian mother, lives in Belgian.
The song was a hit in Québec in 2009. It has also been number 1 on billboards in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Greece, Germany, Austria, Netherland, Danemark, Tchecoslovaquia, Italia, Luxembourg, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Rumania, Turkish and Slovenia. It was number 1 in Europe, and number 6 for the whole world. It made top 5 in Québec (I could not find the exact position.)
Interestingly, it only reached 27th in united Kingdom and 49th in United States. So, musicaly speaking in this instance, there is another world that you, in your american media bubble, ignore. Québec seems more aware of it, more connected.
When I was in high school, student exchanges were organized. I went to Ontario for a week and to Manitoba for a week. Nice experience.
I now look at the generation of my daughters and of my cousin’s children. One was involved in a student exchange in France, another spent Easter in New York with her school (grade 5). One studied for a year in Hungaria. One is coming back from a few days in Boston. It seems that there is no more student exchanges with english Canada. I just met a teenager leaving for a year of study in Spain.
Wich reminds me a quote from a recent André Pratte’s column : « They (Quebecers) travel all over the world to study, work and visit but have never found a reason to go to Toronto or Vancouver, let alone St. John’s or Regina. »
I live near Québec university Laval. One cannot not notice that there is in this part of town a lot of black people. What are they doing here? Most of them are west africans coming here to study. They come here to study in french. Let’s say Québec was unilingualy english. Would so many froreign students come to study here? Would they want to study in english, would they not go to Toronto, London, New York, I don’t know? We would not be first in the « market » of english education, the « market » of french education is some sort of niche market for us.
Ms Poddridge44, there is indeed a whole beautiful world out there. If you hold my hand and follow me, and can show you a part of it…
So, we are connected to our land, to North America and to vast network of french speaking countries and cultures, but I can’t name one norvegian writer, not one chinese singer, I know almost nothing of german cinema. As I said in the beginning, total globalization is an illusion. The real outside world is far more vast than you imagine.
Ironicaly, Ms Poddridge wishes that we open to the outside world, but the more we open to it, to more driven to independance we are. Because of globalization, important economic decisions are taken at the WTO, important discussions take place at UNESCO, at UN and so on. More and more of us think that we should speak in our own name in these international forums.
« La souveraineté telle que nous la concevons est le contraire du repli sur soi » (Jacques Parizeau)