Sunday, May 20, 2007

Montreal

If I were to make a list of all the things that I love about Montréal and all the things that bother me which one would be longer? Some of the things that bother me about Montréal are the same things that bother me about Canada in general so does that count? Montréal is an incredible city, but often I find the language and culture issues a little ridiculous and I find that it creates a repressive atmosphere in which people seem scared to mingle. I asked a girl last night who moved here two years ago from BC what she likes about Québec and instead she told me what she doesn't like. She said that she finds French Canadians in general very racist, particularly towards First Nations people and asian Canadians. I found that very interesting because it also reflects my experience here, that I found many of the people I met to be more xenophobic than racist but when it is combined with the nationalistic sentiment that was so strong when I lived here (1990-1996) it makes for a scary atmosphere. After the 1995 Québec referendum on sovereignty was defeated the Parti Québecois leader, Jacques Parizeau said (but in french, of course) "It is true, it is true that we were beaten, but in the end, by what? By money and ethnic votes, essentially." He resigned as PQ leader and Québec Premier the next day. The Québec aboriginals played a large part in defeating the referendum as well, with over 95% of the Crees who voted voting against Québec sovereignty because it would violate international law and their treaties with Canada.

I'm not trying to say that all the French Québecois think the same way but I know and have heard from many people who have come here that when it comes to French language politics and social interaction, you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. The girl I spoke to last night said that when she makes an effort to speak French that people will often just respond to her in English, which makes it additionally difficult to learn the language, or they will react as though she is being rude in making the assumption that they don't speak English. So isn't the easiest thing just to try and communicate, regardless of what language is being spoken?

I've already managed to offend at least one French Canadian with my take on the language used in Québec. I guess that's inevitable when there is so much emotion wrapped up in this issue, but for the sake of that particular argument I'm just going to say that I will take the language concerns in Québec more seriously when everyone here learn to speak Cree (or Innu or Mi'kmaq).

Someone said to me that the nationalistic sentiment here is not an issue of language, but rather a class issue. I believe that there is truth in that and that people who have been oppressed are likely to oppress others so understanding is crucial in our relationships and really, it wouldn't hurt to maintain a sense of humour too, because when it comes down to it doesn't it seem kind of funny to get emotionally wrapped up in this stuff when there is so much other injustice in our world?

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