“Je suis Québécoise, pas Canadienne!”

2017 – Canada’s 150th anniversary! When I first got to Canada this summer, I travelled the West Coast, and I was very much aware of the fact that Canada was celebrating its 150th anniversary. For me as a traveler this meant free entries to National Parks, several celebrations throughout the year and heaps of special offers. The Canadians I met, stayed with and travelled with celebrated the anniversary and it was often the topic of our conversations.

All of that changed when I got to Quebec. Even though I would still find the “Canada 150” sign in the tourist areas, the Quebecois didn’t seem to be aware of it – my Quebec flat mate even asked me how many years Canada was celebrating. I was slowly growing aware of the fact that many Quebecois didn’t identify themselves with Canada, but rather with Quebec. To me, this was quite peculiar. I was not able to grasp the idea of how they didn’t really feel part of their country, but rather as belonging to their province.

As the semester went on, so did these types of encounters, and so did I slowly begin to grasp the idea of being a “Québécois”: I noticed that my flat mate was not the only Quebecois who didn’t know what anniversary Canada was celebrating. I learned that whereas many Canadians from other provinces travelled to Ottawa for Canada Day to celebrate the big anniversary, Quebecois barely celebrate July 1st, no matter how big the anniversary, but rather perceive it as an additional holiday which many people make use of to move house. And finally, I started realizing that I barely see any Canadian flags in the streets – as I did in western Canada – but mostly Quebec flags. My final “confirmation” that many people here identify themselves with Quebec rather than with Canada was a questionnaire that my project group distributed as part of an experiment. In the “personal information part”, one girl wrote down “Québécoise” when asked for her nationality.
Finally, what is probably one of the biggest parts of the Quebec identity is their language. Whereas the majority of the country speaks English, Quebec forms the French minority. However, not only do they differ from the rest of the Canada, but also from the European French speaking community, as Quebec French is very distinct from European French, another factor which influences the Quebec identity as being “different from the others”. This difference even goes to the point that “The Simpsons” here do not speak European French, but are actually dubbed in Quebec French.

How did I start to grasp the idea of a Quebec identity? This mostly happened through conversation with my Quebec friends

here. I started to realize how proud they are of their language, of their culture, of their province and of its history. It was also by learning about this history of Quebec that all of this slowly started making sense. Whereas Canada might celebrate 150 years as a country, Quebec City celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008 and Montreal is celebrating its 375 years this year. Thus, it is not surprising that the Quebecois couldn’t care less about Canada’s 150th anniversary. I further got to grasp the Quebec identity through listening to their music. Whereas in other provinces, one would find “mainstream” (American) music on the radio, in Quebec, one needs to search for a station like this, as most stations broadcast local Quebec music, a further addition to Quebec’s rich culture. Another thing that helped me understand this phenomenon was by talking to other international students and hearing about other places in the world where this is similar, such as in Catalonia or in Northern Italy. Finally, during my travels in Eastern Canada in October, I found another similar community, namely the Acadians, which live for example in New Brunswick: Not only do they speak French, too, but also would one barely see a Canada flag there, but rather an Acadian one.

I suppose learning about this helped me once again focus on the individuals rather than on the whole (stereotyped) picture. Not all Canadians are the same, not all Quebecois are the same, just like not all of us Swiss are the same. We are often tempted to look at the whole image and perceive all people of the same nationality as “the same”. However, by speaking to people and learning about their history, their culture and their perceptions of self we finally look beyond and start to really understand the community as a whole as well as to get to know the individuals which are part of this community. Finally, I can say that I understand the Quebec identity (and that I did proudly hang up a Quebec flag in my room now, whereas the Canada flag is in my drawer, patiently waiting to be used).

Tamara von Rotz

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