For most Americans, the phrase "Canadian Culture" provokes only laughter
and vague images of icy nature documentaries that we skip over on the daily ride
through the channels. For Metro Detroit residents, Canada is that strange and decadent
suburb where teenagers can drink, stripers take off all there clothes, and where
you can gamble away hundreds of "dollars" without feeling guilty - an American
would have to be pretty stupid to get upset about having less pink and blue money.
For Canadians, "Canadian Culture" seems to be anything that distinguishes
them from the United States - the way they say "about" for example, or...well...there
must be something else.
I decided to travel to Quebec, which is probably the heart of, if not the only
scrap of truly distinct Canadian culture, in order to find out first hand what Canadians
are talking about, and why Quebecers don't want to be Canadians.
There are very few drives that can surpass the absolute dullness of a drive from
Detroit to Montreal. Even Nebraska doesn't take 11 hours to drive across, and at
least there are mountains in the western part. The highlights of the trip were customs,
and a "Service Centre" outside of Toronto where my traveling companion,
Margaret, and I fell in love with the girl who sold us kiwis. Finally, we reached
Montreal and stayed at the first place that we were sure was a motel (the only place
with a sign in English).
Apparently, Cable TV in Montreal is fixed so that if you flip through the channels,
you only get French programming. In order to watch anything in English, you have
to manually press in the number. We watched Steven Segal speaking French for nearly
an hour before we figured out this secret. Of course, there wasn't much of anything
on any of the English stations either, because of strange Canadian laws that require
them to show Canadian programs (in order to preserve this mysterious culture of theirs).
The following morning we ventured into the downtown area, which was extremely
irritating because all of the signs are in French. We were looking for a certain
street, and nearly ended up on a bridge with the same name because we weren't aware
that this silly combination of letters on the sign meant "bridge". We finally
parked the car, and wandered around a street full of sex shops for a while. One store
was called "Sex Mac" - McDonalds could easily sell billions of those.
There is a strange phenomenon that occurs everytime two strangers meet, or anytime
you enter a restaurant in Montreal. Apparently, the east side of the city is French
speaking, but they also know English, and the west side is English speaking, and
they don't speak French. Upon meeting someone with whom you must talk, there is a
strange moment of silence, during which each party attempts to determine which language
will be spoken, and hopes that the other person will speak first. Eventually, the
waitress will say "BonJour", and you will reply with, "Hello".
The waitress will then know that you are not one of her kind, and will ask for your
order in English - despising you the whole time for being American - as any good
French person would.
It seems to me that what Canadians attempt to pass off as Canadian culture seems
to be borrowed from England, the US, and France. There is nothing wrong with this
- Canada is still a very young nation. I don't think any truly Canadian culture will
emerge until they stop being such a bunch of sissies. They need to have a civil war,
and Quebec needs to start it. After all, it wasn't until after the American Civil
War that we developed any independent culture. Canada won't have a war though - for
fear that the rest of the world would think they were imitating the U.S.
A carriage driver in Montreal told me that he hopes Quebec secedes, because he
likes disasters. I have a feeling that he will be disappointed when it happens. English
speaking Quebecers will move to Ontario when the laws that will require everyone
to speak French are passed. French speaking Quebecers will have their way, and won't
be able to act snotty to anyone. They will realize that their entire way of life
depends on having something around to say that they are not. (sound familiar, you
crazy "Generation Xers"?) Once Quebec is officially not part of Canada,
they will have to stop moaning, and act like a separate country. They don't have
much of anything to make them a distinct country, and will eventually resort to the
same sorts of ridiculous tactics that Canada currently employs in order to attempt
to create a distinct culture where there isn't one - such as laws requiring certain
amounts of Canadian programming.
Canada is still a country without an identity. In the U.S. we can only understand
the problem by applying it at a much smaller level. The relationship between Canada
and the U.S. is very much like the relationship between the oldest and the middle
child. Our younger brother to the south will be featured in a future article.