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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

The Risks of Being Obvious in Quebec 

McGill professor was kicked out from his job for publishing an opinion article that stated something painfully obvious:

Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted.

I love Quebec a lot more than any other part of the country that I’ve been to, but the fellow is 100% right. And even if he weren’t, what does an opinion piece in MacLean’s have to do with his capacity to do his job? If you are fortunate enough to have a professor who is capable of speaking to a larger audience than a dozen of narrowly specialized colleagues, then you have got to cherish such a person.

The culture of Quebec is a great, beautiful culture that needs to be preserved. As all cultures, it has its dark side, so what? Since when is it a crime to point that out? 

The fired prof is absolutely right when he says that Quebecois society is atomized and many people are extremely lonely. This is a culture that is open to accepting immigrants but stinks at connecting to us on a human level. These are all consequences of a beleaguered mentality of a culture that is afraid of being ingested by the enormously powerful Anglophone world that surrounds it. The result, however, is self-defeating. Immigrants who arrive with a great interest in the Francophone culture of Quebec realize that if they are to have any friends, they have to speak English.

Instead of silencing these discussions in such a nasty way, the administration of McGill should encourage them and stay strong against fake outrage of the perennially offended.

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19 thoughts on “The Risks of Being Obvious in Quebec 

  1. I read the original article he wrote, and honestly it seems pretty benign. It’s not the most scintillating piece of writing ever produced, but I don’t see that it’s worth anyone losing their job over it.

    Those poor people stranded on the freeway — that was some serious government fuckup — obviously things are dysfunctional, but I suppose one’s not supposed to say that out loud? Or, more specifically, in print?

    Btw, everything he wrote would hold for a majority of the countries in Europe, and worse. It’s mostly the protestant anglophone North Americans who are jolly, volunteering, neighborhood-community participants.

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  2. “Andrew Potter has resigned as director of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada”

    When you do your job badly (promoting Canadian nationalism), it’s normal to lose it.

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  3. “Instead of silencing these discussions in such a nasty way, the administration of McGill should encourage them and stay strong against fake outrage of the perennially offended.”

    The administration of McGill has nothing to do with this decision.

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  4. “Immigrants who arrive with a great interest in the Francophone culture of Quebec realize that if they are to have any friends, they have to speak English.”

    I should move to Montreal, since it’s way more easy for me to connect to immigrants than to White Québécois. (and this is not the only reason to move)

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  5. “Immigrants who arrive with a great interest in the Francophone culture of Quebec realize that if they are to have any friends, they have to speak English.”

    I really doubt all that is true. Usually “unfriendly” is a secondary rationalization after the decision to disengage from the local (low prestige) language has been made.
    No one stops trying to learn English because the British are unfriendly (and they very much are).

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    • I was talking about myself here. I’d been learning French since I was 12. I was so proud of my French when I came to Quebec and so eager to speak it. This enthusiasm was dead after a few months and I learned Spanish instead.

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      • Is it like with the French, where they won’t talk to you unless your French is absolutely flawless? I’ve also had similar encounters with Germans, who won’t entertain less-than-perfect spoken German (even though their English is nothing to write home about, either).

        There should be some classification of countries based on how a$$holish the natives are to the immigrants or visitors trying to speak the local language. My country of origin, as f&cked up as it is, is exceedingly welcoming to any and all attempts at speaking the local language. If you show any effort to speak the language and are not opposed to booze and food, you will make friends in no time.

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        • Yes, exactly. Whenever I tried to order in French at a restaurant, for instance, the waiter would call other waiters to come and listen to my ridiculous accent. And it honestly wasn’t that bad of an accent. But even if it had been, that’s not a reason to publicly ridicule a person.

          It would literally go on and on while I’d wait for my food but wouldn’t get any until everybody had their fill of fun at my expense.

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          • ” listen to my ridiculous accent”

            That sounds to me like an intitiation ritual. Quebecois are kind of unique in that there’s no safe language for them to speak. The French traditionally despise their French and Canadian Anglophones make fun of their English.

            Having their language made fun of is the quintessential Quebecois experience and they’re probably hestitant to take on newcomers that can’t take the heat.

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  6. “There should be some classification of countries based on how a$$holish the natives are to the immigrants or visitors trying to speak the local language”

    IME (maybe not typical)

    least nice: Hungarian. Many people are nice and wonderful at foreigners trying to speak Hungarian but there is also a (relatively) high number of people who seem to regard those speaking imperfect Hungarian as morally reprehensible idiots. Immigrants are mixed (buying things from Vietnamese shopkeepers is often a chore but livened with many smiles, Chinese are a little more likely to shake their heads at your dumbness).

    nicest: Romanian, even in the capital people bend over backwards to speak clearly and encourage you. By the second day I was starting to understand bits and pieces of overheard conversations (Spanish and some other romance experience helped a huge amount).

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