Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Vive le Quebec Libre!

Not sure this warrants epiphany classification, but I had one of those a-ha moments I so enjoy mulling. Your opinions, informed or otherwise, are encouraged – especially if I’m dissin’ your hometown.

I’ve lived in Vancouver since March 1992. That’s close to 15 years. I try to get home to Québec every year. After all this time, Québec, and Montréal specifically, still feel more like home than Vancouver.

I’ve thought long and hard about this for the last decade. Why it’s been that every trip to Québec since I left Québec, I’d arrive at Dorval/René Levesque airport and have that overwhelming sense of being in my place… of being home. And why Vancouver has never made me feel that way.

The language? Je suis Québecoise. Je suis fiere. But, I don’t think so, being an Anlgo who was raised in a family that had no love of the French language or culture. I was different from my folks (surprise!) and did become bilingual and do love the French culture, but the whole language politics drove me insane. (French must be the dominant language on all exterior signs… whatever! Depanneur… casse-croute… are there even English translations for these signed places?)

The architecture? Sure I love the brick and stone in la vielle ville, but that doesn’t explain why I feel like Montréal is home from the moment I step off the plane in that butt-ugly airport.

The air? Yes, I do feel my lungs fill more easily and more deeply in Montréal than in Vancouver. But I’ve always thought that was an emotional, rather than physical, response.

The landscape? Absolutely not. Even in autumn, when the leaves are at their most glorious in southern Québec, I still think Vancouver is geographically superior to la belle province.

Could it be that the people of Québec are the reason I’ve held on to this feeling that Montréal is my home, despite the fact that I’ve now lived in Vancouver for twice as many years as I lived on the island of Montréal?

The majority of my closest friends are still those I made when I was a Montréaler. I’ve often thought this may have to do with the age at which I made those friends – 18 through 25. Maybe making friends is harder after 25? But I don’t buy that.

My opinion: Montréalers are simply friendlier than Vancouverites.

I’m a friendly person. Friendly people, who smile at and talk to strangers, are looked upon with caution in this city. Friendly people, who smile and talk to strangers in Montréal are typically met with a return “Allo” or “Bonjour!” But why?

Today I think I figured it out part of the equation: extreme weather.

Montréal summers are unbearably hot and humid. People die as a result of the extreme heat. Montréal winters are unbearably frigid. People die as a result of the extreme cold. And those weather extremes, which Vancouver so rarely experiences, bring people together. Strangers share something in common that allows them to talk to each other on the street, on busses, in cafés… how the weather is impacting them.

And why this epiphany now? Because for the past several days my natural smiles and hellos to strangers I pass on the street are being met by more than just a head shrug. A lovely four-block conversation with an old Italian man, who has lived here for 55 years, and, despite the treacherous sidewalks, is still doing his daily walk… A three-minute grocery store conversation with a new Canadian who loves this unexpected weather and is glad to have a break from the rain… and countless openings to potential conversations with people I’ve passed on slippery sidewalks who have returned my hello with, “crazy weather, eh?” and “so this is global warming? Better do something about it!” and “cold enough for you?”

Cold? Maybe the air is. But I’ve never felt such warmth from the people of Vancouver in all the years I’ve lived here. Maybe if the snow stays long enough we’ll reach a tipping point and Vancouver will begin to feel as homey as Montréal…

10 Comments:

Anonymous Randy said...

I will undoubtedly get in shit for saying this, perhaps from you, definitely from others, but one of the statements you made about Vancouver ("My opinion: Montréalers are simply friendlier than Vancouverites.") struck a nerve.

I too am from 'back east', London, Ontario in my case, and I've lived on the west coast for more than 30 years - 1975 was my epiphany.

I travel a lot - nowhere near as much as I either want or need, but a lot. Invariably I get asked by people in the places I go to what Vancouver is like. It affords me the opportunity to launch into my glowing sales pitch for the Lower Mainland.

However, occasionally, I get asked the general questions... where's the nicest beach you've been to... the best restaurant in Italy... the warmest, friendliest people... that sort of thing. It's that last question that sometimes gets asked in reverse.

I've found myself on more than one occasion -- even in mixed Vancouver company -- saying that the most UNfriendly and aloof people I have ever encountered reside right here in Vancouver. There I said it.

Fact is, I personally know three people who have left Vancouver for precisely that reason. They love the city, the atmosphere, the location, everything. But there's this nagging little issue of the attitude of the people.

It's odd too, because for the first six years I lived here, everyone I met had moved here from somewhere else in Canada. Maybe that's illuminating in and of itself.

Yes, it's a gross generalization I know, but there it is nonetheless. As for those other Vancouverites who just happen to have be around when I've mentioned it... a lot of them agree that people in Vancouver just aren't as friendly as those from elsewhere across Canada.

So, not only will I neither argue with you nor challenge you on your comments about Quebeckers, I would expand it to include the rest of Canada.

November 29, 2006  
Anonymous SMM said...

I think perhaps part of like now is that we are creating places that are not pedestrian friendly and thus people only see each other while the float around in the "praised" automobile. Global warming and people cooling that could be the tipping point.

November 29, 2006  
Anonymous SMM said...

Good Lord...missing words, missing letters off of other words. My brain must of been only half up to the task of leaving a comment.
Excuse my lapse in skills.

November 29, 2006  
Blogger Massawippi said...

Rene Levesque? Are you sure you've been travelling to YUL?

We all know the real reason why Montreal feels like home...and it's not because of the friendly bus drivers...it's because they sell beer & wine at the corner store!

November 30, 2006  
Blogger Donna said...

Damn! Wrong dead french guy replacing wrong dead english guy landmark. Of course it was Dorchester who was replaced by Rene Levesque and Dorval was cast from collective memory by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I get my revisionist history all mixed up. Silly, moi! Estidecolistabernac!

November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah, so we're reserved.

Unfriendly we're not. We just don't want to get embroiled in your messy lives, all you imports-from-frozen-lands. We got all the lazy ones, the frail and weak who couldn't handle the heat or the weather, or those smug bastards who made millions and now want to 'retire' here instead of Arizona where all rich smug bastards should retire. We also get the lunatic fringe en masse.

So we view you with caution and are reluctant to engage. That's all. Once you've been vouched for we'll let you in the club, Rusty.

Actually, teasing aside, I too have wondered why it is that people complain about the unfriendliness of Vancouverites (check out Craigslist - it's a continuous rant). And I think it's the English Reserve and the Anglican propriety that founded the urban culture here. Reading local history you'll find that Vancouver hasn't changed in tone in over a 100 years.

But I'll also say, as a native Vancouverite, I don't find this city unfriendly at all. My neighbours all chat, I have conversations with strangers, I find meeting people easy.

And I acknowledge that both Toronto and Montreal (and Quebec City) are waaaay more chatty. The level of 'chat' was overwhelming - I personally found it to be way too much noise. Los Angeles and Reno are full roar - I've never heard so much chatter in my life ("I have a pretty blue dress""My library card is about to expire""We moved here when our dog became ill""Blah blah blah").

I like Montreal. I like Toronto. I like Paris. But Vancouver feels totally like home to me (actually the whole of this area from Portland, Seattle, Vancouver). I know these people, I know how they think, I know the dryness of their humour, I know when they're being bitchy and when they're just using their elbows to make room. I know how far and how fast you can go into their personal lives before they get uncomfortable.

Two more points: Montrealers are not friendly because they sell beer and wine at the depanneur, they sell beer and wine at the depanneur because they're friendly.

Being a pedestrian increases the amount of contact between people, true, but the reserve of Vancouverites goes beyond that. Even if we were all on foot we wouldn't be back-slapping each other and handing out invitations to our wedding to strangers.

Here's a question for everyone: Why do you choose to live in a place in which you don't feel home or a place in which you see people as unfriendly and aloof?

And, Randy, you are so in shit - at the next True Vancouverite meeting I'm bringing this up.

November 30, 2006  
Blogger Donna said...

Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I stay in Vancouver because, despite how hard I find it to meet new people (who are smart and interesting and funny), I do have a strong community here. Just that most of that community is comprised of old friends from Montreal.

November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

D, you also stay in Vancouver because the best of the best of your Mtl gang (save the ex. of course) are here.

December 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quebecers are one of the most unfriendliest people i ve met. if you dont speak french, dont even think abt making friends.

August 02, 2007  
Anonymous Hel said...

Anonymous must have a paranoid approach. Quebecers are the most friendly people by a long-shot(forget the busdrivers). They are more social which of course explains the intelligence. Being anti-sociale slows down your brain. Everyone in the West could use more socializing. I live in Alberta (Cold Lake) and the people here are the coldest people I've ever met anywhere. They have their little clubs and if you're not part of it you aren't spoken to. They are really good on taking from you though. Tried to get a contest going to bring some joy to this town and I didn't get one response. 2 weeks later someone had taken my idea and used it in another project. It's the 3rd time this happens. I know I have fans - the type who observe you from far and take claim to all your work. Weird folks. I miss Montreal too. Whether I know someone there or not, they are all family to me as soon as the plane lands. Funny thing though, even the french people here in Cold Lake are different-totally unfriendly and somewhat abusive.

February 03, 2008  

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