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After four months in Québec, I’ve apparently managed to avoid the worst two weeks of the winter by going back to France, to enjoy moody but warm weather, indecent quantities of good food (if only I could bring some of that runny Corsican cheese back to Canada), the lovely home my boyfriend took all december making perfect for us, and family reunions. And since it’s been four months and Québec is, after all, a legendary country as far as the French are concerned:

What French people think of Québec

It’s full of French people: either that one is true or they all happen to take the same bus line I take. I seem to hear French accents almost as often as Québec accents. (I’m afraid, too, that lots of French people in Québec seem to be doing their French thing and making fun of the accent and idioms in front of locals… French people are jerks about that at home too, but that’s no excuse)

People are always nice and polite: I’m very sceptical about the idea that people in some places are generally nicer than in others (humans all over the world need social contact, after all), but they do seem to be different ways of interacting with strangers, at least if I can draw conclusions from living in three different countries. And when you’re coming from South France, the Québec way is incredibly pleasant. People say hello. They politely give you information when you ask politely. The rudest a bus driver has been with me so far has been refusing to let me get on just after he’d left the stop; and frankly, when the worst people do is refusing to go out of their way to do a favour when they’re working, it’s a big change. And they don’t use their car horn every five minutes! And even when they swear they don’t resort to sexist and homophobic insults! Lovely country, I say. Having particularly nice colleagues at the lab also helps.

It’s cold: yes it is. Fairly self-explanatory, this one.

It’s pretty much like France, only in North America: before I left, lots of people were saying things like, ‘And they speak French over there, it won’t be a big change for you’, or otherwise seemed to believe that there would not be many differences with my homeland. That one is very, very far from the truth. I must have mentioned somewhere that even though there’s this myth about ‘the Western civilisation’ being something vaguely unified and separated from the rest of the world, I felt farther from home in Washington than I did in Tunis. In many ways, Québec seems less foreign to me than the USA (though that has little to do with the language; at first I had as much trouble with the Québec accent as with American English). I’ve met people who were less obsessed by work, taking the bus or staying in hostels doesn’t seem to represent social degradation, health insurance is not a concern. But compared to France, it’s also a country where physical distances are a big obstacle as soon as you can’t drive; where the environment is taken as a kind of unlimited, disposable resource; where the hierarchy between employee and client is palpable; where companies have the power to impose nuisances like hidden food additives, constant advertisement or sky-high Internet prices without the government putting their foot down. At least that’s my first impression after four months; I might realise later I was utterly wrong.

There’s something slightly absurd to comparing countries: any functional society is a balance of different things, not a recipe where you could suggest adding a pinch of this and removing a spoonful of that, and eventually, all comparisons are only meaningful to the person who makes them, so I won’t go there. I just hope the rest of the year in Québec will be as good as the beginning.

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