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Canada and its distinct societies (and La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini)

Categories: Alain Giguère

Posted on 06-26-17 at 2:27 p.m.

Quebecers and English Canadians still have very different priorities in life!

I thought it appropriate during this week between our two national holidays-Quebec's Fête nationale and Canada Day-to search our databases for indicators of the differences between Quebecers and Canadians from the other provinces.

It is fashionable to call Quebec a distinct society. But English Canada is one too, with its cultural heritage inspired by a secular version of the Protestant ethic.

Joie de vivre?

To describe Quebec's way of life as joie de vivre may seem "tired" and stereotypical. Nevertheless, this joie de vivre can be easily measured with numerous indicators. The results speak volumes especially when we compare the importance that Quebecers and English Canadians give to the following notion: "When entertaining at home, to impress one's guests with the way they are received and the food they are served."

Two out of five Quebecers (42%) consider it very important to impress their guests with the quality of their reception and cuisine, compared to 27% of English Canadians-a difference of 15 points.

A mix of conviviality, pleasure, pride and even challenge!

In fact, the true "Quebecness" of our results is revealed when we cross tabulate the results of this question with people's values and hot buttons. Quebecers who consider it very important to impress their guests when entertaining at home are motivated by a keen desire to feel proud, to prepare memorable meals (that now get posted to Instagram!). This can give rise to a healthy spirit of competition for the most interesting, best-prepared dishes, which raises the stakes for each subsequent invitation!


They also give great importance to maintaining emotionally meaningful and truly authentic relationships with others. This is conviviality at its most sincere and appealing form. Also on the table are pleasure and passion, along with an elegant and sensual presentation-of the food and by the guests!

In short, an expression of Latin culture in every way!

Dependence on institutions in Quebec versus personal responsibility in English Canada

Moving on to another issue entirely, agreement with the following statement is also very telling when it comes to the differences between Quebec and English Canada: "Society would be better off with more government involvement."

In Quebec, 55% of the population agree with this statement, compared to 31% in the other provinces-a difference of 24 points!

In English Canada: civic, social and community involvement

The marked disagreement with this statement outside Quebec (more than two out of three individuals, 69%) expresses a totally opposite vision of the role of institutions to that prevailing in Quebec.


English Canadians believe that the State should play a minimal role in society; that individuals themselves, as citizens, should assume their civic and community responsibilities. Mutual aid, social responsibility, ethical consumerism, community involvement-all values expressed much more strongly in English Canada than in Quebec, just like the belief in government non-interference in society and people's lives.

A fundamental sense of duty, based on the traditional Protestant ethic, underlies all these values, creating a kind of "cultural glue" for this civic engagement. English Canadians, like Quebecers, may have abandoned their churches, but this collectivist ethic, this sense of civic engagement, has become embedded in their cultural mores (along with a systematic distaste for bureaucracy among the more conservative elements of the population).

As was the case for joie de vivre in Quebec, this notion of a collectivist ethic in English Canada may also seem a bit "tired," a bit "old hat." Nevertheless, this kind of civic engagement continues to be a hallmark of the culture of English Canada, even today.

We are not saying that this collectivist ethic does not exist in Quebec, but it is certainly less apparent than in English Canada (quantitatively, in terms of "adherents"). The reflex, in Quebec, of demanding that our governments take charge our social responsibilities is still highly developed (much more so than in English Canada).

Canada is still the Canada we know!

Thus, even in our modern times, with globalized markets, culture, communications and media, the main cultural traits of our two founding nations remain. Our society, with its French Catholic roots (hence the predominance of institutions), still expresses these deeply Latin traits (the French in France also seem to expect a great deal from their institutions), whereas the other provinces, whose cultural roots hail from Anglo-Protestant communities, still display this sensibility, this social/community engagement.

On the other hand, the differences between Quebec and English Canada are less pronounced than they were, say, 20 years ago. Old-school Protestant asceticism is a thing of the past in English Canada, where we now find more joie de vivre in people's customs and values. (Toronto is no longer the boring town that Quebecers used to disparage. Our famous Montreal chef, David McMillan, recently declared that Toronto has the best restaurants in the country!).

At the same time, a collectivist community engagement is making few inroads in Quebec. We are not saying that it does not exist in "la belle province", but it remains significantly underdeveloped compared to English Canada.

Thus, our country remains the country we know, with all its diversity and cultural differences.


La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini

The aria, "Quando men' vo soletta" (When I wander alone in the streets, people stop to look at me), sung by Musetta in Puccini's La Bohème seems the perfect lyrical nod to my text. In this alluring scene, a beautiful, rich courtesan affirms her powers of seduction. In this portrayal of risqué 19th century Paris, we find all the archetypes of French joie de vivre: sensuality, passion, jealousy, showing off, enjoyment of fine food and drink-it's all there!

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème, Mirella Freni, Gianni Raimondi, Rolando Panerai, Adriana Martino, Ivo Vinco, Franco Zeffirelli, Wilhelm Semmelroth, Herbert von Karajan, Orchestra E Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Deutsche Grammophon, June 2006.