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Conditioning; The importance of gestures (#277)

In the last post, I discussed how “conditioning” can affect our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche – and more importantly, how, in a broad sense, it is not necessarily a bad thing.   In fact, in Canada’s unique context, owing to vast distances and numerous regional differences, “cultural conditioning” (ie: laying the foundations of cultural “expectations” with respect to how Canadian citizens interact with each other) strengthens to our national cohesiveness.

I ended the last post by saying that negative consequences can arise from conditioning if our upbringing has led us to be conditioned (ie: led to expect, or believe) that Canada’s reality is one thing, when in truth it is another — OR if we are only aware of part of the overall picture.

A word to Anglophones on the negative consequences which can arise from an incomplete picture arising from certain sets of conditioning

In an Anglophone Canadian context, such negative consequences arise when Anglophones think of their country only in an Anglophone context.  This often leads to charges from Francophones that they are being ignored, misunderstood, or not accounted for in the overall context.   It goes without saying that such conditioning is not the best for national “cohesiveness”.

If you are Anglophone and if you have been following this blog for the last year, you are undoubtedly aware that many of my blog topics cover matters which many people are unaware of.  This is because many Anglophone Canadians (primarily unilingual Anglophone Canadians) have been conditioned (either by way of geographic regionalism / isolation, school, or silence in the media) into not realizing that there is a need to look beyond Anglophone culture to be able to view and understand Canada in its entirety.

It is an unfortunate reality, because frankly speaking, this “is” one the major reasons why Québec’s sovereignty movement exists.

Some of the things unilingual Anglophone Canadians may not be aware of (including unilingual individuals in Canada’s Anglophone media, political and education systems) – but which exacerbate the notion of Two Solitudes — have to do with

  • understanding Québec’s and Canada’s Francophone culture,
  • who is talking about what issues withing French Canada and Québec,
  • how those people’s views are valued and weighted within Québec’s and Canada’s Francophone society,
  • what Québec’s primary societal values are and what weight is accorded to those values,
  • what discussions may be different in Québec than in English Canada,
  • what actions in the rest of Canada can lead to Québec’s collective sense of alienation from the rest of Canada, and finally,
  • what simple things can be done in the rest of Canada to make Francophone Québécois feel more valued, better understood and a more complete part of Canadian society — just as an Anglophone would feel in any part of Anglophone Canada.

I have always said that we need to avoid a situation in which Anglophone Canadians feel perfectly at home and emotionally understood in 80% of their country, but in which Francophones can feel perfectly at home and emotionally understood in only 20% of their country.  I truly do not believe we are at this stage (yet)… but many people in Québec have been conditioned to believe we are at this stage.   Once someone is conditioned into holding preconceived notions with respect to a particular idea, then that person tends to look for signs that the preconceived notions are true; a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

I can give you a perfect example of this latter statement.   I have a Francophone friend (originally from Québec) who lives in a small town in Ontario.  He feels that he has been mistreated by a few Anglophones owing to a cultural misunderstanding.  Ever since then, I get the impression he has been “actively” on the lookout for repeated patterns owing to this prior and unfortunate conditioning.   Invariably, any time I talk to him, he always seems to have found a new story of “mistreatment at the hands of Anglophones” to tell me about — despite the fact that I think he is finding issues where issues do not exist.  I’ve been repeatedly pointing out to him that I see other people around him — especially Anglophones — who are experiencing the same things that he is in this smaller community.  I’ve been trying to point out that it is not a Francophone/Anglophone issue, and he just ran into a few bad apples.  But owing to the conditioning stemming from these few experiences, I’m having a tough time getting this point through to him.  His conditioning, owing to these few experiences, has tainted his view and now he believes the issues are deliberate, targeted against him as a Francophone, and it has made him quite unhappy.

Likewise, I have a good Anglophone friend in Montréal who I have known for almost 15 years.  He moved to Montréal four years ago from another part of Canada, before which he immigrated to Canada several years back.  During his first two years in Montréal, he worked in a hostile work environment.   It is important to make the distinction that work environment was Francophone and hostile — not hostile because is was Francophone.  My friend was hired into an English-only high-technology position for which the company could not find Francophones to fill the position    Yet, because my friend was new to Montréal, and because he did not speak French, he was came to the conclusion that he was being harassed because he could not speak English.  As someone looking from the outside in, I could see that he worked in such a toxic workplace that he would have been harassed regardless if he was Francophone or Anglophone.  But his experiences conditioned him into believing the harassment was owing to the fact that he was Anglophone.  His conditioning led him to become so bitter that he refused to learn French out of pure spite.  Needless to say, it is not the most pleasant experience to visit him in Montréal, and I’m actually at the point of urging him to leave Montréal (and Québec) — not only for his own sanity, but for the sanity of those around him (I can see that Francophones around him are now incorrectly holding him up as an incorrect example of what Anglophones are like… It’s just not a good situation all around.  I’m actually surprised to see how it spiraled out of control).

I find it very interesting how both of the two friends above (one Francophone, one Anglophone) believe they are being mistreated at the “hands of the other linguistic group”.  Yet, from the outside looking in, I can see that it is not the case and that these two friends have simply become overly sensitive.   I would love to bring them together to share their experiences and compare notes — precisely so they could see that their emotions are skewing reality (and I might some day).  However, their “conditioning”, which is based on traumatic events, has led them to actively search for reasons to believe that everyone in a particular language group has it out for them.  So they can see that their view of reality is incomplete and skewed, I’m trying to get them both involved in their communities more — to do volunteer work, to join a sports team, or to find a club of people with similar interests.  But it is an uphill battle… especially when emotions are running high.  This is a very poignant example of negative conditioning.

Like I said earlier, once someone is conditioned into holding preconceived notions with respect to a particular idea, then that person tends to look for signs that the preconceived notions are true.   The sovereignty movement would not exist if a critical mass of people did not have these types of conditioned sentiments, regardless if I or you believe such sentiments are baseless or not.  You can argue facts, but it is impossible to argue emotions.  Thus it is impossible to tell someone their emotions are “wrong”.

That is why gestures are so important.   Gestures and overtures are what influence emotions.

A word to Francophones on the negative consequences which arise from an incomplete picture arising from certain sets of conditioning

This leads me to the next point…

Likewise, in a Francophone Québec context, negative consequences can arise when conditioning prevents Francophones from being aware of the realities, context, changes, evolution and nuances of what is happening elsewhere in Canada.   This often results in many Québécois unnecessarily (and often unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally) erecting emotional walls between themselves and the rest of Canada.

It is unfortunate when this occurs, because it can often be based on inaccurate pretexts and preconceptions (false “conditioning”).  It leads to a sense of being more and more detached from the rest of Canada.  The problem is that this sense of isolation is as much to do with (or even more to do with) Québec’s own “wall building” as it is with any unilingual Canadian’s disconnect from Francophone culture.

This blog is primarily for Anglophone Canadians.   But I am told that more and more Francophones have been reading it over the last several months.  If you are Francophone, and you have been following this blog over the past year, you perhaps have become aware of various things about the rest of Canada you were not aware of (things not mentioned in school, in Francophone media, and certainly not by politicians and interest groups interested who seek to score political points by way of playing the nationalist card).

Perhaps some of the things you have probably learned are that there are quite vibrant underpinnings of Francophone society outside Québec and across Canada.  They are vibrant because they continue to evolve and adapt to a changing world.   Francophone society across Canada is increasingly shifting to the online digital world (making it so that a Francophone’s community is available at the touch of a button in any village, town or city across Canada).

Francophone society across Canada is indeed seeing proportional challenges arising from increased Anglophone immigration, but Francophones have been adapting.  In many cases, Francophone immigration is breathing new life into areas where Francophone society was struggling only 20 years ago (Southern Alberta and the Edmonton area are prime examples of regions where Francophone communities have grown by large numbers over the past 15 years owing to international and inter-provincial immigration).

You perhaps have learned from this blog that Francophone society in other regions of Canada comes in many different sizes, colours, and accents – different from one province to another.  You have read how Francophones are working with their local governments (provincial and municipal) to build infrastructure and greater service networks within their communities and across the country (including schools, universities, health and other government services).

One of the more poignant things you perhaps have learned from this blog is the tremendous change in openness which is occurring on the part of millions of Anglophones towards Canada’s French fact.   I have been citing many of my own observations, experiences, as well as many statistics on this topic.  One such example is Canada’s immersion program — a truly ground-breaking program by any global measure.   Other countries are now looking at Anglophone Canada’s grass-roots immersion movement which is transforming a nation.   In absolute numbers, bilingualism is on the uptick and it is “sensitizing” politicians, governments, and the Canadian population as a whole.   Changes are being made across the country.  Courts are recognizing these changes and are providing extra “nudges” in areas where there has been some “slacking off”.   If “conditioning” were to come in the form of a reset button, it is an understatement to say that more than a few Anglophones have pressed it in the past two decades.

In the next post we will look at the “modern” historical context which has shaped much of our current conditioning.



“Conditioning”: and its affect on our cultural cohesiveness and national psyche (#276)

In the last post we looked at what conditioning is, and how it can affect how people relate to one another in various contexts.

In this post, we’ll look at how conditioning plays a role in Canada’s own national and cultural story.

Human conditioning affects how we view the world and others around us.  In the case of the Two Solitudes, if affects how we relate to our own country, and view our country.   It can have the unfortunate effect of giving us (Anglophones or Francophones) only part of the picture – an incomplete picture.  It often results in us making decisions with respect to our societal interactions which do not necessarily take our entire national context into consideration.

Breaking the cycle of the negative side of conditioning is extremely difficult, but very necessary if we’re going to break the cycle of the Two Solitudes.  I do not believe anyone holds any expectations that the wall which forms the Two Solitudes can simply crumble with one big strike of a hammer.  However, breaking it down – little-by-little, one brick at time – is possible, and it is happening on many fronts.

There are signs we have been moving in this direction for quite some time (with Canada’s immersion programs, readily available information from the internet age, various provincial government initiatives across Canada, and others).  But there is still a very long way to go.

Media and pop-culture platforms as major factors of personal conditioning

Due to the vast geographic nature of Canada, it would be unrealistic for most Canadians to break the constraints of conditioning through physical exposure alone.

One cannot expect an Anglophone mother from Yellowknife (NWT) to spent three months in Victoriaville, Québec to learn about certain pillars of Francophone culture.

One cannot expect a Francophone high school graduate from Rivière-du-Loup (Qc), who is about to enter a very intense university program in journalism, to spend three months in Saskatoon to learn about pillars of Anglophone culture.

That’s not to say these things couldn’t happen, but reality and statistics simply tell us that in the vast majority of cases, such physical exchanges do not occur.   The country is just too big, personal finances are always a factor, and everyone has their own lives to worry about (let alone having to worry about a different linguistic group’s cultural tid-bits, especially when the nuances can take a lifetime of exposure to fully understand).

Thus, in a country like Canada, media and pop-culture platforms become our major (and often only) possibilities to break the cycle of unilingual cultural conditioning.  Therefore, media and pop-culture platforms are most Canadian’s only major tool with which to begin to tear down the Two Solitudes.

Owing to the sheer size of Canada, for Anglophones, it is our media and pop-culture platforms which more-often-than-not give a sense of “one-country” and of a united “Anglophone Canadian culture”.   The following are some very simple examples.

Without media or pop-culture platforms:

  • a person from Quesnel, BC would have never known Shania Twain (from Timmins, ON) or any other such singer which promotes our Canadian styles of country music.
  • those with an interest in Canadian history in Cornerbrook (NL), or Thunder Bay (ON) may have never known the late Pierre Burton (who regularly appeared on television) and how he taught two generations of Canadians about our nation-building history.
  • a whole generation of children across the country would not have known The Friendly Giant, Pokadot Door, or Mr. Dress-up (which remains a bonding point of reference of a 20 year spread of Canadians who are now in their late 20s to late 40s).  On this point, I can remember children’s programs I used to watch in BC and Alberta which were often filmed around the unique “Toronto-styled” brick-faced “corner stores” (the type with all the flowers sold outside the doorstep in older Toronto neighbourhoods).  Thus, even though I had never set foot in Toronto until I was 20, in my mind these corner stores were already a familiar part of “my” culture, even before I ever first saw my first “Toronto-style” corner store in person.
  • people from coast to coast would not have known David Suzuki, issues he champions, and matters he has brought to the fore through his television programs and radio appearances over the past 40 years (all of which have helped to shape our collective psyche on the environmental front).

I could write a book of such examples.  Little-by-little all of these have added to a sense of our collective national psyche… to a sense of Anglophone Canadians being able to share the same experiences and reference points — be it with our neighbour, our employer, our politicians, or our compatriots on the other end of the country.

Just the other day here in Toronto, I (from Alberta) had a conversation with my secretary (from Nova Scotia), and an acquaintance from Toronto.  The conversation made numerous references to things we used to do as kids – and much of it had to do with points of reference we all experienced from shows we saw on television, songs we used to sing as kids, or other matters conveyed to us as kids through Canadian media.   The experiences we were referring to were uniquely Canadian, and involved having acted out, as children, things we saw on Canadian children’s programs.  Here we were, from three different parts of the country (West, Central, and East), a distance spanning more than 5000 kms – but yet our Anglophone childhood experiences were the same, filled with uniquely Anglophone Canadian reference points, owing to shared cultural experiences stemming from Canadian television programs we watched as kids.

This is a perfect example of just how powerful media and pop-culture platforms are with respect to forging national identity.  But even more important is that we all had the pre-conceived expectations that all of us would have these share experiences, even if we had not spoken about them.  The expectation component is called conditioning.

As you can see, conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing.   It’s all about expectations – and those expectations can be very important (and powerful) when we hold the expectation that our compatriots can (and will) be able to culturally relate to us.

In the above example, the three of us were “conditioned” to believe we would share certain childhood experiences (even if we had not spoken about them) by virtue of simply haven grown up in Canada (in an Anglophone Canadian settings).  We were “conditioned” to believe that those experiences had played a role in shaping our lives – from coast to coast, and that they remain major factors in our collective Canadian experience… pieces of what makes us culturally Canadian.  And thus it was natural and logical that we would have a conversation about many of the little things we had in common as children, despite 5000 kilometres of separation in three different provinces.

As an aside, you might ask how immigrants can fit into this shared Canadian experience — after all, more recent immigrants may not have these same shared Canadian experiences.  Does it make them any less “Canadian”?.  That is a legitimate and very good question to ask.   It comprises a whole other topic, but I can briefly say this:  Immigrants tend to first adapt to a Canadian value set before they will (or are able to) adapt more intricate and time-based shared cultural references.  However, with respect to “shared cultural experiences” immigrants “pick-up from where they jump in”.

This means that even if they may not share cultural reference points from the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, they will nonetheless begin to share in cultural reference points occurring from the moment they land in Canada, and they will build on those shared experiences, little-by-little from that point on.

They therefore move forward with all the rest of us (just as earlier generations of immigrants have – be it German, Irish, or Ukrainian migrants 80-100 years ago, Italian and Greek immigrants 50-60 years ago, Vietmanese immigrants 35 years ago, or Hong Kong immigrants 20 to 30 years ago).   Over time, everyone eventually shares the same experiences and cultural reference points, and the country continues to culturally build upon itself.

The next post

Three paragraphs above, I mentioned that conditioning is not necessarily a bad thing.

But it can have negative consequences in Canada’s national context if it gives Canadian the expectation they are culturally all from the same cloth without taking Canada’s bilingual/bi-cultural context into account (and I say this notwithstanding Canada’s multicultural nuances — but it is not necessarily to discuss multiculturalism in this context because the expectation is that multicultural communities very much operate within Canada’s two Anglophone and Francophone dominant spheres).

Just as conditioning can form a sense of collective cohesiveness through the expectation that we have shared cultural experiences, conditioning can also cause major problems in national cohesiveness if it only provides one half of Canada’s entire cultural picture.

If our conditioning gives Anglophones culturally shared experiences from only an Anglo-dominant sphere, or if conditioning gives Francophones culturally shared experiences from only a Franco-dominant sphere, problems then arise when both groups, as a consequence, begin to culturally diverge.   Because each linguistic group may not know what is being experienced in each other’s respective cultural spheres, a chasm results.  We call this chasm the Two Solitudes.

In the next post, we will look at simplified examples of how “incomplete national conditioning” (and perhaps “incorrect national conditioning”) can result in reinforcing the notion of the Two Solitudes.


“Conditioning”: a contributing factor in the notion of the Two Solitudes – Introduction (#275)

Canadians are more connected and informed regarding other aspects of their own country than at any other time in history.   Canadians (both Francophone and Anglophone) are more bilingual that at any other time in their history.  Canadians travel more within their own country than at any other time in history.  Why then do the Two Solitudes continue to exist?

I firmly believe it comes down to a question of “conditioning”.

Conditioning is a very powerful concept.  It is what often dictates people’s thoughts, and consequently their actions.

Conditioning is the concept that we live certain experiences so frequently, or that we are so used to hearing from others how situations or realities work that we come to believe they are true.  Furthermore, conditioning makes it so we are unaware that alternate realities, truths or experiences are possible.  In other words, conditioning is the “mental” mould in which we grow up, without realizing that

  • perhaps our own mould is not correct,
  • perhaps our own mould is not the only mould that exists, or
  • perhaps our mould does not give us the complete picture.

An “ingrained prejudice” is different from “conditioning” in two senses:

  1. A prejudice is a sentiment we harbour, despite being offered prima-facie (obvious) evidence which contradicts our prejudice, and
  2. Unlike “conditioning”, in the case of an ingrained prejudice, we refuse to give up our incorrect or incomplete views once we are made aware of an alternate or more complete truth.

In the above definition, the word and is quite important.  If we give up and change our incorrect or incomplete views, and adopt more truthful or complete views, we no longer are prejudicial, despite whatever “conditioning” we may have experienced.

Understanding this notion is one of the first steps to resolving the Two Solitudes.  Progress will not be made in resolving the Two Solitudes unless people know that they hold incorrect views which need to be resolved (and never forget that one’s views lead to one’s actions).

I can give you a benign example using my own experiences from living abroad.

I lived and worked in the private sector in mainland China for many years.  I lived in a community with few other foreigners.  I would go about my daily life, spending time with my Chinese friends, doing my shopping, and driving to and from my company’s facilities just as I would in Canada.  But the twist came from the fact that I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese, that I had immigrant status in China, and that I integrated to a large degree into a Chinese lifestyle (I felt I was an immigrant, and as the saying goes, when in Rome… ).

But invariably, after many years of acting and being “just as Chinese as the guy standing next to me”, I would run into many cases in which I was treated quite differently by strangers.  They believed they “should” view and treat me differently – and ultimately it was owing to the colour of my skin and my origins… I was white, and I was from Canada.

I would walk into a restaurant, and staff would clamour over themselves to look for a fork and knife to put in front of me (there was no way they thought I’d ever be able to use chopsticks).

I would attend a business lunch in a restaurant with new business counterparts.  The moment I would walk into the room, people would see I was white, and they would scurry off in a tissy to try to find someone to act as an interpreter (because in their minds, there was no way a white person could speak Chinese).

I would go to the grocery store.  I perhaps was the only white person who had ever shopped in the grocery store.  As I would pay for my groceries, a gaggle of people would hoard around my shopping basket to see what food “white people eat” (I could never figure out how a group of 10 people huddled together behind me could ever think that I would not notice that they were gawking at my grocery basket, by way of simply turned their gaze away when I turned around to look).  There were always more than a few surprised faces when people saw my grocery basket was full of Jiaozi, dragon fruit, lychees, zhuazhu, shanyao, ximiantiao, and other Chinese foods, just like theirs.

I would take my car into the garage to get the brakes fixed, and the service clerk would tell me that she heard that I bought a new pair of shoes a couple week earlier at a sale in a department store for $48.00… simply because everyone in town was all talking about “what the white guy does, buys, and how much he is willing to pay”.

Did I find it frustrating to live in such an environment day after day, year after year?  You bet I did (it was a major factor in deciding when I was ready to leave China after so many years, despite having had immigrant status, a house, vehicle and interesting career in China, and having tried my best to integrate as any immigrant should).

Did I get used to it?  Yes.

Did I like it?  No.

But I really didn’t have a choice.

Was I able to live with it?   Yes.

Why?  Because I took solace in the fact that I had a group of very close (Chinese) friends and (Chinese) colleagues who I spent my time with, and who were always there for me (as I was for them).  That in itself helped me to put up with all of these other daily “irritants”.

But what truly allowed me to mentally cope with all of these other “irritants” was that I understood that strangers around me were “conditioned” from birth to hold specific believes about foreign white people.   It was not racism – nor did I chaulk it up to racism.  I knew that exposure to my reality and background were almost non-existent for these people.   I also knew that people’s views changed towards me the longer I lived in my adopted community.  More importantly, people were willing to change their views about me and people of other races and origins.

I knew their prior conditioning came from many sources:  what they saw in movies and in television, the types of news stories they were exposed to and the slant those news stories took, what teachers taught them (this had a huge influence on people’s beliefs, because teachers themselves imprinted their own conditioning onto their students), as well as what history taught them (despite the fact that history and the present can often be two completely different realities).

Now imagine if an ethnically Chinese immigrant to Canada were to walk into Swiss Chalet or McDonald’s, and the staff were to scramble like mad to try to find and throw chopsticks at them.  Imagine if this person’s grocery purchases became the subject of curious gawks from all those behind them in line-up at the check-out counter at Loblaw’s.  Imagine if a Chinese Canadian went to Canadian Tire, and the service counter clerk blurted out that they knew where the customer purchased their sunglasses and for what price, simply because everyone in town was talking about it owing to the fact that the person was ethnically Chinese.  Imagine if non-Chinese people were to shout very loud, and very slowly at a Chinese Canadian because they had it in their mind that the Chinese Canadian would not be able to speak English (or French).

Would such actions occur in Canada.  No way! (at least they better not!)  Why do they not occur?  Because the public and individuals, through exposure, are “conditioned” to know better.  Society has been long exposed to realities which lead them to believe that such acts would be unfounded, unnecessary and nonsensical.  But if non-Chinese Canadian were to act in such a manner, and were they to deny the realities presented to them over time, then their actions would be a blatant case of prejudice – and I would think we could call it racism.

But I refused to apply the word “prejudice” or “racism” to strangers in my community in China who treated me in the above manner.   I knew they were conditioned to believe that they should view me in a certain way.   But I also knew that their views of me would change if they were exposed to the greater picture, and if were given a fuller set of facts.  And you know what?  After living in a community of perhaps 50,000 people for several years, little-by-little people did come to know me.  Over time their views of me (and other non-Chinese people) did change.   Eventually I was treated much more as a normal member of the community, especially by people around town who had regular contact with me..  But it did take a while, a lot of exposure, repeated interactions, and many many discussions.

The notion of Canada’s Two Solitudes work in much the same manner.

Anglophones often hold notions about Francophone culture that they have been conditioned to believe are reality.   Francophones often hold notions about Anglophone culture that they have been conditioned to believe are reality.

But what strikes me, as someone who has lived a large chunk of his life (since the age of three) living between both cultures, is that these realities are often false.   Our false views of realities about the other linguistic group’s world is not a deep harboured prejudice (stemming from strubborness), nor is it racism.  Rather, it is a question of “conditioning” owing to a lack of exposure.

This conditioning comes from our respective languages group’s media, news, education systems, from a language barrier in an of itself, from geography / long distances which prevent face-to-face interaction, and from the imprints left upon us by others who themselves have been “conditioned” into believing certain false realities.

I’m going to go out on a very sensitive limb here by trying to sum up what those false realities tend to be… …

At the risk of overgeneralizing, pertaining to unilingual Anglophones’ societal conditioning:

I would say that the single largest false reality they hold is the belief that most aspects of Québec society are exposed to, and experiencing all the same things that Canada’s Anglophone society is exposed to and experiencing – and thus they believe Francophones are placing equal emphasis on all the same matters as Anglophones Canadians.

Again, at the risk of overgeneralizing, pertaining to Francophones’ societal conditioning:

I would say that their single largest false reality is that they believe they are aware of what is happening in the rest of Canada or in the minds of Anglophone Canadians across the country.  They often falsely believe they understand Anglophone Canada’s various regional, provincial and societal contexts – be it on a national level, or at a street-level context.  In essence, Francophones often incorrectly view Anglophone Canada was one giant monolithic block.  Yet they are often not aware at all of the many different realities within Canada or the regional nuances in Anglophone Canadian society.  And the largest misunderstandings pretain to how Anglophone Canada’s various realities and nuances share much of the same story as Québec.

When examined separately (on the basis of Francophone versus Anglophone conditioning), both of these conditioning contexts are very different from each other.   Both give rise to very distinct angles from which to view the notion of the Two Solitudes. 

But understanding this difference is key to trying to overcome and bridge the Two Solitudes.

Oh, and one quick afterthought…

In China, people are super polite and love to compliment you.   People were very kind and would say to me “Your Chinese is so good” (even if it wasn’t)…  to which I would sometimes respond in Chinese “Gee, yours’ isn’t so bad either”.  My response would invariably always lead to laughs… people in China love that kind of sense of humour (and even though my Chinese wasn’t perfect, I did live there for a long time and it was fairly fluent, and certainly good enough to do 100% of my work in Chinese, and to live in Chinese… just as an immigrant to Canada would pick up our language fairly well after living here for several years).

Along this same theme, two weekends ago, I accompanied a friend of mine to Niagara Falls.  He is originally from Montréal but now lives close to Toronto.  His friend from Matane (in Québec’s far Eastern Lower-St-Lawrence region, the last stop before you hit the Gaspésie region) came to Toronto from Québec the night before and was going to join us to see Niagara Falls.  When I met the person from Matane for the first time two weekends ago, he look at me and say “Wow, your French is really good.  I’m surprised, considering you’re from Alberta!  You don’t even have an accent”.  Out of habit, I defaulted to my old China response.  I responded in French “Gee, yours isn’t so shabby either, but you seem to have a bit of a weird half-way-type of a Gaspésie accent”.

He didn’t laugh — I don’t think he found my comeback joke very funny.  I’m not sure if he was a bit surprised that an “Albertan” picked up his accent, or if his silence was his form of telling me I went a bit too far in my description of his accent.  Looking back, I think he found me a bit snarky (which wasn’t really my intention)…  But upon reflection, I perhaps shouldn’t have said it.

Regardless, his little remark “considering you’re from Alberta” was a prime example of the Two Solitudes staring me straight in the face (I guess the thought never occurred to him, or his schooling / social background never made him aware that that there could be people who can grow up in French in Alberta, and who are thus aware of these things, just as an Anglophone from BC would be able to recognize a Newfoundland English accent).

Needless to say the next few moments between me and him were sort of an awkward silence, until I took the initiative to change the topic and start chatting as if our initial exchange had never happened.

I guess it goes to show that “conditioning” truly is as much a part of Canada’s Two Solitudes as it can be between other cultures around the world.

Over the next few posts, we will look at some of the specific aspects of conditioning which contribute to the notion of the Two Solitudes — some aspects which people should perhaps be made aware of, and which need to be overcome.


Texto Lingo, and the debate about dedicated cycling lanes (#274)

In the last post, we looked at what I call Texto Lingo”; our special “French” SMS language.  Sometimes it is the same as European Texto Lingo, but other times it is different.   It is sort of a digital Joual.

Texto Lingo is not just restricted to SMS messages.   We routinely find it used on social media (Facebook & Twitter), as well as the comments section of news articles.

I can give you a perfect example I recently came across.

For some time now, there has been a bit of a debate in larger cities across Canada (particularly in Montréal and Toronto) as to how much leeway should be accorded to cyclists on city roads (especially downtown or on busier city roads).

One not-so-diplomatic gentleman (presumably in Montréal) obviously is frustrated at urban cyclists.  He took his frustrations out on the facebook page of the SAAQ (a comment which has since been taken down).   The SAAQ (Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec) is Québec’s state auto insurance company (the counterpart of ICBC in B.C., SGI in Saskatchewan, or MPI in Manitoba).

The SAAQ has received several such comments lately, and each time, they have responded in a very level-headed manner.   Such comments which advocate rage and violence against urban cyclists have not gone unnoticed, and they have been picked up by the satirical web-monitoring website Petit Petit Gamin.


1.  Translation from Texto Lingo to colloquial (informal) French :

Tab*****, tu as beau leur laisser de la place.  Mais quand le fameux crisse de cycliste est seul, et il est en plein milieu de la rue, puis ensuite il faut que tu klaxonne pour qu’il se tasse – et en plus il t’envoie chier – … j’ai juste le goût de donner un coup de steering, puis il y aurait un de moins…  Désolé, mais tab*****, ils ont la route exclusivement à eux.  Alors utilise-la mon tab*****.  Mais viens pas me faire chier sur la route.   Shit ils ont un vélo à tas de marde!

2.  Translation from colloquial (informal) French to English :

F***!  We always have to give them space.  But when it’s just you and the bloody cyclist alone, and he’s in the middle of the street, and you have to let on the horn to get him the hell out of the way – he then tells you to screw off – … It just makes me want to swing the steering wheel, and paff… one less.   Sorry, but f***, they’ve got the road all to themselves.  So fine, take and use it!!   You ‘lil f***er!    But don’t piss all over me on the road.  Christ!  their bikes are a piece of shit!

3.  Translation of the SAAQ’s reponse from Standard French to English:

I would dare to hope that you do not truly believe what you are writing.  You would be ready to live with a death on your conscience in exchange for saving several seconds on the road and a few extra km/hr on your speed indicator?  Unless you are serious, we’re lead to believe that you don’t have the cognitive capacities to drive.


Ouch!!  But I certainly commend the SAAQ’s even-keeled response.

“Commuter cycling paths” in Québec vs. Anglophone Canada

On this topic of cyclists, just this morning I was speaking with a friend who lives in a smaller community of South-Central Ontario, but who is originally from Montréal and Québec City.

There are a few people from Québec who have moved to the same small community in Ontario as my friend.  He said that all of the Québec “ex-pats” are complaining that there is a lack of an “urban cycling commuter paths” in Ontario which one can specfically use to commute downtown to work from all across the city. He contrasted this with Québec’s various cycle networks in numerous cities (large and small).

The lack of cycle paths is something my friend’s acquaintances have noticed.  Some are not happy about it, and they’re left wondering if this is a cultural difference between English and French Canada.

I’m not sure.  It left me wondering also.  I’ve been running various English Canadian cities through my mind… and I certainly can think of a bazillion highly urban cycling paths in Victoria, Vancouver, and in Ottawa to an extent.  Calgary has a good number of bike paths, but they tend to be restricted to green corridors (and not adjacent to major thoroughfares).   Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, St. John, and Halifax have bike paths, but they generally are found in parklands (the Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg river corridors, Regina’s Wascana Park, St. John & Halifax’s waterfront).  But other than that, the rest of the country’s Anglophone cities are not the most bike friendly.

With this being said, closing city street lanes and turning them into dedicated cycle-thoroughfares has been a subject of debate in English Canada for a number of years – particularly in Toronto and Vancouver.   The debate certainly exists in English Canada, just as it did in Québec a while back.  So perhaps the cultural difference is not that large after all.  And just like in Québec, we see people in English Canada who are for it (hence the Vancouver, Victoria, & Ottawa networks), and people who are against it just like the guy in the SAAQ comments (perhaps the Montreal equivalent of Toronto’s “Ford Nation”).

There is some movement on this issue in Anglophone Canada which may see the rest of the country begin to catch up to Québec at some point in the next decade or so.  We’re seeing “shared” bike lanes and “green lanes” being painted on the roads to remind drivers to be careful when sharing lanes with cyclists.

It will be interesting to see where this debate goes in Canada – and just how much Francophone & Anglophone mentalities converge on this issue in the future (or not).  The issue has come a long ways in the past 10 years.  The next 10 years might bring even greater convergence.

Texto Lingo : C-tu c kwa? (#273)


Translation into English :

Hi everyone.  Do you know the meaning of this SMS?  If yes, then perfect!  If no, don’t worry, it’s ok.  At any rate, we’re going to have a look now at something different which you perhaps do not know about… the world of the language of text messages.

Translation into regular French:

Salut tout le monde.  Sais-tu c’est quoi le sens de ce texto?   Si oui, parfait!  Si non, ne t’inquiètes pas, c’est pas graveDe toute façon, nous allons maintenant regarder quelque chose de différent que peut-être tu ne savais pas… le monde de la langue des textos.

Just like in English, French also has many commonly used SMS acronyms.    An SMS is a texto in French.

Not everyone uses texto acronyms, and sometimes your cell’s “type checker” makes it so there is no longer much use to use a number of them.  Regardless, they are still used — often more than regular words (some are used very often)

If you have ever exchanged a number of SMS in French, I’m sure you have ran into them:  mdr instead of “lol”, qqn instead of “quelqu’un”, etc.

Did you know…?

French SMS acronyms are sometimes different in France/Europe than here in Canada, owing to a difference in colloquial expressions.

Example from France (which we don’t say/use):  gp (gros pigeon) = means a “looser” in English (we’d generally say “cave” in Québec / Canadian French).

Example from Canada / Québec (which is not said/used in France):  cbr (crampé ben raide) = means “keeling over with laughter” in English.  In Europe, people may say “dcdr(décédé de rire” = “dead from laughter”).

The following are the most common text acronyms people use on this side of the Atlantic.

Happy texting!!

  • A1 = A1, a+
  • agreed = dac (d’accord)
  • all = tt (tout)
  • always = tjr (toujours)
  • anyway = dtf (de toute façon)
  • anyway = en tc (en tout cas)
  • are = st (sont)
  • b/c (because) = pcq (parce que)
  • during = pdt (pendant)
  • everyone = tlm (tout le monde)
  • excellent = xl (excéllent)
  • for = pr (pour)
  • hahaha = hihi
  • hello = bjr (bonjour)
  • hi = slt (salut)
  • hi again = rbjr (rebonjour)
  • I don’t care = jmef (je m’en fous)
  • I mean = cad (c’est-à-dire)
  • I’m = chu (je suis)
  • It’s = c (c’est)
  • It’s fine, it’s ok  = cpg (c’est pas grave)
  • listen = ect (écoute)
  • LOL (laughing out loud) = mdr (mort de rire)
  • long time = lgtmp (longtemps)
  • lots = bcp (beaucoup)
  • luv ya = jtm (je t’aime)
  • maybe = p-e (peut-être)
  • message = msg (message)
  • now = mtnt (maintenant)
  • OK = k, ok
  • pls (please) = stp (s’il te plait)
  • prob (problem) = prob (problème)
  • ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) = ECDR (être crampé de rire) / RAL (rire aux larmes)
  • serious = srx (sérieux)
  • smooch = mouais
  • sms = txt (texto)
  • someone = qqn (quelqu’un)
  • something = qqc (quelque chose)
  • sorry = dsl (désolé)
  • tmrw (tomorrow) = dm (demain)
  • to be worried = etk (être inquiète)
  • to worry onself = tkt (t’inquiète)
  • that = q (que)
  • unless = snn (sinon)
  • us = ns (nous)
  • what = koi, kwa
  • what’cha doing? = tfq (tu fais quoi?)
  • whatever u/I want= nptk (n’importe quoi)
  • who = ki
  • why = pk (pourquoi)
  • with = av (avec)
  • wtf = wtf (ouate de phoque)… smart, eh?
  • yah, yup = (ouais)
  • you (you plural or formal) = vs (vous)
  • you know = tse (tu sais)
  • you’re = t (tu es)
  • yr the best = jtdr (je t’adore)