Home » Barrier Breakers » Is there a “personality difference” between Francophones and Anglophones? (#291)

Is there a “personality difference” between Francophones and Anglophones? (#291)

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Is there a “personality difference” between Québec Francophones and Canadian Anglophones?

That is a loaded question if I have ever heard one.

Take note that I am referring to “personality” (psychological) differences, and not “cultural” differences.

Over the years I have often heard Québec Francophones say they sense there are personality differences which distinguish Francophones from Anglophones.  It is an argument that I have heard more from Québec Francophones than I have from Canadian Anglophones.

I suppose I am perhaps not the best person to objectively evaluate such a statement.  I have always had Québec Francophone friends from childhood into adulthood, and a sizable portion of my colleagues, former bosses, and teachers at school and university have been Francophones from Québec.

Thus, any personality lines which do exist are likely more blurred for me than they would be from others.

But I have given the question a bit more thought lately.  A very good Québec francophone friend of mine resides in a small town in Anglophone Ontario (in the Loyalist belt of Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario).  From his experience in Prince Edward Country, he feels the personality differences between Canadian Anglophones and Francophones are to such an extent that he no longer feels comfortable living in small-town Ontario.

He is already starting to plan his move back to Québec.

His feelings of being “dépaysé” (a Canadian French word meaning one feels out of one’s skin owing to living in a new environment from what one is used to) has led me to pose some questions.

He is a good friend who tends to view the world quite objectively (in fact, a large part of his career involves crisis intervention and mediation).  I suppose this is why I’m left asking several questions.

They are questions which leaves me somewhat perplexed because I have lived in six provinces (including Québec), and I have rarely had a feeling that the personality differences between Anglophones and Francophones would be so large that they would warrant “retreating” back to Québec.

In a cultural sense, I admit it makes me somewhat uneasy (on the unity front, more than anything) whenever I hear that Québec Francophones feel they cannot comfortably live in other areas of Canada.

But such feelings of unease are easily mitigated by the knowledge that I know far more Québec Francophones who are happily living across across Anglophone Canada than who are not happy.  I know far more Québec Francophones would  not consider personality differences to be so large that it would be disruptive to their lifestyles.

I searched the internet to see if there are scientific studies which might explain what personality differences could exist between Anglophones and Francophones.  I was only able to find one study from 2008 conducted by Bishop’s University (Sherbrooke, Québec).  It was a small study involving 50 Francophones and 50 Anglophones, split 50/50 between men and women.   It evaluated

  • extroversion (how extrovert one is towards others)
  • neuroticism (anxiety or indecision, and a degree of social or interpersonal maladjustment around others)
  • psychoticism (one’s aptitude to become upset, anxious, or angry)
  • one’s propensity to lie
  • open-minded to new experiences
  • conscientiousness
  • agreeableness
  • conservatism (traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness; more apt to advocate preservation of existing conditions or institutions)
  • altruism (unselfish concern for others, or devotion to the welfare of others)

The study found that Québec Francophones ranked higher degrees of extroversion, and psychoticism (thus they would be more vocal and engaging in public on a range of issues, including emotional issues).

Anglophones ranked higher on Conservatism (thus they would be less likely to “rock the boat”).  I would guess that such personality traits would be more internalized than externalized, and when externalized, they would be manifested through a greater degree of reserve (not as extrovert with a lesser outward display of public emotion).

The study found that Québec Francophones and Canadian Anglophones did not differ regarding the remaining personality traits.

I found the study to be very interesting because it reflects several observations I have made myself over the course of my life.

  • I can recall at school that when mixed with Anglophone Canadian students, Québec Francophone students would be more apt to speak in class, and and to comment on, ask or argue questions or ideas in class.
  • Anglophone colleagues would be less apt to advocate for change in the workplace or voice their views at work with superiors.
  • Francophone colleagues would be more apt to take vocal socializing and jokes into the workplace, and to likewise take the workplace outside of work (with drinks with colleagues after work, or week-end activities with colleagues).
  • Anglophone friends’ openness to societal or lifestyle changes are more often manifested through a “live and let live” standpoint;  meaning that they more than welcome societal / lifestyle changes (which they view as healthy for society), but that they believe such changes come about as a matter of natural societal evolution in the course of time.
  • This contrasts with Francophone friends’ openness to societal or lifestyle change.  With respect to changes they too believe are healthy for society, they often harbour a “make-it-happen” standpoint with respect to societal or personal lifestyles.   This means they believe in more direct intervention (through direct government intervention or direct changes in the established order).

The above are simply a question of approaches, and they are not insurmountable differences.  In fact, these are mixes which can add a nice touch of variety to any equation.

My own observations are my own personal inferences from my own experiences, and of course everyone is different.   Despite the above generalities (and they are just that; generalities), I can think of many individuals who I consider are exceptions to the above (both Anglophones and Francophones).

When I try to relate the above back to my friend’s unique situation in Ontario’s Loyalist regions (Prince Edward County), I tend to think the reasons for my friend’s uncomfortable adjustment tend to be more situation-specific than inherent.

Personally, I tend to think that his own conclusions are misplaced; in the sense that he believes his feeling of being “dépaysé” are related to personality differences between Francophones and Anglophones.  Yet, I tend to believe his feelings have more to do with a conflict between what he is used to from his own upbringing, and what lifestyle is lived by the inhabitants of Prince Edward County.

Prince Edward County has a unique culture, even from the rest of Ontario (I have spend a good deal of time in Prince Edward County over the past few months.  I know people there, and I have also been tracing a branch of my own roots in the region back to the 1700s).
PE Map3

Prince Edward County is a 2 hour drive East of Toronto, a 2 hour drive from Ottawa, and a 4 hour drive West of Montréal.

PE Wn1

Prince Edward County is Ontario’s second largest wine-growing region (after the Niagara Region), dotted with wine-estates, artisan works, fine-food gourmet shops, restored B&Bs in period housing, and hobby farms — a very laid-back lifestyle

PE Bc2

A photo of the beaches I took a few days ago when getting my feet wet at one of the many beaches in Prince Edward County.

Some factoids which I feel do play a direct in how newcomers to the region (both Francophone and Anglophone) may view Prince Edward County:

  • Prince Edward County was settled by Loyalists in the end of the 1700s / beginning of the 1800s.
  • The population is largely comprised of the descendants of those original settlers, and thus it has developed a lifestyle and culture which differs from other regions of Ontario.
  • People are perhaps less apt to leave the region, and there are fewer people who move to the region than other parts of Ontario.  People in Prince Edward County are thus more likely to know each other, to have grown up with each other, and to have many shared common experiences (which people from other parts of Ontario may even have difficulty relating to).
  • It is a wine-growing region, with many beaches, slow-paced outdoor activities, and hobby farms.
  • This leads to a slower pace of life and “let-it-be” lifestyle and attitude.

Yet my friend grew up in face-paced Montréal — a very different city.  He has always been surrounded by highly cosmopolitan environments.  In the past, he was spoiled by also having lived in Québec City with world-class outdoor activities and mountains within a 40 minute dive away (something which Prince Edward County does not have).

Just as important a factor, my friend does not have the best command of English (which prevents him from effectively being able to communicate with the locals in Prince Edward County).

I therefore tend to think that he has encountered a clash of personal-interests, in addition to a very “localized” cultural clash with the residents of Prince Edward County.  Despite his interpretations, I am not sure his unhappiness is related to a personality / cultural clash between Francophone Québec and Anglophone Canada.   Other Anglophones from elsewhere in Canada may also have the same difficulties in adjusting to Prince Edward County (I know several people Anglophone from Toronto who say they too would not be happy living in a rural setting like Prince Edward County).

On the reverse, through my friend, I have met other other Francophones in Prince Edward County who have specifically moved there for the slow-paced lifestyle and relaxed outdoor environment.  They have opened local businesses and have become highly involved in their communities.  Those people love it, and are very comfortable and happy with their decision.

Unfortunately, my friend’s own limited interactions with Anglophone Canada does not allow him to see it this way, and he has come to believe there are irreconcilable differences between Anglophone Canada and Francophone Québec.

This is not the first time that I have seen people on either side of the linguistic divide (Francophone or Anglophone) confuse specific “local conditions” with a macro-cultural or personality divide (ie: the incorrect assumption that if this village is like this, then all of Canada and all Anglophones must be like this… or if these three people were rude to me or could not relate to what is being discussed, then all Francophones and all of Québec must be like this).

In the case of my friend, he was forceably transferred to Prince Edward County from his work for 3 to 4 years.  It was not by his own choosing.  I firmly believe that had he chosen to go there for its laid-back lifestyle, had he chosen to go there for its gastronomic character or its outdoor activities. his experience would have been completely different.

Likewise, knowing his personality and cultural preferences, I have a feeling he would be equally unhappy if he were transferred to the Beauce or very isolated Abitibi Francophone regions of Québec, simply because they do not fit his lifestyle.   To make the point, I know an Anglophone from Toronto who moved to Abitibi in Québec and loves it like nothing else, and I know three Francophones from Québec who moved to the small rural farming town of Vegreville in Alberta who absolutely love it and will never leave.  In these latter cases, they “chose” to move there for reasons offered by these regions, they founded business or integrated within the communities based on mutual interests, and they fit their lifestyles.

This is why is it so important to NOT confuse a very few minor personality differences on either side of the linguistic line with irreconcilable cultural or personality differences between Anglophone Canada and Francophone Québec.  

Even more unfortunate, I caught my friend telling other Québecois out of frustration, based on his Prince Edward County experiences, how Anglophone Canadians and Québec Francohpones are two completely different worlds and completely incompatible.  Sad… very very sad.   When I heard this, I took it upon myself to give him a few stern words and to force him to take a good hard look at himself in the mirror.  But hey, I could get away with doing so — we’re actually very very good friends.   I Have been forcing him to try to view his circumstances a bit differently, and I think he is finally beginning to see the problem is with how his personal interests diverge from the immediate region in which he is living, rather than any problem with Anglophone Canada as a whole.

The ironic thing is that if my friend’s English language competencies were greater, and if he were to have lived in other parts, cities or provinces of Anglophone Canada which better match his personal interests, I do not believe he would feel there would be irreconcilable personality differences between Anglophone Canadians and Francophone Québécois.

I suppose it goes to show that

  1. poor French / English language proficiency (on the part of both Anglophones and Francophones), and
  2. a lack of travel / living in other regions / life-experiences from which to form reference points and knowledge…

still remain the two largest challenges to bridging the Two Solitudes.

(And if you’re wondering… I happen to really like Prince Edward County.  If I were hypothetically asked to move there, I don’t believe it would work for me either because my career and current lifestyle would not make a good fit under present circumstances.  But that doesn’t mean I feel it is irreconcilable with other parts of the country.  It simply means that it wouldn’t suit my current situation to move there at this point in my life.  Point made?).

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