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“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.



Examples of Stereotypes France has of Québec, and vice-versa (#141)

This post is to be taken with a grain of salt.  Just go with it and smile (don’t take it too seriously).

This post deals with many “language” prejudices (among others).

PREFACE – First, some context: 

Before going further into this post, readers should be aware that there are many styles of French both in Canada and in Europe.  Stereotypes are generally gross overgeneralizations and misconceptions.  One such overgeneralizations is not being aware of our true linguistic realities.

Québec’s French is only one component of a greater family of Canadian styles of French.  Within Québec French, there can often be large variations.  Even Canada’s overall French situation can be quite diverse, from coast to coast.

Click on the maps below for a bit more context:


Likewise, just as there can be a large degree of variation in Canadian styles of French, so too can there be in Europe.

Click below for some European differences;

fr.acc fr.langwal.dia  bed.acc


The unbelievable spat between Marie-France Bazzo (Québec) & Sophie Aram (France) on the airwaves of Radio-Canada/CBC

Here is an example of how this topic can be very touchy for those few people who take the topic of stereotyping waaaaay too serious.

CBC/Radio-Canada, as Canada’s public broadcaster, shouldn’t be used as an opinion-piece forum for radio-hosts who get their shorts in a knot and use the broadcast button to seek egoistic revenge if they don’t agree with something.

(Before going further, as an aside, right about the time that this less-than-classy spat to air on Radio-Canada, it was announced that Marie-France Bazzo and Radio-Canada’s management had a “difference of opinions”, and that Bazzo would no longer be an employee at Radio-Canada. I don’t know if this is connected to this event.  Bazzo has continued to host her own long-time opinion-piece show on Télé-Québec, as well as producing works for other networks).

If you don’t speak French, no worries, the section after this one has a different example for you, complete with English translations.

But for those who do speak French, I’m starting this post with an example of a childish outburst when a (former) Radio-Canada radio host (Marie-France Bazzo) took a French comedian to task for imitating a Québec accent.

Here is the video of Sophie Aram (comedian in France) imitating a Québec accent.   This is the video which drew the ire of Marie-France Bazzo in Québec.  I searched the web, and Bazzo appears to be the only person in Québec’s media who took it this serious (at least that I heard).

For me the best part of the video is the look on Danny Laferrière’s face when he’s trying to figure out how to react (priceless — Love it!!).

BELOW is the ON-AIR FIGHT (ON RADIO-CANADA of all places!!!!) between Mario-France Bazzo and Sophie Aram:  CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

(All I have to add is HOLY CRAP !! LIGHTEN UP !! Good grief.)




With the above in context, now let us continue with a different, much friendlier example 

(for those who don’t necessarily speak French, the following may be easier to follow):

Below is another conversation between two celebrities;  one from Québec, and one from France.

I thought this would be a light-hearted, interesting conversation to present to you, precisely because I have heard this sort of discussion on numerous occasions between those of us from Canada and from France.  🙂   It’s the type of conversation which usually makes us smile on both sides of the ocean.

For the readers of this blog who don’t speak French, I’ll paraphrase and summarize the below conversation between Monqiue Giroux (from Québec), and André Manoukian (from France).

In this conversation, Giroux responds to Manoukian after he made public statements on the radio in France which could be considered stereotypes people in France have about Québec; most notably, how they speak.   The conversation (and it is just that, a well-articulated, friendly and humourous conversation) was arranged by, and aired on the France television program “64’ Grand angle”.

Monique Giroux is a Québec music journalist, music program producer / host, and considered one of the French-speaking world’s most authoritative and engaged “activist” for the promotion of French music.   She promotes Francophone music of all types, from Québec, the rest of Canada, Europe and elsewhere in the world.  She has hosted numerous radio music shows from the Montréal studios of Radio-Canada Première, and travels so extensively and so often to places such as France and elsewhere, on a mission to promote Francophone music from a journalistic point of view, that she has become quite well known in European media circles.   In addition, she has befriended some of the largest names in Francophone music (both past and present).   As a testament to her efforts to raise the profile and appreciation for Francophone music, Giroux has been awarded some of the highest civic honours of state of Canada (the Order of Canada / l’Ordre du Canada), of Québec (l’Ordre du Québec), and France (Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres).

André Manoukian is a very famous songwriter from France and he has a radio music program on France Inter.  What I find quite intriguing is that he was educated in Boston – so presumably, because Boston is only a 5 hour drive from Montréal, and because he has travelled many times to Québec, he likely knows Québec quite well.   Manoukian has written songs not only for some of the biggest names in French music, but also for big Anglophone singers such as Janet Jackson.  Of the Francophones he has written songs for, some are also among Québec’s biggest names, such as Diane Dufresne.   Because of his stature, he was one of the judges on the French equivalent of “Pop Idol” in France.

So lets get into the conversation (take it with a light heart and a smile… the tone of it was all in good fun).    I’m going to paraphrase, and skip much of the small talk.

—- The YouTube video for the conversation is here with TRANSLATIONS FOLLOWING:


  • Starts by asking why the French have so many stereotypes about Québec.
  • Says Manoukian stated on an earlier on-air program that Québécois speak with an embellished and outdated/archaic, form of language (une langue archaic fleurie) which makes for laughs (se bien marrer). The presumption is that he made the statements in a pejorative sense, as something to be laughed at.


  • Says wasn’t his intention to make fun. That he was referring to the “naivity” of the language used in Québec music (ooops… he caught himself using the word “naivity” 😉 )
  • He then covers his tracks, and sincerely states that in Québec, people have become vigilant gate-keepers of the French language, in a way which no longer exists in France.
  • Says he likes how older French words are conserved in Québec French, accompanied by a very modern edge.
  • Says people are very attached to their language in Québec because they form a small population in the middle of a very large North American Anglophone population.
  • He says he enjoys hearing authentic French words in Québec, as well as in Cajun communities — words which are no longer used in France (words which sometimes need to be explained to him), and that he misspoke when he made his earlier on-air comments.


  • Asks Giroux what enticed her to write a public rebuttal to Manoukian’s on-air statements regarding Québec French.


  • She says she, like many other people from Québec, heard Manoukian’s on-air comments (his show from France is also broadcast in Québec), and her personal reaction was the same as many others. But what was so surprising to her was the scale of reaction (or backlash) against Manoukian’s comments from Québécois.
  • She believes there is a misunderstanding on the part of France towards Québec’s current (linguistic) situation. She says whereas Manoukian may believe Québécois speak “Old French” (“le vieux françoié”, which she pronounced with an overemphasized slangish twang), that it is not so much the case anymore.   (In this context, she’s speaking of the Québec slang and Joual, as well as other informal ways of speaking).
  • She says Québécois do not use dog-sleds as a mode of transport (the timing for this one was perfect, because I incidentally joked about the same thing a few days ago in my earlier post Comparisons can be a good thing”
  • Giroux emphasized that Québécois live in (North) America, and just like in France and other French nations, we have a ton of different French accents here. She also said when the French visit Québec, it is no longer Québécois who have an accent, but rather the French who have an accent – which is the beauty of the whole thing.
  • She’s happy to see that, as two journalists, they’re sitting and talking about stereotypes, because it is a good way for the public to hear the discussion, and to not focus on it so heavily in the future (especially when it comes to artistic circles, in which French artists will sometimes tease Québec artists on the air about how they speak or their choice of musical genre, such as playing “hick accordions”).


  • Says he has made several trips to Québec for music events, but then was taken by Québécois themselves to a “sugar shack” (cabane à sucre), which plays into stereotypes.


  • Asks if Québec has become the new ardent defender of the French language, rather than France, because Québec is in North America, which makes people feel they must fight harder to protect their language against the weight of US culture. He cites the example of movie titles;  In France, movie titles are known by their English names (cites Twelve Years a Slave in France, whereas it’s known as Esclave pendant douze ans in Québec).


  • The local version of the show “The Voice”, is called “La Voix” in the local Québec version (Québec produces its own version, as does France), but it has retained the English name “The Voice” in France.
  • She said that when Manoukian alledged that Québéc speaks with an embellished archaic language, that Québec’s choice of words of course would sound archaic to France if France does not cease anglicizing words and does not cultivate their vocabulary correctly.


  • (Question to Giroux): Do you say “Où as tu parké ton char?” (which is a very slang, joual-like Québécois and Canadian French way of asking “Where did you park your car?” – in a literal sense, in English it would almost be as if to ask someone “Where did you halt your wagon?”).  This is one well-known slang expression from Québec and Canada that French from France usually cite when teasing Québécois about the way they speak.


  • No.


  • Ok.


  • Says, there may be people who say this in Québec, but even in France, there are people who speak le verlan (which is the word for slang in France). But she said it is not everyone in Québec who says “Où ce que t’as parké ton char?”

(A personal side comment: Something quite interesting I had not thought about:  probably 8 times out of 10, I myself say “voiture” (car) instead of “char” (wagon)… but there are those 2 times out of 10 where I will say “char”… It completely depends one who I am talking to, the informality of the discussion and the situation, the language being used by the person I am speaking with, and the mood of the discussion.   For example, I had a business meeting in Québec City not long ago.  There would have been zero chance I would have entertained the thought of calling my car a “char” when speaking in a business context.   But later, when I went for a beer with people not related to anything business, the environment was much more relaxed, and I probably slipped in the word char when I was talking about a drive I did on the outskirts of town earlier that day.  When I was younger, in my teen years, I was more apt to say “char”, but I grew up, just like everyone else.  😉 .  You may recall from the Joual recording, which I made in an earlier post, that I did use the word “char” in the dialogue, but I also used “voiture” in the International French dialogue I recorded.   It goes to show that what Giroux says does hold merit, and that stereotypes the French have of how Québécois speak, on the whole, are not necessarily correct, but there are exceptions — just as someone may say “an old beater” or “old clunker” in English instead of a “used car”, or refer to their car as their “wheels”).


  • Says the Belgians make fun of how the French speak, and the French make fun of how the Belgians speak. He asks Giroux if the Québécois make fun of how the French speak.


  • After pondering the question, she says “Not really, but perhaps a bit”.
  • She says she has noticed, surprisingly, that the old expression “les maudits français” (“the damned French”) is making a come-back in Québec society.  It is a Québec expression which means “Oh, it’s just the snobbish French and their usual nose-in-the-air habits”).

(Giroux’s last comment is interesting.  When I think of it, I’m also hearing this expression more and more often in the media, at least more often than when I was young — but it’s usually said in an endearing, light-teasing kind of way).

  • Referring to particular topic, she said she heard a reporter recently state, on a major Québec TV network, that “This [subject] is too ‘France!’ ”, as if the subject at hand was not a good thing because it has too much of an aura of France.  She says this last narrow-viewed statement got to her when she heard it in Québec.  Particularly didn’t like hearing this statement because imagine if someone described a situation as being “too ‘Amermenian’ ”, or “too ‘Arabic’.”.  But she said in Québec, people will tolerate hearing  “This is too –French-.”.    She said this is how stereotypes take on a life of their own, and she’s recognizing the phenomena exists on both sides.


  • He goes on to talks about how the mouth, lips, and tongue are physically positioned when Québecois speak French versus people from France, and how that influences accents and ways of singing (kind of unrelated stuff)

It’s always interesting to hear these types of discussions – as simple distractions if for nothing else.