Thursday, August 25, 2005

Progressive Culture

From my viewpoint, it seems that the culture here in Quebec and Canada is more progressive. I've heard it mentioned elsewhere, so I don't think I'm completely off base.

Three events over the past few months point in that direction. First, the legalizing of gay marriage. Second, the fact that they are considering legalizing marijuana. By the way, neither has any affect directly on my life, but I like the fact that people have an open mind.

The last and most recent news is that the prime minister is appointing Michaelle Jean (a BLACK WOMAN FOREIGNER) to be the Governor General. It is largely a figurehead position, since the Prime Minister holds much more power. By the way, there was one short lived woman Prime Minister. But even though Governor General is a figurehead position, it really impresses me that they are doing it. On the US side, you could say Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice prove that blacks and women are moving up, but Condi is in good with the prez and Powell is a revered war hero who people even suggested should have run for prez. This is out an appointment of someone without personnal connections or previous public appeal. There is a bit of controversy over her appointment which my cynical side thought was racially based, but it turns out is all about Quebec Sovereignty. I hope to cover that topic soon.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Surprise!!! Here's something that hasn't been talked about lately. This week's posts will cover current events.

People think they have it bad in the US. Gas here reached the $1.08 per liter mark ($3.40 US per gallon). CNN has been reporting that the national US average is $2.40, so it is about 40% more up here. At first I thought it was because the US subsidised their gas, but now I think it is also because there is more tax on gas here.

It has an interesting effect. People seem to be more conscious about the gas mileage of their cars. Walking down the street this morning, I noticed that probably 80%-90% of the cars were one of the two smallest cars of any car manufacturer (Echo, Civic, Mazda 3, Focus, Jetta, etc.) There are many economy cars on the road and not many SUV's even though SUV's would be better at tackling the winters. Though the larger cars in the US may be due to the fascination with bigger and wider. It has also been suggested to me that Quebecers are very conservative spenders. I guess the US would be also if they were taxed close to 50%. The smaller cars may also be some of that European influence again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


It is interesting the difference in the amount and type of violence between here and Chicago. In Chicago, it seemed the nightly news would report at least one if not more shootings. Here in Montreal, at first I had the impression that there were only crimes of passion or accidental deaths that I would hear on morning rock station radio. By the way, if anyone has a good alternative radio station suggestion here in Montreal I would love to hear about it. I'm kinda stuck listening to classic rock which is fine time to time, but not everyday. Now that I listen to news radio in the evenings, there is more violence than I originally thought, but again, it is primarily crimes of passion or accidental deaths. Along the lines of old boyfriends attacking old girlfriends or hit-and-run deaths. The interesting thing is the lack of shootings. Attacks are generally with knives, which in my mind is a bit more savage and difficult. For me shooting a gun would be easier and less personal. It may be this personal connection and drive needed to use a knife that contributes to the less frequent accounts of homocides. Again, this is not based on numbers and statistics, but personal observations. Bowling for Columbine makes reference that there are ten times less crimes via guns even though there are a higher percentage of gun owners. Why they don't use them is a sociological question that I may address at another time.

Monday, August 15, 2005


One interesting difference I have noticed is that chicken is very popular here. Nine times out of ten when people at the office order out for dinner, it is from one of three or four chicken chains. They try Chinese once in a while, but people complain. St Hubert is the most popular chain. It is more a sit down restaurant than fast food, but they are all over the place. Whenever my in-laws would meet for a family event, it was always St Hubert. When I am out with clients, they choose St Hubert if there is one nearby. Even the Greek gyros equivalent, Libanese shish taouk, is made of spiced chicken on a vertical spit. My guess is that it is as popular as burgers are in the US.

A Croatian friend here also suggested that people look like what they eat. There' may be some truth to it. If you say people in the US are more rotund like cows and people here have skinny legs and more pronounced noses, like chickens.

Here's a picture of a guy I saw at one of the final Expos games (against the Cubs of course).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hey Truck Driver!

There is one difference on the roads that is a bit scary. Your average driver here is much less aggressive that in Chicago. But the truck drivers seem to pick up the slack. Which is the last person on the road you would want driving aggressively. Whereas in Chicago and the US for that matter, truck driver seem to be taught to yield. Some idiot wants to cut the truck driver off, let him because you could serious hurt them and the car. Here it is almost like they are taking the opposite stance. I have this big truck so you better get out of my way. Granted city buses have the right of way, but that doesn't justify trucks. You are supposed to yield to city buses which I applaud. The time of twenty people on the bus should take priority over the one person in the car. Plus the bus passengers are more ecologically friendly. But trucks merging into the front quarter panel of my car just doesn't seem right. It just seems so odd given the rest of the drivers on the road.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Outsider

I'm sure everyone that has moved away from what they call home has gone through this, but here are some of my personal experiences.

From a personal standpoint, the construction industry is so much more interesting in Chicago because of my history and personal connection to it. Having gone to school with so many other architects and working with or alongside them, it gives a personal connection to many of the projects being built and the people who work on them. It will be very difficult and take a long time in order to get that type of connection here in Montreal. Also, I always get excited to see new tall buildings being built. There is a building boom in Chicago right now, so there are tall buildings being constructed all around downtown. It's that combination of personal connection and active construction that I do miss about Chicago.

There is also another part about being an outsider and that is to pop culture. Many things are the same, but many are much different. As I mentioned to a friend in Chicago, my knowledge of pop trivia is not utilized very much here in Montreal. I'm talking about things like who sang this song, this or that movie, or do you remember that TV episode. Sometimes it's harder to relate with people here because our common childhood background is different. It's not a huge part of life, but it is noticed when it is missing.

Another aspect to being an outsider is daily banter. The office I am at currently has a bit of a nose to the grindstone ambiance so there is less banter, but still people don't talk about the same issues as in Chicago. Much of that is due to different interests. In Chicago we would talk about the current sport, current US movies, travel, and items in the US news. Here the topics tend to be hockey, items covered by Quebec news, and much more local topics. To tell you the truth, it kinda takes the fun out of seeing a cool new movie when there is often no one else who has seen it or wants to see it. Same applies to the other topics. Living vicariously through the internet is not quite the same as being able to discuss things on a daily basis. There may be people here with those same interests, but the general population I have come across is not interested in those topics. It is one of the things I really miss. Maybe that's why I write the blog. To be able to share some things with others back home and fint out if there is anyone here who has these interests.

Lastly, there is one thing nice about being an outsider. If you accept it in some ways, you can feel a bit liberated. What I mean is that people already see you as someone different and they are willing to chalk up anything different about you as being due to that larger difference. Does that make sense? For instance, when I lived in France, I wore my hair long and dressed all in black with a black leather biker jacket. I got condescending looks from the Versaille elite who must have figured it was because I was a goofy American. Condescending looks from people back home are different because there is that personal connection.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The BIG City

A good number of my posts have talked more about the positives of Montreal, than those of Chicago. That may be my sub-conscious trying to come to terms with moving. I don't know and hope not. On the heels of our trip , here are some positive points about Chicago.

Chicago is a bigger city and is more diverse. There always seems to be something going on. Every weekend there are multiple things to offer, especially in the summer. So many things. Lectures by famous architects, Art exhibitions, Street festivals, Sporting events, Big Museums, Two Zoos, Navy Pier, Milenium Park. My sister has been going to the free dance lessons in Grant Park that I always used to see walking back from softball. There are also the large travelling exhibits (science or art) that either only make it to very large cities or only US destinations. We saw the fascinating and stomach churning Body Worlds exhibit of real bodies and parts plasticized in order to see the many layers and diseases inside. Then there are the big big events, the Taste of Chicago, the Air & Water Show, July 3rd fireworks, Xmas shopping downtown. Being back there for a couple weeks, it reminded me of the energy and hustle not only downtown, but in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park. Granted Montreal has many of these things, but at a smaller scale. The fireworks are more spectacular (and more often), but you're not watching them with two million of your closest friends.

Whereas in Chicago, minority cultures make up a larger part of the population, here it is primarily French (70%), British Isles (15%), then some Mediterean countries to a much lesser degree. There are some interesting positives to being less diverse, but you still lack some variety. The interesting thing is that having grown up with so many of the different cultures in Chicago (Black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Irish, Italian, Polish, Philipino, Greek), I know much about them, so it is not like I would go to a festival to learn more about them. Though the diversity reaches farther than the ethnicities mentioned. Also, people living in Chicago seemed to come from all over the US in addition to the world. Honestly, I kinda enjoyed being from there having a bit of inside knowledge of the place and history. Here, I am an outsider which is the topic of the next post. It's fun to learn more about the new place, but our trip back reminded me of some things missing here.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Back Home Again (from Home?)

Back from a rejuvenating two weeks in Chicago. Nothing better than spending time with good friends and family and eating all my favorite foods. Along with that, the time gave me the opportunity to verify if some of my memories of Chicago that I addressed in past posts were correct. Here's a brief synopis.

Looks: I'm going to have to stand by my observation that people are better looking here in Montreal. It was noticable even between airports. I think there are four factors that have an equal part in this. Genetics (I think it's the French thing), Size (Thinner people tend to look better), Fashion (We all look better when we dress nicer), and Personal Preference.

Size: There's no denying it, people in the US are bigger. We stopped at a Culvers outside Springfield, Ill and the people there really left an impression. A family with kids bigger than they should be. Another family with adults much bigger than they should be. Then there was a woman not much older than myself who needed a walker and oxygen. From the perspective of living here, it really is getting out of hand.

Traffic: Drivers are more aggressive and have less respect for the rules of the road. Some of it can be chalked up to Chicago being a larger and denser city, but there is evidence of it outside the city also. I think some of it is driven by a larger emphasis on the value of time and the change of accepted proceedures over time. There is more urgency to get to the destination at the earliest possible time and some shortcut measures are deemed acceptable by a signification part of the population.

Before you think I only find negative observations of Chicago, my next post will address the positives of Chicago and some negatives about life here.

Update Aug 2, 2005
One thing I forgot about in the Size point. Everything is bigger. The size of cars really struck me. SUV's are one thing, but so many people are now driving trucks the size of the old Suburbans. And everything comes in bulk. Not a one litre bottle of water, but two litres. Food portions at restaurants are getting out of hand (though I ate every bite). If you add appetizers and dessert to that, you've had a full day's meal. I think it may not have gotten bigger since I left, but now with two years away perspective, the obsession with bigger things really left an impression.