Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sovereignty - Part 2 - My Viewpoint

I have now been aware of Quebec for 12 years and lived here for two. My wife and my in-laws are franophone, so my knowledge and personal experiences of Quebec have been primarily from them until recently. Now that I live here I am conflicted regarding whether Quebec should become sovereign.

In history, a major reason for a good percentage of conflicts is either one power oppressing another or distinct societies forced to exist together. This was the case in India, Yugoslavia, and to some degree Iraq. I mention Iraq not because of the US occupation, but because it seems there are distinct groups of people within the country who may be better off if they are separated into different areas.

Now I'm not saying that Quebec is extremely oppressed by the rest of Canada, but they are very distinct from the rest. Not only with language, but by their welfare programs and their ideals. To a degree the distinct nature is like Texas is within the US. And if they secede, they can take the president with them.

Now that I live here, I cannot only dwell on the romantic notion of sovereignty. I have a vested interest in the economy, the bilingual culture, and the outlook of this place. My occupation is closely tied to the economy. When things are not good like during the US recession in the early 1990's, work is hard to come by. During the dot-com boom salaries were going through the roof. I love the bilingual culture here. It has made my assimulation that much easier. If sovereignty happens, my worry is the anglophone community will slowly disappear. I enjoy that my wife and I can each speak are mother tongue languages and find outlets in our respective languages. Plus our children will also be able to grow up in this environment. Lastly I worry about Quebec being able to flourish on it's own. I don't deny that there are people here capable of running a separate Quebec. I worry that the transition would cause turmoil.

So that is my current standpoint on the situation. I would really like to hear your feelings on the matter. The next part in the series will cover the events of the last few years and the current situation.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Montreal Moonset

Taken an early October morning. You can see the line up for the Victoria Bridge in the bottom right corner.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sovereignty - Part 1 - Some Background

Let me start by saying that my goal is not to open a can of worms. The goal of this series is two-fold. First is to inform those who know little about the situation here in Quebec much like I did 12 years ago before I met my future wife. Second is to hear others take on the situation. I come to this country primarily from the francophone side. I am interested to know truly how the anglophone or allophones feel in Canada, inside and outside Quebec.

If you would like to know the whole story, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start. To save some reading (It has taken me a while and I'm not done), here is my attempt at a summary.

One of the basic principles behind the sovereignty movement is seen in the Constitutional Debate of Canada. Quebec is a distinct culture and has a distinct national identity within Canada. One side of the debate suggests that Quebec should have an equal standing in Canada. The other suggests that special provisions should be made for Quebec within Canada due to it's uniqueness. The current situation floats somewhere between. One side says Quebec has too many special provisions while the other says not enough.

Quebec is the only province that has not ratified the Constitution Act of 1982. There have been many attempts to implement provisions that would address Quebec as a distinct society so they could ratify the act. The Meech Lake Accord (1987) and the Charlottetown Accord (1992) are a couple of these attempts. While each were accepted by a good percentage of the population, there were enough no votes inside and outside Quebec to prevent them from passing.

From Wikipedia: "Although it is primarily a political question, cultural concerns are also at the root of the desire for independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereigntists is that only citizenship for Quebec can adequately and permanently resolve the difficult issue of the language of the majority (Quebec French), allow Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive."

The 1980 referendum. In the late '70's, the Parti Quebecois gained popularity in Quebec. The party advocates national sovereignty for Quebec from Canada. Their gain of popularity made them feel that sovereignty through a referendum would be possible. The referendum basically called for sovereignty-association where Quebec would be separate except for economic ties like trade agreements and common currency. The referendum was defeated 60% to 40%.

The 1995 referendum. In 1995, the idea of sovereignty was again brought to the forefront. After the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord, many in Quebec felt that a resolution to the Quebec question would not be answered without sovereignty. The Bloc Quebecois was formed since the last referendum and is the sovereigntist federal party. As their power grew, also did the sovereigntist movement. The new referendum was similar to that of 1980 except the economic association was left optional. The referendum was narrowly defeated 50.58% to 49.42%.

More recent events from the past three years will be covered in Part 3.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Welcome YULblog!

This blog is now branching out a little further. I am now listed on YULblog, which is a listing of blogs in Montreal. YUL are the airport call letters for Montreal's Dorval airport. As relative to this airport as ORD is to Chicago's O'Hare airport. YULblog is not a blog about Christmas. Welcome everyone who has come through that link. I hope you find some of this interesting.

In related news, my sitemeter is rapidly rising. I should hit the 1000 mark in the next week and my weekly hits are getting close to 100 per week. This blog started in February, so you can get an idea of how quickly my hit rate has gone up. My page views and time spent on the blog are going up so that's a good sign.

It has been interesting to see how people have been coming to the site. I would say a good bulk of people lately have come via searches related to the language series and the overpopulation post. Some others for the racism post. I am still planning on posting on the separatism issue here, but I would like to get my thoughts down correctly. I will probably get quite a few hits for that.

It has been quite a release to be able to share these observations that I had been thinking about over the past two years. Feel free to comment. This is only one persons perspective. It is from a different perspective, but may be naive and not completely accurate. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


The prefered makes of cars is different here. There are fewer American made cars. It seems their low end cars are the default if people cannot afford low end Japanese models. Volkswagens and Mazdas seem to be more popular. And you don't see as many LARGE vehicles such as the Lincoln Navigator or the Ford Expedition. The Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3, and the Toyota Echo are very popular.

The new Smart car fortwo can be seen all over now, especially for advertising. Minivans seem to be as popular. It seems four wheel drive cars like the Subaru Outback and Legacy are a bit more common due to the combination of decent gas mileage and 4WD for winter conditions. The interesting thing is that other four wheel drive vehicles particularly SUV's are not more popular. I guess high gas prices trump over getting in and out of unplowed parallel parking spaces.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Montreal Sunset #3

This reminds me of a Monet sunrise painting I used to have in my room during grad school. For comparison, here are sunsets #1 and #2.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Speaking Canadian

In my time here, I have not noticed a few differences in Canadian English versus that which I know of in the states. There are three that stand out that I can remember and they are listed below. There are other smaller differences such as using British terms as opposed to US used terms. By the way, I don't like to use the term American since technically it should refer to people or things from two continents, not just the US. Anyhow, here are the three terms that jump out to me. I think there are a couple others, but I can't remember them.

About : This is probably the signature word that screams Canadian. Here they pronounce it a-boot, whereas in the US it is a-bout.

Schedule : This word is pronounced like they do in the UK. Here it is pronounced shedule. Back in the US it is skedule.

Processed cheese : When I first heard this term, I thought everyone was just being honest and calling it what it is. But recently I realized that it may also be that they don't want to (or have no reason) to call it American cheese. Also they pronounce it differently. Here it is pro-sessed cheese while in the US it is prahsessed.

Lastly, it is funny the avenues that take you to certain reaches of the web. I was looking at my sitemeter summary and saw that someone from England found my site after doing a search for "the percentage of people speaking in Montreal" on Google. I clicked on the third result and got sent to an interesting article on North American linguistics and English in Montreal. It has parallels to my recent post on demographics. It's an interesting article about the research of a professor from McGill.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


There has been much talk since gas prices have gone up about reduced energy use and renewable resources. But I think there are some other issues that should be thought about.

Back in the early days of society and religion, having children was used by those in power as a way to continue to stay in power and/or propagate their religion. To stay in power, if those under you have many children, they will have a more difficult time trying to get an advantage on you. For religion, having more children will mean there will be more followers, and maybe some years down the road they will work their way up to power. It can even be seen today where poor Irish and Italian immigrants coming to North America started as blue-collar workers and have worked their way up to mayors, presidents, and CEO's.

I feel this propagation trend needs to be slowed down. At a very basic level each person requires food and produces waste. When you throw modern conveniences and amenities, it multiplies. Overall, the resources of the world are getting or are very strained. Some suggest we will need to colonize other planets due to the increasing population, but why not control the problem and enjoy the earth we have. There are currently places that have zero or no population growth including Chech, China, and Quebec.

What am I suggesting? Many major religions hold that sex should only be for procreating. As opposed to the past when those doctrines were created, we have effective means of birth control. And modern psychology has shown that sex is a necessary form of intimacy between two people. People should pick the time and atmosphere that children are brought into the world. There should not be this common belief that everyone must have children to have a complete life. Yes, some children from accidental pregnancies go on to be great people, but what about all the others who unluckily are brought into a life of hardship. What I want to say is that everyone brought into the world should be there because they are wanted for real reasons. I think once society starts doing that, we will start living in a more balanced and stable planet. If we don't get a handle on population growth, the renewable energy efforts will be fighting even more of an uphill battle.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Autumn is Fleeting

Same pic as last week, but from a different angle.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Honk If You're Horny

One item here that has recently jumped out at me again is the lack of honking. Again, my primary driving experiences consist of the Plateau and the South Shore.

Sometimes is seems like people will wait an eternity even for a courtesy honk for someone not paying attention to a traffic light. Usually it is only at about 3 to 5 seconds before someone taps the horn if at all. I applaud it because it cuts down on noise levels, but my brain desperately wants to give the courtesy tap after 2 seconds. I guess it's just that city boy in me wanting to get on with it. I have actually held myself back to 5 seconds because I : don't want to start a trend; and I want to avoid at all costs being the pushy American. Of course there are exceptions, but there are always exceptions everywhere. Back in the city of my birth if you didn't move within a second (sometimes instantaneously) you would get the horn. So this has been a nice change, but at times to the degree of insanity. But if my stress levels go up, I may revert to the semi-pushy American.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Usually my favorite movies are those that I hear very little about before seeing them. That way I don't have any expectations and I don't know too much of the storyline. Serenity I had seen the trailers a few times on TV and I read the synopsis on I saw that it got good ratings from people who saw it, but it's the general public and we still did not know much about the story. Ironically by recommending it, I may be getting up your expectations.

We really enjoyed this movie. I would describe it as a mix of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars Ep 4. It has the humor of Raiders, the futuristic look and feel of Star Wars, with the action of both. I really want to see it again partly because we were up front and I missed a few things.

The cast is largely unknowns which is also a plus (just like Star Wars). Plus my wife and I agree the cast were easy on the eyes. The two cast members that I had seen before include Ron Glass and Adam Baldwin. Ron Glass I remember from the Barney Miller TV show. Adam Baldwin was the hero, Ricky Linderman, from one of my childhood favorite movies, My Bodyguard. The film was shot near my home and we had it on tape so I saw it dozens of times. It was also the second major film of Matt Dillon and Joan Cusack.

Back to Serenity, the storyline also has quite a few parallels to Star Wars. Underdogs, faith, and moral character. I really enjoyed the cinematography. They played with the focus a few times where the primary speaker was out of focus in order to keep your attention on the person in focus. One observation is that the movie is full of Asian references (they even swear in Chinese), but there are very few Asian actors in the film. In summary, the film is well balanced between the humor, action, drama, and horror. I look forward to seeing it again and hope for a sequel. I am also anxious to see how it plays out in the general public. Will it fade away as a good film, be a largely forgotten film, become a cult classic, or become the start of a new series of films? I consider it the best movie I have seen this year and would give it 9.3 out of 10.

Programming Note

Diversification. I had planned to keep this blog focused on Chicago vs Montreal differences, but there is so much more to life that I will slowly add other topics. I already have made my voice heard on some political issues. There are also a few other reasons. How many things can be said about the differences in cities? The audience of the blog is changing from almost strictly Chicagoans to include Montrealers. And whereas, my thoughts consisted primarily about my new environment as compared to my previous habitat, it is time to move on and embrace life here. Part of that transition was possible because of the release I got expressing my observations on this blog. As with everything, it is time to evolve. I still have at least two dozen topics I hope to cover in the coming months, including separtism, temperature, and snow. I also hope to keep my posts at about two a week. Not too much, not too little.

With that, I am posting my first movie review. Like most people, I like movies and like telling others what I think about them. My movie tastes tend to be eclectic. I figured out recently that I like thrillers, but not tear-jerker dramas. I have seen enough war movies that I'm not in a rush to see another. I like movies that are different like Memento and Amelie. Especially when they are filmed artistically like the M. Night Shyamalan movies. Though I'm not a movie snob. I liked comedies like Happy Gilmore and camply action movies like The Fifth Element. I'll try to limit the reviews to really good movies, lesser know films, and those I have differing opinions that the general public.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Autumn This Weekend

This weekend is probably your best shot to see the fall colors. This photo was taken last year on this weekend. The sugar maples put on quite a show.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Man in the Mirror

I apoligize for another Bush post, but I just read something I found ironic. From CBC News:

Bush drew parallels between the war on terrorism and the earlier fight against communism.

"Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience must be taken very seriously, and we must stop them before their crimes multiply."

He also gave us a timely reminder to remember to be living in fear of terrorism in case we forgot because of the hurricanes. Oh yeah, the next plague may be coming soon also.

Language, Part 3 - Correction

In my last post earlier this week, I rattled off some numbers in paragraph two in a haste to publish the next in the series. I had studied the demographics a few months ago and the numbers cited were from my recollection. Here are the correct demographics for the island. I used the 1996 Census results from the City of Montreal webpage. There is a study done more recently, but the raw census numbers gave more info. I hope this is of use or of interest to you.

Although there is a common notion here that the island splits into east and west sections either at St. Laurent or downtown, it seems the island splits more into three sections with a couple exceptions. There is the west island west of the Chomedey expressway. There is the east island east of Papineau. And there is the center section between the other two.

The island as a whole. Consistently around the island the allophones (those who's mother tongue is neither English or French) stands between 25% and 30%. Francophones (mother tongue French) make up 54% of the island and anglophones (mother tongue English) make up 19%. Among the allophones, Italian is 6.3%, Spanish at 2.9%, Arabic at 2.6%, Chinese 1.7%, Greek 1.5%, Creole 1.5%, Portugese 1.2%, and Vietnamese 1.0%. As an interesting side note, Blacks make up only 5.7%. I know they are about 10% in the US with higher concentrations in the major cities. So I would guess there are four times less blacks here that back in the US. This is in reference to a previous post on my preceived lack of racism.

Breakdown by city sections. Not including the allophones, the percentages of anglophone and francophones are: 63.3%/36.7% on the west island, 27.4%/72.6% in the center, and 6.8%/93.2% on the east island. Regarding bilingualism the rate is 65.3% in the west, 56.4% in the center, and 44,5% in the east. For those who can speak only English, 25% of the west island can only speak English, 15.4% in the center, and 4.5% in the east. French breaks down 7.8% in the west, 25% in the center, and 47.3% in the east. So you can see that it generally does have the east/west division with a leaning toward French all over the island. Another side note, the anglophone/francophone division in Longueil on the south shore is 10%/90% to strength the point in the last post of how French become dominant off the island.

The exceptions. Hampsted and Westmont were grouped with the west island because they have the highest anglophone populations and lowest francophone populations. Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG) is almost equally balanced between the three groups and has an unusually high concentration of English only citizens. St-Laurent, Villeray, St-Michel, Parc-Extension, and St-Leonard have high allophone populations. I'll elaborate on that in the next paragraph. Although Ahuntsic and Cartierville are in the center, they have a very low anglophone population (5.8%). Although Ile-Bizard is west island, it has twice as many francophones than anglophones.

Where are the allophones? It is well know that the Jewish have settled on the opposite side of the mountain from downtown in Outremont, Cote-St-Luc, Hampstead, and Montreal-Ouest. Also the Italians along with the Spanish are concentrated in the north east island: St-Leonard, Riviere-des-Prairies, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Montreal-Est, Montreal-Nord, Villeray, St-Michel, and Parc-Extension. Arabs are primarily north of the city in St-Laurent, Mont-Royal, Ahuntsic, Cartierville, Dollard-des-Ormeaux (DDO), and Roxboro. And the Chinese are concentrated in St-Laurent, Ville-Marie, Villeray, St-Michel, Parc-Extension, and the Plateau-Mont-Royal.

I really enjoyed plowing through the numbers and distilling the breakdown and exceptions. But that's what I do for a living, play with numbers and problem solve. I have also done studies of professional sports and each city or teams frequency of championships. I may share it around the World Series. This study also helps me get a better sense of the city. I hope you find it interesting and useful.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Metroblogging Montréal

Thanks again to my friend John, I am taking another step in the blogosphere. He suggested a link to Metroblogging New Orleans during Katrina to get some first-hand accounts of what people were going through. From there I realized there was a Metroblogging Montréal. Soon after I started following that page, one of the authors asked for more authors. So I am taking the plunge and seeing what I can offer. My plan is to keep this blog focussed on Montreal vs. Chicago differences and have posts on the other page relating to day to day life in Montreal. I see this winter as being slow on the sport viewing side since the Bears, Illini, and even the Packers don't look to do well. So I will use that time and other time that I was otherwise doing meaningless surfing devoted to this new endeavor. Wish me luck and thanks for reading.

Language, Part 2 - Quebec

Here is what I understand as the situation here in Quebec given my experience so far. For the natives, feel free to correct me.

The language demographics. Outside of the metropolitan area and places patronized by anglophone tourists, French is the language and English is a rarity. Many people outside these areas have little need and opportunity to speak English. In the metropolitan area, the division of francophone/anglophone splits at downtown. East of downtown is francophone generally by a ratio of 90/10, while west of downtown is anglophone by a ratio of 70/30. I did not include allophones (those who speak another language) in the percentages. They generally make up about 10 -15% on the island. My impression is that about half the francophones are fluent in English, while closer to three-quaters of the anglophones are fluent in French. I have limited experience of the north shore and the west island, so these are educated guesses on the anglophones.

Although I think a francophone can get by not speaking English as long as their business is not downtown, I find it hard believe an anglophone could do the opposite. I say this because French is the primary language here and there are only limited areas that are largely anglophone. I'm sure people could get by the same way I did in Europe, but to live here I feel you would eventually need to understand French. I'm just saying that it limits your options on both sides.

As a foreigner, I have addressed the language situation by assuming that this is a francophone province and it is my perogative to treat it as such. Therefore, when I meet people for the first time, I always address them in French and try my best to continue discussions in French. The funny thing is that many times it is evident that the person I am speaking to is anglophone but my brain keeps wanting to address them in French. When I return to the states I have the same problem. My brain keeps wanting to address people in French and sometimes I say Merci instead of Thank you.

With all of this said, it is a great place to learn French for an anglophone. Everything is written in both languages. There is a high percentage of people who speak both languages downtown. And I think that since people in the city know what it is like to learn the other language, they are very understanding of people who are learning. The other thing is that since there is an anglophone presense here, there is always that opportunity to escape back to your mother tongue every once in a while. For instance, I have been very bad about reading and watching things in French. I have been worried I would miss some important news or whathaveyou. Now that I am retreating from my interest in the news to return to naive bliss, I am free to study more on those fronts.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Language, Part 1 - My Background

I have been putting off this series of posts for some time now. Mainly because I wanted to collect my thoughts and make sure of what I have observed since it is probably the biggest aspect of life here. I will start with my journey with the French language so you know where I am coming from and where I'm at.

Fifteen years ago, I took part in a study abroad program in Versailles, France. The program was the equivalent of tranporting our classroom into a foreign country. We had all our own professors, our classes were in English, and the classes were the same as those the other half of our class took back home. So to prepare us for our stay, we were required to take a basic French class. I was in the lowest level class and we learned very basic French. Just a step above what you would read in a tourist guide. My best memory was when a friend learned how to say his name : 'Je m'appel Chuck'. Over the summer before the trip, I also bought a set of language cassettes and tried listen and repeating them in the car to work.

My very first experience was on the plane to France. I remember the flight attendant saying 'Bonjour' and I kinda chuckled and thought 'OK, Bonn Jewr'. But then I started to realize 'Hello!! You better get used to this'. It is funny how you find other languages kinda funny when you have limited knowledge of it. An example is Arnold's 'Hasta la vista.... baby'. After arriving in France, the school had set aside the first couple weeks for intense study of the language. I was still in the bottom class and we struggled through it. I even took a supplementary course. For that nine months, I had enough to get by (where is this and that?, my name is..., train schedules), but a conversation was out of the question.

A couple years later, I met my future wife (a Quebecoise) who came on the opposite exchange from France. She had a better handle on English and served as tranlator for the other French. That year I started spending a week or two every year coming to visit the in-laws. Only three or four were fluent and a couple others could hold conversations. Over the years, the trips served as yearly refresher courses slowly learning a little every year.

After my graduation, I returned to France for three reasons. To spend time with my girlfriend, help her with her thesis, and learn more about the French culture and language without the shelter of the school. I basically spent the nine months sitting quietly listening to those around me hold conversations. So my ear for the language progressed, my speaking skill advanced a bit mimicing what I had heard, but my writing skills did not advance. I ran into a few of the stereotypical French who refused to understand me. I would ask for a bagette and get a blank stare. 'Hello!! This is a bakery and your most popular product is bagettes!' Not to mention I would go in there everyday and get the same thing. Long red hair dressed all in black sticks out in bourgois Versailles.

So then the move here two years ago. Let me say for the first time (I will say it again later) that the people here are extremely understanding for someone learning the langauge. Almost night and day compared to France. In this nurturing environment, I have progressed to the current state of being able to understand most conversations with some concentration on my part. I can get my point across, but I still search for words. I can get the gist of what is written as long as there are no complex words. I can write with the help of a dictionary, but I have not mastered the best way to turn phrases. I still have times when I am completely lost. Sometimes because of peoples accent, the subject matter, or if people speak in cliches or expressions.

In the next post later this week, I will cover the state of language here in Montreal from what I have seen these last two years.