Learning about our neighbors to the north

By Julia Barlow, Development Assistant, Arts Midwest

Spending time with the members of Le Vent du Nord last week really showed me just how little I knew about our neighbors to the north. I have never lived more than a few hours from Canada, but I hadn’t really explored the diverse cultures that compose the nation.

My first time in Canada at all was only a month or so ago, when I visited Montreal. I was surprised to find out just how French Québec was! They greet you with bonjour, they have cobblestone streets, and they even do the bise. One big surprise was noticing the road signs were all in French—this was especially problematic when we got lost driving in a construction zone and almost couldn’t get out of the city.

My brief visit to Montreal left me full of curiosity about the Québécois, so my time spent with the members of Le Vent du Nord couldn’t have been timelier.

The language, of course, was the most striking difference between the ensemble and other Canadians I’ve met. Though they all have a great command of English, they only speak French to each other—they said that speaking English together was awkward. They spoke English with French accents, which really surprised me for some reason—I had previously assumed that all French Canadians spoke both languages. I learned that in Québec, most residents exclusively speak French, but must take English in school from third grade through high school. Kindergarteners must be fluent in French to be enrolled in public schools, so immigrants from other countries or other provinces must either enroll in private schools or learn French elsewhere before kindergarten.

The members of Le Vent du Nord also have a very strong devotion to Québec and French-Canadian culture. Descended from the French, they don’t often identify with the Anglo culture of their provincial neighbors, nor the English language spoken throughout Canada. Of course, these five guys don’t represent Québec as a whole, just as the Backstreet Boys don’t represent all of the United States. The members of Le Vent du Nord are committed to being ambassadors of Québécois culture—they perform traditional music because they want to preserve a piece of their culture.

I am very glad that I was able to spend some time hanging out with Nicolas, Simon, Olivier, Réjean, and Francois. I’m sure I still have much to learn about a country that’s so close to us, but my eyes were opened, however briefly, into the world of Québec culture and politics. Merci to the ensemble for teaching me about their culture!

Flag of Québec

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