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Neither French nor European, but Québécois

August 23, 2009

I would like to make a point clear.

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who calls me either French-something (with the exception of French-speaking something), or European-something expose themselves to being screamed at. A lot.

I am not French (note that anything I say of France here, applies equally to Europe as a whole). France is, as far as I’m concerned, a country that’s halfway on the other side of the world, that I’ve never been to, and that I feel no particular interest to ever visit. It’s a country whose people I feel no particular link to, other than the fact that they speak a (mostly) intelligible language.

I have, of course, French ancestry, but ten, twelve generations ago: too far ago for it to be of any meaning. My grandparents never lived in France. They never even knew (to the best of my knowledge) any of their France-born ancestors. Neither did their grandparents, or their grandparents’ grandparents. It’s quite probable even their grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents never met an actual France-born person that was a close relative (actually, it’s not impossible that they never a met a France-born person, period).

This means my family has no tales, no small-h history, no passed-down memories of Europe (except as tourists in the past two generations). That we know at all about our European ancestry is because history books and classes and genealogical records say so. In the overwhelming majority of cases, we barely even know the name of those European ancestors. Sometime, we know when they were born and when they were buried, depending on how well the Church records of their baptism and funeral survived.

The tales, the small-h history, the passed-down memories in my family all belong here, in the New World, every last one of them. They’re set, not in Paris or Lyon or Orléans or Bordeaux, but in places named Bellechasse. Varennes. Coaticook and Saint-Hilaire, Montreal too. My homeland, and the land of my ancestors, is right here, between the Laurentians and the Appalachians, along the Saint Lawrence and its tributaries.

You can call me Caucasian if you really must make some “racial” differences. You can call me Canadian; that’s certainly accurate politically and I’m not about to be offended. You can call me Quebecer, that’s also politically accurate. Francophone (or French-speaking) is certainly true. But if you really want to call me by what I am, then the word you want isn’t French-Canadian or French-North-American or New French, or European-American or European-Canadian, or even French-Quebecer.

That word is Québécois. (Or Quebecois, if you have an English keyboard).

(Note that I am speaking for myself here, not for other Québécois. Doubtless many of them object to French-Canadian because it has “Canadian” in it)

(Note also that I am perfectly aware that nominally, French Canada doesn’t mean “French person in Canada” (it means “Member of the ethnocultural group descended from the former French colony of Canada”). In practice, the term is a poor description of the actual French-Canadians for the reason listed above, and it leads to useless confusion with Acadians (Speak French, and have lived in present-day Canada longer than any other French, but not French Canadian), French-speaking immigrants (Not Canadian), etc.)

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