Changing Cultures…By Car
I’ve always loved new places. Tomorrow, I’m going to a place where the dominant language and culture are French, a place I’ve never been before—though close to two places I’ve been several times.
And I’m going by car.
Even though on the surface, English-speaking Canada seems like the United States, they’re actually very different. And Francophone Quebec Province, where we’re headed, is much more different. Past visits have felt more like visiting France than the U.S.
Europeans have very close borders, and I would consider that a blessing. Drive 200 miles or so and you’re in another land—different language, until recently and still in many cases different money, different customs, different food. It’s amazing how different, for instance, it was in Glucholatzi, Poland, compared to Zlate Hore, Czech Republic, just three miles away. The architecture, language, and food were all different (we ate better in Poland.)
Despite the clear demarcations, Europeans have a sense of world citizenship that many Americans lack. It’s rare to find a European under age 40 who only speaks one language, and common to find people who speak four or five. They understand that events a few hundred miles away in another country affect them, while US media provides an appallingly US-centric perspective that in my opinion is seriously flawed, and creates a skewed worldview.
For those of us who live in the northern or southwestern United States, another country is close enough to drive to. I’ve made at least 12 trips to Canada, And in our trips to Arizona, California, and Texas, we’ve crossed into Mexico several times.
Tomorrow, our destination is a small town east of Montreal and west of Quebec City. I expect it might be a good deal more French than its larger neighbors. I will have to rely on Spanish cognates—I can have a conversation in Spanish, as long as the other person isn’t too fussy about grammar—and my wife’s high school French. It’s good once in a while to have the experience of being the minority in a different culture, and it’s amazing how much communication can happen with sign language, drawing pictures, and a few phrases.