Blogs > Cliopatria > My Maiden Speech

Nov 28, 2004 9:06 pm

My Maiden Speech

I see that I am in the system. The trouble, it seems, lies with a name confusion. There is another Greg Robinson who has posted commentaries at various times on Cliopatria. This person presumably has dibs, as far as HNN's system is concerned, to the name "Greg Robinson". I was thus forced to sign in today as "Greg James Robinson." (I am reminded of the delightful letter from the British statesman Winston Churchill to the then-more famous American novelist Winston Churchill, in which after saying "Mr. Winston Churchill greets Mr. Winston Churchill", the Brit offered to sign himself in the future as "Winston S. Churchill" to avoid confusion.) It is too late for me--I already have books published under the name "Greg Robinson." In fact, one of the pleasant aspects of my obtaining Canadian residence is that I have changed my name officially from “Gregory” to “Greg”. However, for the purposes of HNN I am willing to surrender my right, title, and interest to “Greg Robinson” to this other fellow and use my middle name James, known until now to a chosen few, in my handle.

I have been invited to join Cliopatria in part because I teach at a French—language institution in Montreal This leads to a number of interesting observations about the differences over national and linguistic frontiers which I will be imposing on readers. To some degree I am carrying my own load of responsibility, despite numerous visits, I was extremely ignorant of the history of Canada and Quebec before I moved to Montreal three years ago. Still, there are many things that, based on questions people ask me, it is clear that Americans just don’t get. Canada is a large country, even larger and wider than the US. Montreal is not particularly close to Toronto—it is about 400 or so miles from here to Toronto, New York, or Boston—and 3000 miles to Vancouver. Also, Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city. This means its culture has differences from that of English Canada. It does not mean, though, that Montreal is especially like France or pro-French. Quebec has been separate from France for almost 250 years. While Québécois certainly do read some French books and watch French films, they also watch American TV and films. Moreover, they have their own writers, their own TV shows, their own filmmakers (Oscar-winner Denys Arcand being the most famous), their own newspapers and their own customs. Quebec French is as distinct from the French of France as American English is from British English.

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chris l pettit - 11/30/2004

McGill has some French taught classes...

My background however, is with the law faculty, and I am not as familiar with the other faculties...which may be all English...


Greg James Robinson - 11/29/2004

As I will no doubt go into in the future, there is a marked difference between Quebec French and the French of France (sometimes called "International French" or "European French"). My colleagues from France say they sometimes have trouble understanding strong, and especially rural, Quebec accents (hell, there are some regional accents, such as that from the Gaspé peninsula, that other Québécois have trouble understanding). Also, it occasionally happens that the people here, hearing French spoke with an accent that is not theirs--including one from France--assume that the person is an alien, and thus an Anglophone. They therefore respond in English. While in France I am offended if I address someone in French and s/he responds in English, I have learned in Quebec that there is no put-down about it: usually they are just trying to be accomodating. There is a built-in inferiority complex here about the French language that it is difficult for Americans, taught to think of French as sophisticated and stylish, to comprehend. French here, historically, is more like Spanish in the United States: a language of a marginalized people.

Greg James Robinson - 11/29/2004

I teach at UQÀM Université du Québec À Montréal. There are 4 large universities in Montreal, plus CEGEPS(Montreal has something like the same number of college students as Boston). Two of the universities, McGill and Concordia, are English-speaking. The others, Université de Montréal and my institution, are French-speaking. The CEGEPS are two-year general education institutions. They vaguely resemble community colleges except that they are universal; that is, while there are people who go to CEGEP, get a diploma, and then stop there (especially in technical fields, for which there are some three-year diplomas) any student from Quebec who wishes to attend university must first graduate from a CEGEP. Thus, our undergraduate programs are in general three years.

chris l pettit - 11/29/2004

before I jaunt on over to the McGill website and check I figured I would ask...

A fine institution if that is the case...



Stephen Tootle - 11/29/2004

I can take the credit/blame for the other Greg Robinson. We went to college together, and he was even in my wedding. He comments over on Rebunk from time to time. He is a good guy.

Nathanael D. Robinson - 11/28/2004

I have tried to speak French in Montreal and Quebec City (I have a very good accent, and most Frenchmen mistaken me for a native speaker (although from somewhere else)), and I was disturbed by the quizzical looks I received. Montreal was very cosmopolitan; Quebec City lives in the memory of la nouvelle France, in my opinion.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/28/2004

I'll second that: as a long-time partisan of anglophone Canadian culture (mostly folk music, granted), it will be quite interesting to hear from the "other" Canada.

Perhaps we could get you, me (Hawai`i) and our Pasadena Cliopatriarch, Hugo Schwyzer, talking about separtism and integration in modern federal systems. After finals, of course.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/28/2004

Welcome to Cliopatria, Greg. It's great having you with us and we look forward to hearing from you about a whole range of things.

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