HOME HEARTSTRING 22: FATALISM

Quebecers say, “Whatever.”

To which they add, “Come what may,” “Nurse a cold and it lasts 14 days. Let it run its course and it lasts two weeks,” “Que sera, sera” and “God punishes with one hand and blesses with the other.”

“The Church used its comforting yet resigned language to reassure parishioners that important matters are to be settled after death.” According to Cervantes, “Every man is as God made him, and often worse.”

There are so many things that “God has wanted to happen” in Quebec that we could easily believe we’re the only ones on His mind.

Eighty percent of Quebec is built on the same unstable clay formations that caused the massive 1971 landslide in Saint-Jean-Vianney. One of our daily papers reports that, “Documents revealing the urgent need for relocating entire populations are being kept from the public.”

Whatever.

“It’s not up to French Canadians to change God’s will…when Ottawa Liberals are perfectly capable of doing it themselves,” said Duplessis, masterfully plucking two Heartstrings at the same time.

Mussolini, a born Catholic, tries to replace the Lord, our Father. “From now on, Il Duce will take swift action in matters that Divine Providence seems to be procrastinating on.”

It was bound to happen would be a much more fitting motto for us than Je me souviens (I remember). It would also make a lot more sense on our licence plates since we hold the record for the most car accidents per capita in all of North America, a fact that doesn’t seem to faze us in the least since one out of every three Quebec drivers simply refuses to get car insurance.

When asking a Quebecer how things are going, you can expect an answer somewhere along the lines of, “Not too bad, thanks (said with a sourpuss),” “Things could be better, but I can’t afford it,” “So, so,” “I’m still alive,” “I’m making a go of it” and “We’re eating three times a day so I guess things are okay.”

Fatalism serves many purposes in politics. It maintains the status quo, forgives poor administrative performance, makes excuses for defeat and increases the scale of any victory.

Joe Tremblay discovered Westmount under fatalistic circumstances.


“It was in 1950 or 1951, the year we moved to Montreal. My cousin Aimé used to make deliveries for Eaton’s in a panel truck. He called me up one Friday afternoon to tell me he hurt his back and asked if I could help him. He had some kind of issue with his dispatcher, a big Irishman from Griffintown. Anyway, we headed to Westmount with a truck full of Turkish rugs. All I can say is holy crap! I’d never been to that part of town before. I couldn’t have imagined it would be so beautiful, and that it was really part of Quebec. Those houses are huge…real mansions! We went into a living room to roll out a rug. The maid there was a young Canadian girl. The living room alone was four times the size of my apartment. The English ladies of the house had us wipe our feet before walking into their homes, but they weren’t very good tippers. When you see castles like that, you can’t even hope to have one someday. Instead, you think about how you’re just not meant to have that kind of stuff.”


Catholic Latin America is another place where our kind of Fatalism – the kind that can justify anything – is popular. In Colombia, Jacques Aprile Guiset writes: “Each of these myths (work, God’s wrath, machismo, and so on) is based on ancient Indian beliefs that have been lightly coated in old Christian morality and wrapped up tightly in the dogmas of Roman Catholic religion.”

This we’re not destined for great things Heartstring that Quebecers pass down from generation to generation, much like the mouldy family christening gown that reeks of mothballs, inevitably leads to resignation and a certain level of passivity, but it also drives many of us to challenge the idea we have to earn a living by the sweat of our brow. Why go to all that trouble when you can gamble instead?!

The fact that Quebecers placed over $220 million in bets at the province’s five racetracks and invested close to $325 million in provincial and national lotteries in 1977 alone doesn’t warrant their reputation for being compulsive gamblers. Quebecers may have spent an average of $45 each on lottery tickets last year, but the Japanese spent $200.

How do we feel about bingo? In 1976, this favourite hobby of women living off their pensions generated close to $8 million in revenue, which prevented 22 different churches from having to close their doors.

Compulsive gamblers, no. But big gamblers, definitely.

The Blue Bonnets and Richelieu racetracks draw more than 2 million horse-racing fans a year while the Habs, Expos and Alouettes only manage to pull in half that number of sports fans combined.

“We prefer standard-bred harness-racing horses to English thoroughbreds because they appeal to our former horse-trader qualities,” says world champion harness racer Hervé Filion, a Quebecer pursuing his career in the US (Heartstring 16).

Contests with the promise that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain have a lot of success with Quebec women.

Warning: this Heartstring can easily produce loud and unpleasant sounds in political communications. Pluck with care.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.