HOME HEARTSTRING 34: SENSUALITY

Historian Marcel Rioux tells us that, “When getting to know and trying to describe a people, finding out about their lovemaking habits and culinary practices is of the utmost importance.”

Back in the mid-18th century, French army officer Louis Franquet had already noticed that, “the habitants and soldiers in this colony have developed the unfortunate habit of drinking spirits in the morning.”

Quebecers owe their taverns – the real ones with floors covered in sawdust, foul-smelling latrines, opaque glass windows and official No Women Allowed signs posted in the front – to the British. Men who drink a bunch of beers at the local tavern on Friday nights are a huge stereotype here. Unfortunately, this regular behaviour often leads to an increase in reports of domestic abuse on Fridays.

But Quebecers don’t deserve their reputation for being a bunch of lushes, and their thirst, which many consider insatiable, is pretty average. We only drink 87 litres (279 bottles) of beer a year per capita, which is only two tiny litres more than the national average. And we’re way behind the world champions in West Germany who each drink 148 litres annually, often downing a bottle in a single gulp.

Back in the days of Olive Diefenbaker (wife of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who was under the influence of Heartstring 11), Ontario drank more than Quebec, leading Olive to campaign against martinis. Imagine that!

As for everything else, Heartstrings 13 and 34 sputter like a two-stroke engine. Joe Tremblay, consumer, is Epicurean:


“You should enjoy the simple pleasures of everyday life. Don’t try to make me feel bad for making use of modern conveniences. Why would I drive a small car when I can get a big one for the same price? Why shouldn’t my wife have a washing machine and a fridge? Those appliances are necessities. I mean, we’re not going to start depriving ourselves of food! Like Fernande says, “The table is always set. When you’re hungry, you eat.” And good food is good! Enjoying a couple of beers or some hard liquor won’t put me out on the street. It’s better to die on a full belly than an empty stomach. You’ve heard Tex Lecor’s song: As long as there’s somethin’ in the fridge, I’ll keep my mouth shut…That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”


“Dominion feeds us well,” as actress Juliette Huot says. And since Quebecers, as sensual beings, tend to prefer curvy women who look healthy (and there’s no lack of those in the Union des Artistes), the message comes through loud and clear. We don’t eat to live, we eat because it makes us happy. We believe there is something sacred and mystical about food. Eating fish makes you smart. Eating beef makes you strong. And eating oysters makes you horny.

Eating meets a Quebecer’s need to communicate or to answer to an act of communication. We eat at the local Chinese restaurant and are transported to Guangzhou. We drink a bottle of Bordeaux and can almost smell the French countryside. People used to say that entering a McDonald’s was like a mass ritual for Quebecers, who would always find the same quality Big Mac at the same price handed to them with the same level of service all under one roof…just like in church.

My mother often told my sister that, “The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

Quebec writer, ethnologist and historian Robert-Lionel Séguin explains how we developed a taste for the finer things from the very beginning. “In New France, food and drink are not exclusively French. Dutch cheese and Spanish wine will find their way onto the colony’s tables. In the spring of 1703, the merry clientele at the Auberge Martel in Montreal feasts on cheese from Holland. The wine there is imported by the barrel. And regardless of whether it comes from the vineyards of France or Spain, it’s usually very good and served at room temperature.” Quebec is the largest consumer of controlled appellation wines, top-of-the-line liquor and expensive imported cheese.

Quebecers have the loudest stomach rumblings caused by gas in all of North America, fair punishment for their many excesses. They are the No. 1 consumers of mineral water as well as liver and bowel pain relievers. Laced with hypochondriac tendencies, they reward themselves royally and loyally with these expensive remedies.

In the third edition of Revue d’ethnologie du Québec (Quebec Journal of Ethnology), journalist Jacques Nadeau gives us a good idea of what is in the typical Quebecer’s medicine cabinet, “from fir gum, to cattail used for treating styes, to pipe smoke known for relieving earaches. The extensive collection of recipes and formulas for treatments passed down by our grandmothers, the wise advice of our ever-popular almanacs, herbalists, and the magico-religious salts of our healers make Quebecers (and their French cousins) a people who know how to care for themselves well.”

Generations of doctors have treated Quebecers simply by asking about their stools. Molière was quite familiar with this very French concern, writing Clistorem donare, postea purgare (I’ll give you an enema so you can purge) in his play The Doctor in Spite of Himself.

And since we’re on that topic…While the French are happy with keeping things short and sweet and sticking to a heartfelt “Merde!” (shit) when they’re upset, our own scatological vocabulary is a lot stronger. Here it’s acceptable way to end a heated argument with the classic trifecta consisting of Tu me fais chier!, Tu peux ben manger d’la marde! and Baise-moi le cul!, which are all expletives referring to rear ends and what comes out of them.

In the May 4, 1977 edition of Le Devoir there’s an article entitled, “Quebec-style fuddle duddle: an MP who let out a resounding ‘mange de la ______________’ graciously takes it back.” And don’t you dare think this potty language is exclusive to our intelligentsia because I’ve heard cab drivers use these same words before.

We master belchers have other senses we like to attend to. Deodorants may not sell well in Quebec (everyone knows those things don’t smell good), but that’s not the case for imported perfumes (for both men and women), silky fabrics, velvet and soft leather. Without crying voyeurism, Quebecers wore more expensive eyewear than any other Canadians in 1975.

Leading academic and economist Bruce Mallen, who I referred to earlier, has uncovered extensive evidence that the senses of Quebecers are a lot more refined than anywhere else when it comes to purchase motivation.

Taste: Quebecers prefer semi-sweet marinades to vinegar-based ones. We also like sweetened cereals, chocolate pudding (only very rarely reaching for citrusy flavours on grocery-store shelves), mild cheese and soft drinks. Quebec is the only Canadian market where sweetened chewing gum sales are still on the rise.

Smell: Quebecers are the largest consumers of rum cigarillos, scented pipe tobacco and very fragrant household deodorizers.

Touch: toilet paper, feminine hygiene pads, and facial tissue must meet specific softness criteria to be viable on the Quebec market.

Sight: napkins with designs on them, colourful telephones, and ornate TV cabinets that blend in with the rest of the furniture are other items that show how the preferences of Quebecers are different from others.

(Mallen doesn’t talk about hearing, but that doesn’t matter because Heartstring 28, the one that refers to guitars, records and live shows, has already shown we have our own specific listening habits.)

Is it any surprise that the best-selling intellectual works in Quebec are recipe books? We’ve published 65 of them in the last 10 years – all of them penned by Quebec authors – from Sisters Berthe and Juliette to Margo Oliver. This might help explain why there were twice as many weight-loss clinics here as in Ontario in 1975.

You can’t doubt for a second that the happiest person in Canada is a Quebecer, what with being a hedonist through Heartstring 13, a firm believer in the Carpe Diem philosophy of Epicurus through Heartstring 22, a pleasure seeker through Heartstring 25 and an ultra-sensitive being who feels everything skin deep through Heartstring 34.

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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.