HOME HEARTSTRING 36: IMPRACTICALITY

“By their very nature, the universal principles our teachers were looking to implement,” writes Frère Untel, “could not be applied in life. Some of these scholars seem to take a lot of pride in not writing anything since they believe writing materializes thought. Apparently, that’s one of the reasons Jesus never wrote either.”

The least lazy Quebecer of all, stage and television actor Jean Duceppe, gets upset during an interview. “We have to stop saying we don’t have certain things because of the Anglos. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves and see ourselves for who we really are, which is a nation of lazy people with the potential to become a nation of great men and women.”

Henri Bourassa often talked about our moral obesity.

So is Joe making excuses?


“I think we lack the means to get things done around here. It’s not that we’re lazy. Not in ’75. We still have flaws, but our young people are getting an education. They don’t have to walk two miles to get to school the way we did, though. And we’re impractical, too. Something that takes Americans one day to get done usually takes us three. But it’s not because we’re lazy. We’re just slow.”


Even though we live on the most pragmatic of all continents, Quebecers are totally lacking in the practicality department. We’re not fond of this particular Heartstring, but as Mark Twain said about the weather, “Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it.”

And we do love to talk. Especially while enjoying a few drinks at the local tavern. “Three major components of the French-Canadian mentality – agriculturalism, anti-statism and messianism – enable us to forget the 19th century ever happened,” writes Quebec historian Michel Brunet.

The second project of the century for Quebecers is a testament to Heartstring 36. “Language Charter Entangled in Procedures,” reads the title of an article in the July 16, 1977 edition of La Presse. Romans! Catiline threatens the very safety of Rome, yet you stand there, debating…

Anglo-Saxons think in terms of “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” while Quebecers ask themselves a ton of questions before even getting to the bridge. “Does the bridge even exist? Let’s check the map. Maybe that last spring storm destroyed it? Are the roads that lead to it safe and driveable?” We do have a tendency to procrastinate.

Education in New France was reserved for the privileged class and Indians. Under British rule, only members of the clergy and the wealthy had access to it, until writer, economist and sociologist Esdras Minville, lawyer and academic Édouard Montpetit, and Dominican priest Georges-Henri Lévesque – the three fathers of the Quiet Revolution – showed up.

Jesuit Antoine Silvy (who would ever doubt the word of a Jesuit?) describes early Canadians in these terms:


“They are proud, arrogant and capable of giving it their all even when extremely tired. They love to travel and take to the woods, have a hard time staying in one place for very long, and share their taste for independence and idleness with the natives. Our soldiers fathered this country with girls who, having lived under chaotic circumstances in France, have inspired their children to seek pleasure and take it easy rather than work hard.”


In that short paragraph, Father Silvy describes a dozen of our Heartstrings. I’m sure you can easily identify them all.

After the conquest, Quebecers became a minority and were exiled to the countryside. As a means of self-defence, and totally out of spite, we started hating everything we once loved, including adventure and entrepreneurship. So we had to look for other values to embrace. “The idealism of our French cousins, their cult of thinking and adhering to universal values of the mind, prevented them from favouring pragmatism and commercialism,” said sociologist Maurice Tremblay during a symposium at Université Laval in 1952. “For the French, work is neither the essence nor the purpose of one’s life, but rather the means of sustaining a life that is worth living for what it is.”

Let’s see how all these wonderful aspirations panned out, shall we? In 1975, Quebecers bought some 10,000 campers and trailers, less than 2,000 of which were made here. An industry expert explains that Quebec manufacturers of this type of vehicle designed a model that is much sturdier than those built by Canadian and US competitors, but that they forgot to give it style and the right finishing touches. “They got excited about their product too soon, not seeing it through to the very end,” the expert says. So is that laziness, or impracticality?

Remember how Quebecers are slogan kings who’ve transformed advertising into pop art through Heartstring 17? Well, it appears these same Quebecers who know every slogan off the top of their heads decide to snub advertising when they head small- and medium-size businesses. A student thesis that dates back to 1963 shows that 49 of 117 CEOs of Quebec SMEs believe that, “direct sales generate more revenue than advertising, and that advertising is an expense as opposed to an investment.” The researcher also made the shocking discovery that in 76% of these SMEs, funds allocated for public relations, charitable donations, truck painting, promotions, signage and ad campaigns were all assigned to the same budget under the heading of advertising.

Learning from past mistakes, the founding members of the Publicité-Club de Montréal started their association without a constitution. The idea of creating a group for French-speaking advertisers had already failed twice due to constitutional issues that divided those interested in joining before the organization was ever even created.

Now let us reflect on a few practical – but also very loaded – questions. Do Quebecers consume to live, or do they live to consume? Will they figure out who they are by consuming? What are they hoping to achieve by consuming? Are they looking to satisfy psychological needs or physiological needs? Are the items they purchase meant to be status symbols that enable them to think more highly of themselves and to impress others? Do they buy things to gain approval or for their own satisfaction? Does Heartstring 36 even give us a choice in answering these questions?

Two of our Heartstrings – No. 23 (Conservatism) and No. 34 (Sensuality) – help explain why female Quebec consumers are totally impractical when roaming the aisles at the grocery store. Fiercely loyal to their favourite brands, these women will pay whatever it costs to take them home, generally snubbing less expensive alternatives. Because they love to eat well and feed their families well (according to the popular slogan), Quebec women will steer clear of deeply discounted fruit and pastries if they have the slightest doubt about their freshness. As Montaigne noted, “High prices make meat taste better.”

Men display very little practicality when out shopping for certain products, often falling victim to brand loyalty for anything related to the maintenance of their precious cars. They also rarely bother bargain hunting when buying gas, car batteries or tires.

It should come as no surprise that American ad campaigns developed for our very practical southern neighbours – and which are translated into French for the Quebec market – often rub us the wrong way. Where we come from Rome wasn’t built in a day, so any product claiming it’s the miracle solution to all your problems seems highly suspicious. Unwarranted claims like “Never worry about household chores again” or “Now you can feed your entire family on a small budget easily” tend to raise our internal red flags.

Even though Anglophones have always acknowledged our creative talents in developing ad campaigns, they sometimes tend to be skeptical about us materializing our ideas and seeing them through.

I discussed a few topics, including ESP (extrasensory perception) and business savvy, with some Anglo-Saxon businessmen. These kings of pragmatism all admitted there’s always a risk involved in any kind of marketing activity, but that you should never say so. They also said it’s always better to commission a scientific market study than to try and guess what the future holds. It’s up to Quebecers to harness the natural sense of flair they get from mystical Heartstring 20 and apply it in a more pragmatic manner.

Heartstring 36 is the biggest challenge we face as Quebecers. So do we want to meet it head-on, or would we rather keep our reputation as the idealists of North America because we feel it’s our calling? Regardless, we need to stop complaining and being miserable because our unemployment rate is a bit higher. We have to quit counting how many Anglos are heading multinational companies, and we shouldn’t worry too much if eggs from Quebec aren’t selling well. Because if we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.

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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.