HOME HEARTSTRING 5: SHREWDNESS

Quebec men like to use finesse to gain an advantage (usually of the monetary kind). Quebec women like to haggle. It’s the perfect extension of Heartstring 13.

Viewers who tuned in to CECO (Commission on Organized Crime) coverage to watch the inquiry into the trade in spoiled meat (the best of the organized crime trilogy) got to enjoy the strumming of all their Earth Root Heartstrings in unison. The entire inquiry reeked of shrewdness. Our kind of shrewdness.

In fact, everyone involved was so crafty that even after two long weeks of debating, the judges presiding over the inquiry – despite being very crafty themselves – had yet to obtain an accurate description of a sick cow or an animal unfit for public consumption from witnesses. There were a few stories about dead cows standing upright as if they’d been struck by lightning, but that didn’t mean they were sick. There were other cows that may have cut up their insides a bit by eating fence wire. Then there were the sleeping cows, the slightly lame cows and the older cows with wounds that were nothing serious. But no one knew anything about sick cows. One of the witnesses, a breeder for 40 years, invited the judges to taste his meat since his whole family eats it and they’re all in good health.

Georges Vattier wrote:


“French Canadians have a subtlety of mind that can sometimes turn to craftiness, especially in the habitant setting. Merchants and farmers, whether in their place of business or while negotiating an agreement or contract, know how to exercise skills like cunning and trickery. Canadian farmers are especially slick. At a higher level, this shrewdness leads Quebecers to understand things without needing to have them spelled out, almost intuitively, and affords them the ability to perceive the slightest nuances. It’s almost an art. This mindset could explain how political speakers always seem to know how to handle their audience by doing or saying the right things based on who’s in the crowd and whether they want to get them riled up, appease them or change their minds.”


Quebecers have a gift for slogans. We’re clever and mischievous, which leads us, like our ancestors, to get back at our enemies using puns and witty remarks. Just look at our graffiti and protest signs.

Since no one really uses horses anymore, there isn’t much need for horse traders (the epitome of Heartstring 5) in our parts. Thankfully, though, we have used cars to sell. Our honour is safe and our instincts well served.

Another example of our shrewdness is political backing as described by Guy Joron in Salaire minimum annuel: $1 million:


“We tend to think the major interests, big business and the multinationals, have powers they don’t actually have. Their contributions to election funds, certainly at the provincial level, are in no way as generous as we believe them to be. Traditional backing remains a local business. The permit for building a strategically located gas station costs more than one for building a refinery. And a liquor or wine distributor is much more likely to be visited by a party’s treasurer than a distillery owner.”


As shrewd as their French ancestors, Quebecers will gladly walk into a Jewish or Syrian (they tend to get the two confused) store to see if they can’t negotiate better prices or get what they need at cost. These shopkeepers have made their fortunes thanks to our appreciation for what is beau, bon, pas cher.

Joe speaks very freely about his inclinations:


“My grandfather learned from his grandfather never to have a cent in his pockets. He always traded with anyone and everyone. One day I saw him trade 15 cows for another 15 cows. They were all the same. I never got that…And our family sure loves a bargain! That’s why I buy from the Jews more than from the Anglos. I usually get 15% off, sometimes even a little more. But they see you coming a mile away. When we used to fool my grandmother by eating all the broken cookies in the jar, she would run after us hollering you little Jews!


Many people have compared Jewish shrewdness with its French Canadian counterpart, but it took an Englishman to resolve the issue. “French Canadians are finicky,” wrote Norman W. Taylor in his Study of French Canadians as Industrial Entrepreneurs. “But there is a big difference between them and the Jews. The Jews’ ability to negotiate prices is the driving force behind their business savvy, while the French Canadian business sense seems to be linked to the fact that they want to make sure they’re covered against all the inherent risks that come with making such a transaction.” In other words, we’re as finicky as we are shrewd.

When it comes to advertising, Quebec consumers do not like to be given orders of the “Buy Now!” variety. That slogan may work wonders on Americans, but because it doesn’t give us the mental time we need to haggle with the advertiser, it stops us from wanting to do what we’re being asked to do.

It’s very rare for Quebecers – including the most successful businessmen – to get straight to the point. Well, maybe they do…but maybe they don’t.

It’s been said this Heartstring is what kept us from being assimilated in the past. Well, maybe it did…

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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.