From French Riviera, a Variety of Reactions to Vancouver, Canada, and the 2010 Winter Games
The French have a soft spot in their hearts for their "Canadian cousins". They mean "Quebecois" and from "Montreal", but there’s also a sneaking sympathy for the Anglo-Canadians (who they suspect have to put up with French grammar just as any right-thinking French citizen today has to get to grips with global English...)
“Canadians are kind people. Welcoming,” says Henriette, 72, and Gérard, 70, fit and active pensioners who’ve traveled over there in their younger days. “But too cold!” they shiver as well would any Mediterranean soul the minute the sun goes in. “The winters. So long!”
Gérard, a retired mechanic, has friends who emigrated to Montreal, found jobs, loved the people, but came back because the climate depressed him.
Jacques, an ex-physiotherapist, comments that while French health professionals find work easily in Canada, the social security system there is not as well-developed as in France. Families who emigrate with children find the cost of living a struggle.
Canadian ‘kindness’ is a leitmotif in any French comment on that nationality. Thus, Marc Touchais, Olympic coach and ex-member of the French Olympic team, comments: “I’ve always had excellent relations with Canadians on a professional and social level. Many Canadians have become good friends.”
Eric Casimir, who won a silver medal at Sydney and now makes a living teaching gym to kids, concurs. “They’re very easy-going sorts when you meet them in international competitions. Life is good there.”
“Vancouver seems to me to be a place where communities mix more easily, whereas here in Nice, it’s difficult even for a student to break out of the same social circle. They’re way ahead of us in their environmental approach too...” he laughs...“I heard you can’t find one cigarette butt on the beaches over there. Seriously, we've got a lot to learn.”
Lucie, in the same year, says she chats online nearly every day with French Canadians on Facebook. But she wouldn’t ever have the means to actually visit the country. She works 27 hours a week, nights, as dormitory monitor at the local international school to pay her board and lodging.
So how did the latest Canadian event, the winter Olympics, affect their perception of the country?
The event wasn’t followed as closely as it might have been because of the eleven hour time difference. “People like live TV in sport” says Henriette.
Stephane, caretaker at the gym where the French Olympic team do their training says, “I watched a lot because I’m insomniac. I really enjoyed the ice hockey –a game you don’t see here. But even then, like a lot of people, I don’t have cable TV, only national, focused on the French athletes.”
People did follow the games here, especially in the back country, up in the Alps where a local lad, Tony Ramouin – "exquisitely handsome" according to blogging commentary – brought home a bronze in snowboard cross-country. “I thought we were stronger in Alpine skiing” says Stephane, joining in the consensual disappointment at France's seventh position in this category, coming in two seconds after the winner.
“The winter Olympics are much more local, friendly as opposed to the global hype that goes on around the summer games” says Marc Touchais.
After his own experience at Sydney and Beijing “where you have a hundred coaches of different nationalities sitting round in cafés and bars nit-picking on the whys and wherefores,” he refuses any comment on why the French came in eleventh in the medal round-up.
Among non athletes, whom it has to be said predominate in this chatty culinary culture on the edge of the Mediterranean, the medal question provokes a dismissive burst of laughter and half-joking comments about the quality of the fake snow at Vancouver not being what the French skiers were used to.
Christiane, a retired accountant who worked for years at the local swimming pool that produced gold medal winning Alain Bernard states, “We French are too showy, make too much of a fanfare about what we do, whereas the Canadians for instance, are more discreet, and at end of the day they get better results...”
National differences to the medal roundup are telling. In Russia, President Medvedev called publicly for the dismissal of the Olympic coaches involved in the Russian team’s performance at Vancouver. An Austrian newspaper titled the one word ‘SHAME!’ In France the tendency is to analyse a mindset.
“We’re capable, but we don’t have that winning mentality,” says Eric Casimir, echoing media commentary in the same vein. “The Canadians, like the Americans, are incredibly competitive,” adds student Jean-Marie.
Medal-count aside, the French have found another reason to party after choosing Annecy as their official candidate for the winter games 2018, although nearly everyone adds the reflection that the South Koreans are bound to get it this time since they’ve been in the running for the last fifteen years.
Meanwhile, who’d take up the offer of a plane ticket to Vancouver tomorrow?
Eric Casimir, born on Ile de la Réunion and who has already made the transition to France to work as a professional athlete says he’s just waiting for such an opportunity to turn up to get to know Canada.
“Ah, OUAIS! Any time!” say the engineering students. Jean-Marie engineering student, clarifies. “I love sport. So even between New York and Vancouver, I’d go for Vancouver any day."
About the author: Carol Mc Closkey grew up in Belfast and is a translator and teacher. She studied at 0xford and at the university of Paris VII has published novellas collected in the 'Marriage at Antibes' She has worked as a teacher and translator in Spain, Paris and at present with the local 'Centre Communal d'Action Social' and the Polytech'Nice Sophia-Antipolis. She lives with her partner and two daughters in Antibes.Read more of her work in the newly launched Le Magazine Azur.