Why we hate the French

There are few things more painful in this life than handing over a fresh check each new semester. At times, one could almost say it physically hurts, and yet for all the snide comments and dramatic eye rolls, in Ontario at least, the call to seriously oppose fees and general increases is virtually non-existent. This fact alone doesn’t seem particularly remarkable from the inside, especially comparing our plight to the crippling debt regularly handed to our neighbours down south via private institutions. Yet peering over at Quebec and their rabble, the whole blueprint for what we consider universal student etiquette is thrown out the window, and quite frankly, we don’t like it one bit.

‘Entitled,’ ‘Spoiled,’ ‘Radical,’ are all terms that many other Canadians have used to describe the protests, marches and writings which are vying to keep tuition for those in Quebec at approximately 2,000 dollars. ‘Wait,’ we all said to ourselves, reveling in the most common eureka moment ever, ‘I already pay more than twice that much, what a ridiculous notion. How dare they?’ Emotionally this feels like the most sensible result, almost solidified at our core.

Strangely, this cultural, and at times biological, analogy is more important than many would care to admit. Experiencing quiet loathing for those who choose to openly and stylishly thwart authority is arguably quite an English phenomenon, one that still permeates our thinking and our actions in what we consider an open and democratic society. Fortunately, or unfortunately for some, the French have never been privy to this mindset of debilitating propriety. In 1789, while British peasants were stoically enduring their place, the original Occupy movement (this time the 98%) of peasants and bourgeois in France ended an illustrious monarchy with a double beheading. Jumping to 1968, students in French universities were so unhappy with their cramped lecture halls and uninterested professors that they virtually set the city on fire, barricading streets for days, eventually earning some serious reforms. England on the other hand, still has a monarchy and just shelled out millions for a royal jubilee during a major recession because not doing so would be terribly impolite.

Obviously, this is oversimplified, and yes we all remember the tuition riot in Britain a couple years ago, but the differences are so utterly striking. In France, the government listens to the people because, for the most part, the people listen to each other. Banding together to effect reform is commonplace and encouraged. In England, the opposite is true. Protestors are deemed fringe. Do you remember what the riots in England got students? A big fat nothing, that’s what, oh and some terrible press scandalizing the horrific nature of a whole generation. Obviously, these two social codes couldn’t be further from one another, or more extreme.

This is where things get tricky, in a world without shades of gray. Clearly, we don’t want fiery riots or beheadings at our universities, yet we also don’t want to clench our teeth in quiet loathing as we’re pushed around. This is the dilemma, on one hand our Britishness has imparted on us the inalienable truth that revolution generally sucks for the revolutionizers in the short run, and yet on the other hand, the French have rightly warned that if you don’t stand up there’s no end to the subjugation its possible to endure. So, strangely, our proclivities for solemn acceptance often keep us from standing up for ourselves, and therefore begrudging the tradition of peaceful disobedience for no good reason. So maybe, instead of laughing off student protestors as ungrateful, we could actually evaluate the data and see that tuition inflation is higher than ever and that fees are hurting students. While at the same time, maybe organizers of our marches could conveniently forget to invite that one jerk anarchist who kicks in windows.

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