19 December 2010


There is a touch of Hollywood about them. Or of a police interrogation cell, should you have had that particular pleasure before. Either way, two-way mirrors are a clear separator of powers. You either have nothing to see, or nothing to say.

This week, I unexpectedly found myself on the "silent" side of a two way mirror, as work afforded me an opportunity to attend focus groups with some unwitting customers. In both Montréal and Toronto, several groups of ten people were invited to participate in two hours sessions, during which they were exposed to various wild ideas we're playing with, and were asked them to share their views and thoughts on them. Meanwhile, my colleagues and I sat behind the two-way mirror, busily taking notes and exchanging the odd surprised look when one of our trial balloons got shot down by the crowd. (We were also constantly nibbling on the goodies the research company kept putting in front of us, but that's another story.)

Beyond the mere technicalities of what the test subjects like and dislike, however, you inevitably start noticing other things as well. You look at peoples' body language. How they are dressed. How they interact with the group. How frequently they help themselves to the cookie jar in the middle of the table. And, most importantly, how they express what they are thinking.

It was this last aspect, most of all, that showcased the notion of Franco- and Anglophone Canadians really being two different cultures. From an admittedly small sample, I nonetheless got a consistent image of the highly emotionally engaged, mercurial and unconstrained Québecois, contrasted by the friendly, curious, if slightly more detached Ontarians. The latter definitely reflected more of a business sense, the former were all about personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

Sitting there, listening and snickering for hours from my invisible vantage point, the two-way mirror ultimately helped me recognize how much I had grown affected to the people and the languages spoken in the Great White North. From the Anglos' typical "eh?" and the trandemark Canadian raising, to the unique French spoken in la belle province. It is only semi-consciously that I have started adopting le français québecois myself, with the frequent use of tu instead of vous, inverted questions (C'est-tu prêt?) and vocabulary (t'es bienvenue). By now, with colleagues at work starting to mock me for my messed up French, I have reached a point at which the dialect starts producing that fuzzy warm feeling associated with the language of where you belong.

High time, then, for me to switch from looking through a two-way mirror to peering out of an airplane window, down onto a small town, in a small country, where my true mother tongue is spoken - by my mother and the rest of the family gathered around the Christmas tree!

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