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How To Avoid a Faux-Pas and Increase Your Chances of Success in Quebec

Examples of really bad (if not hilarious) Google Translate (see below) regularly come across my Facebook wall. If you’re doing business in Quebec, and you don’t want to become a laughingstock (or worse), there is so much more to connecting with Quebecers than simply translating your product/service/issue/opportunity/point of view into French – even if it’s a correct translation.

What NOT to do: A sandwich referring to female anatomy.

As in other parts of Canada, Quebec isn’t necessarily homogenous: there are socio-economic, regional and generational differences that go beyond language. Last Tuesday, April 11, Jean-Marc Léger, president of Canada’s leading market research and polling firm, Léger Marketing, along with EVP Christian Bourque, introduced an audience of clients, business partners and media at NATIONAL’s Toronto office to their book, Cracking the Quebec Code. Based on three years of research, and many more years of market observation, they have been able to identify seven keys to understanding Quebecers.

Like NATIONAL, Léger was founded in Montreal and has established offices across Canada and grown into international markets. We both have a long history of ensuring that our clients are successful in Quebec, convincing them of the need to adapt their strategies and tactics for the specificities of a market that combines “the creativity of the French, the pragmatism of the British, and the optimism of the Americans,” as Jean-Marc describes it. The seven keys, from easygoing, through non-committal, provide insight into the prism through which Quebecers see the world. Apparently, we are notorious fence-sitters, frequently choosing not to choose. This means that we have to work extra hard, as communicators, to spur Quebecers to a decision or to an action. Quebecers are villagers, with closely knit communities, whether they live in an urban or rural area. We are often on first-name basis with celebrities in Quebec’s “star system”: think of Dodo (Dominique Michel), Véro (Véronique Cloutier) or Ricardo (Ricardo Larrivée). At NATIONAL, we have always known that having a local, francophone spokesperson will infinitely improve the chances of success. We’re also people who live in the present, who are happier than elsewhere in Canada. If you’re an institution, say a bank that wants Quebecers to take a long-term view of something like financial planning, your challenge is much greater than in the “Rest-of-Canada” (ROC). 

Léger’s book provides empirical evidence of this and many other factors that influence Quebecers. And while there are many differences (29% worth!), there are many more commonalities between Quebec and the ROC. We just have to know what’s similar – and especially, what is truly different – not just to avoid making a major faux-pas, but more importantly, to establish meaningful connections and long-term relationships with la Belle Province.