Things One Doesn’t Discuss in Public

Yesterday, I attended my department’s Christmas lunch and was seated next to a colleague who’s from New Brunswick like me. We got to discussing weddings and he remarked that, since moving to Montreal, he’d noticed people approached them differently here.

In NB, people went in for simple, understated weddings at the family church (or city hall) followed by a reception at a nearby church hall or similar venue, which would be catered, feature a DJ or band, and cash bar. In Montreal, he noticed, weddings were bigger, flashier, had open bars and were much costlier than back home. While open bars are expected, guests are also expected to, in addition to purchasing something on the registry, offer cash to the bride and groom ($300 to $500).

I thought about it for a bit and realised that had been my experience as well. We talked about this with our Montreal-born colleagues and discovered this was probably a cultural difference: Montrealers (or people from large centres in general) spend a lot on their weddings because they expect their families and friends to chip in to help pay for it. Maritimers (or again, perhaps, people from smaller centres in general) don’t spend a lot because they’d never expect their friends and family to help pay for it.

The conversation then drew on a broader observation that, in the Maritimes, discussion of money (salary, mortgage, the prices of one’s material goods) was generally never done. You don’t declare the price you paid for things. You either own a thing or you don’t. The price is not relevant. And any kind of such discussion would be considered vulgar. In Montreal, or at least, at my office, entire conversations can revolve around someone’s purchases over the weekend. Declaring publicly the cost of an item is a way of saying, “My discretionary income is robust enough that I can afford this high end item. By agreeing verbally that I got a good deal, you are making the declaration that we are in the same socio-economic class. If you express surprise at what I paid, then I hereby declare that I am in a higher income bracket than you. If you declare your item was in fact even more expensive than mine, then you have trumped me, sir.”

Anyway, I don’t have much a point here other than to say it was something I had noticed since living here and finally someone else mentioned it. I thought it was just me.

Or it could just be my office.

5 thoughts on “Things One Doesn’t Discuss in Public

  1. Yeah, where I come from we generally don’t talk about those things either and the wedding sizes and complexity really vary.

    But my experience here with the in-laws is that monetary items are spoken about often. But it comes with heavy pride, scorn, or envy. It’s an annoying little competition that I really don’t like getting involved in. So in the end I don’t talk much.

    As far as weddings, they have been much like you describe in NB. At local church with the reception at a banquet hall or sugar cabin. Actually ours was the most “fancy”. But that’s because of our preferences for certain things.

  2. Ditto. Back in Nova Scotia, weddings tend to be smaller scale, usually with a cash bar (at least in working class families) and people generally don’t talk about house prices and salaries and whatnot. At least that’s what it was like about 500 years ago when I lived there. I still feel a bit awkward talking about such things, although I’ve adapted to local expectations. I think it was the never-ending discussion of rents in the 90s that turned me.

    (BTW, my wedding, which took place in Nova Scotia, cost less than four months’ rent on the Montreal apartment we had at the time.)

  3. Your description of NB can be equally applied to PEI. I have also observed that friends and family from larger cities speak and behave much as you have described your Montreal experiences.

  4. It’s not to say of course that they don’t go in for grander weddings in the Maritimes than the ones I’ve experienced. People anywhere will go for as modest or grand an event as they desire and can afford. It’s the open discussion of the prices one pays that I’ve been uncomfortable discussing in public. It’s a kind of vulgar assertion of status.

    A lot of this may have something to do with the number of choices available to a bride and groom for a wedding. The wedding expo (or, as I called it, ‘Perdition’) gives you options of various white stretch Hummer limos and your very own Las Vegas style showgirls. And stilt walkers. And doves. The temptation to go overboard could be a little too much for some people.

    Of course, these days when so much information is available online it’s hard to be discreet about money. Online real estate listings will tell you how much your neighbour probably paid for his house. And never discussing money with others can be hindrance when you need a benchmark for something with which you’ve no experience.

  5. I’m thinking that the not discussing of money and how much things cost is an Anglophone thing. Same deal for me (from Ontario). Though the size of a wedding definitely seems to relate to a) how traditional people (& their families) are, and b) their (& their families’) income.

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