Thursday, 5 September 2013
We've now been here a month and played rather more quizzes than I'd care to admit, so I thought I'd put (electronic) pen to paper to record my thoughts on what small part of the Canadian (and specifically Montreal) quiz scene I've been exposed to. Suffice to say this isn't the largest sample so I make no claims of it being particularly representative of the country at large, but there are hopefully some insights here which may be of interest.
When it comes to expectations of 'the scene' abroad the first thing to acknowledge is that the UK is a bit weird about quizzes. As a nation we're responsible for some huge quiz show franchises (Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Weakest Link are the world's two largest) and even when we're not we have a tendency for putting our own rather unique spin on things (anyone who has seen the US version of Deal or No Deal and compared it to ours will know what I'm talking about). Off-screen, meanwhile, British quizzers dominate the World Quiz Rankings and since its inception in 2003 an Englishman (usually Kevin Ashman or Pat Gibson) has won every single World Quiz Championship title. Then, of course, there's the humble pub quiz. I don't think I know anyone who has never been to at least one, and a 2009 survey estimated there were 22,445 quizzes a week in the UK to choose from. That's a lot of Quiz Team Aguileras.
All this feeds into the expectation that the British are good at quizzing and, by extension, everyone else should be bad at it. Similarly, I didn't expect to find many pub quizzes here, let alone good ones, but was quietly hopeful that any I might find may prove a tad easier to win than those back home. The former proved to be a reasonable concern; there are certainly fewer options to scratch your quizular itch, but we have found a few, and I'll start with what the mood is like.
One of the biggest differences I've noticed between quizzes here and in England is the noise. The British are, by our very nature, more than a little reserved. We don't care much for making a fuss, or shouting, or cheering (years of supporting our various sporting endeavours has presumably trained us out of this last one). You can forget about that here. Audience participation, be it applauding other teams, beating 'drum rolls' on the table, and even (to my horror) celebrating victory are both encouraged and expected. At our first quiz since moving here we were caught by surprise when it was revealed we'd won, and were subsequently admonished by the quizmaster for not celebrating properly. We have now taken to engaging in utterly hopeless high fives and suchlike despite it seeming terribly poor form.
A more minor observation, but interesting nonetheless, is that I've yet to encounter a quiz which expects you to cough up an entry fee. The prize is a modest bar tab ($50 or thereabouts) rather than a chunk of cash which, when compared with UK quizzes where prizes in the region of £100 are commonplace, could well discourage anyone from taking things too seriously (let alone cheating).
The style and subject of questions have, for the most part, been quite similar to what you'd expect in a UK quiz. It may be the types of venues we've been frequenting, but I can recall only one question about (ice) hockey and no more than half a dozen about North American politics or current affairs (where the British media's obsession with all things transatlantic has stood us in fairly good stead). The UK quiz obsession with US states, meanwhile, has prepared us reasonably well for some geography questions, although we're relatively weak in what I'd call 'peri-American geography' (Caribbean islands and the like) which carries an understandably higher trivia profile here. There are similar North American slants on history and culture, while music and film seem relatively similar to what we're used to.
Overall I'd have to say that Canadian quizzes (so far, at least) seem a touch easier than the UK. However, a significant part of this is, inevitably, down to the quality of the opposition. At time of writing the only quizzes we've lost were conducted in French, and while we weren't suicidal enough to go into them without a translator, there were some very French-centric questions that make them slightly anomalous from an anglophone's quizzing perspective. This isn't to say that we've been particularly spectacular though, as a look at our first Canadian ones that got away testifies. It seems that what constitutes 'standard' trivia to a regular UK quizzer is considered a bit more esoteric over here.
Regardless, I think it's fair to say that questions themselves are often fairly easy, even on areas we might not be expected to know. Dealing with the North American bias has proven fairly straightforward thanks to a passing familiarity with the most notable of famous literary and historical contributions of the continent, while we've been able to gain big advantages on any questions that stray into European or even UK-centric territory. (One quiz, to my continued disbelief, expected a pubful of Canadians to know which county Leeds Castle is in.)
So that's my (all of one month's) experience of quizzing abroad. Overall, a quiz is a quiz, and Canadians seem just as capable at putting them together as we are back home. They may be a bit noisier, but I'll put that down to British sensitivity over North American brashness, and to make up for it teams seem much quicker (and much more genuine) to offer congratulations to the winners. A less serious atmosphere, though not to everyone's liking, makes for a nice change, while the difficulty has seen us pick up enough winnings to make the moderately extortionate beer prices easier to swallow.