I spent the last week exploring the city of Montreal, learning about Culture, Fashion and how to speak French Canadian. I came to the realization that my grade 11 french didn’t get me far in a conversation, but it did allow me to pickup a few words to understand the direction of the conversation.
Here’s my top 12 cultural notes I learned about Montreal:
1) On Kids: Future of the West is the East. Even the kids at McDonalds were fluently switching back between French and English. If this were the west, they would all probably have high ranking Government positions, right out of high school.
2) On Language: Everyone wears t-shirts with English phrases. I guess the Quebec Language Police haven’t gotten to the t-shirt factories yet. I also found that influence of English on slang is much higher than I thought. For example, I would hear the hip-hop crowd talking to each other: “French French French French what up dawg French French French?”
3) On Bikers: They are certifiably crazy – and not in a good way. Weaving in and out of Montreal traffic on a beach cruiser, I did not see a single person wearing a helmet for protection. Oh wait, most were wearing only flip-flops for protection, so I guess that is something after all. At least the soles of their feet will be protected when they are dragged along the pavement by the crazy drivers.
4) On Drivers: I never thought jumping into a cab and saying “follow that cab” could be so dangerous. He did, but almost killed us by running a few red lights and cutting off a car at least every block. I think the driver was jealous that Nascar was in town and he wasn’t driving himself.
5) On Fashion: the fashion in the east easily eclipses the west. Leaving nothing to the imagination seemed to be the status quo. It made me wonder what the town will be like once the university students join in the foray.
6) On Women: Francophone women are much hotter than Anglophones… maybe it has to do with the fashion?
7) On Weather: A 35 degree heat, compounded with a 65% humidity index, makes it incredibly hot. This means under any circumstance your clothes will cling tightly to your sweaty, glistening, body while outside walking for even a block. In itself that is not noteworthy, but take it into account this happens at the same time as the above 2 points.
8) On Clubbing: Getting into nightclubs is harder than it looks when, at an age of 30, you refuse to tip the bouncer just on principle. However, that is not required if you meet up with some beautiful women dressed in the appropriate Montreal attire that, once they wink their way by the bouncer with “I don’t speak French, so don’t know which line to be in”, adding at the last minute “and those 2 gentlemen are with us” as they are lead past the line directly into the club. Without them, Eduardo and I would still be waiting outside…
9) On Smoked Meat: It is true – once you have some real Schwartz Smoked Meat, you’ll never go back.
10) On Pretending to Speak French: If you say Bonjour or Hello (with a French accent) to the waitress, she will talk to you in French and hand you a French menu. This is not necessarily a good thing when you don’t actually speak French. It makes ordering much more difficult…
11) On Translations: When the guide at the Science Centre gave a 2 to 3 minute introduction to the exhibit we were entering, I didn’t understand anything. When he asked if anyone only spoke English, and I raised my hand, he looked at me and said “No food. No drink. And no picture taking. Any questions?” It seemed like he said a lot more in French. What's up with that?
12) On Signage: Finally, for once, the sign for the Le Chateau clothing store didn’t look out of place when I walked by it.
When we travel there are two types of cultures: language and local customs. Being in a location where only one was an issue for me, it gave me a better understanding of what it is like when travelling to a foreign country where both of those are new. For this trip, I was happy I only had one, the language, to worry about.
While everyone I met did speak English, I did attempt to speak French as much as I could, or at least catch the meaning of the phrases and reply accordingly. What helped was my understanding of the cultural environment of North America. By picking up a few key words in the question or sentence, and pairing it with the social transaction – such as purchasing a drink – I could guess enough to answer yes or no. Although I must admit it really threw me off when one cashier asked something totally different, like “do you have air conditioning in your hotel?”, as she packed my bag. And replying with “No, the receipt in the bag is fine” will bring an awkward moment for all involved.