Feeling French in Montreal

Hello Dear Readers!
I was in Vermont just recently (for school) and found myself with a spare day, so decided to make the quick drive up to Montreal. I’ve been to Canada a few times, but only on the west coast, and I was really looking forward to seeing if French Canada was worth all that jazz. Spoiler alert: it totally is.

Anyway, it’s two and a half hours from Northfield, Vermont, up to Montreal, so I hopped in my rental car and sped up the highway to check out French Canada. I anticipated no problems at the border, since it’s, ya know, just Canada, but the border patrol agent was having none of me.

He asked me a thousand questions, looked extremely skeptical when I said I was just staying for a day, and questioned me specifically on what I was going to do in Montreal.

“Well,” I told him, “I hear the poutine is good.”

He busted out laughing and then sent me to extra security. Clearly, poutine is not the winning answer.

After they scanned my passport, examined every stamp in the book, and interrogated me (politely. It is Canada, after all) about my plans, they finally let me through.

And then I was in! It was only about another hour to Montreal, where I stayed the night at the Intercontinental. (I used my Ambassador status to get awesome perks).

Since I was just there for the night, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time. I know I’ve told you guys about the Spotted By Locals app before, but it’s essentially a curated list of things to do and see in specific cities, made by the people who actually live in them.
Which is how I found myself in a secret speakeasy hidden down a set of stairs, sipping on a handcrafted cocktail and generally feeling very posh.

I hung out at the bar there for about two hours, just enjoying my drinks and the general atmosphere, before striking up a conversation with the two people next to me.

This side of Canada is weird, in that it’s…very French. But at the same time, they’re very similar to us. They’ve got all the same stores, roads, and buildings, but everything is written in French and everyone is perfectly bilingual. They slip from English to French and back almost unconsciously, which is really cool but also really difficult for me to understand as a non-French speaker.

But it’s fun! These two were very much French Canadian, and I spent a good portion of time staring back and forth between them as I attempted to deduce what they were saying via body language.

Eventually, they told me they were headed out to a different bar, and invited me to come along.

Now, as a single female I’ve got to be careful about where I go. So I did the natural thing and asked,

“You aren’t gonna murder me in a back alley, are you?”

To which they responded, that no, of course they weren’t, so clearly that was good enough for me.

(I know I’m being flippant about this guys, but I am actually extremely careful and would never head out somewhere without telling someone/if I felt the least bit unsafe/ etc etc. Don’t worry.)

We left the speakeasy and walked a few minutes down the road, to this very fancy, very busy night club.

Now, I know you’ve all seen photos of what I wear. I was in green pants and my walking shoes, coupled with a blouse, which was the nicest thing I had with me. As a traveler, I just don’t have room for fancy pants clothes.

Me.

In contrast, the guy I was with was in a full suit and the girl had on a cocktail dress. I was in no way fit for entry and thus hid behind the both of them as we walked into the club.

I then spent the whole night thinking “Don’t look at my feet, don’t look at my fe- oh god he’s seen the tennis shoes.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a real night club before, but this place was really cool. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder, and between the giant bottles of Grey Goose and sparklers, people shouted at each other and sipped glasses of wine. And this was on a Thursday.

We were there until at 2am, at which point the guy in our group had had a little bit too much to drink, so his friend (they were just friends hanging out) decided it was time to go. We Uber’ed back to my hotel and I let them in the lounge, where we hung out and drank coffee until the wee hours of the morning.

Finally, a little more sobered up, they took off in a cab and I trudged up to my room, reasonably sure I wasn’t going to be hungover.

Ha.

-Carissa “Fancy Pants” Rawson

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7 thoughts on “Feeling French in Montreal

  1. So glad you got in, but I wish you had seen more of the city. My first trip there was in 1976, at the invitation of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to work with her on a multi-national Hospice conference at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital. Although there for several days, I was only able to get out into the city at night. I had been told Quebecois did not like Parisian French, but that was what I knew and didn’t know how to modify it for them. Still, no problems at all.

    So, I returned in the late 90’s, rented a car and drove all over Quebec province for a couple of weeks including the Laurentian mountains. I got along fine in French, but found most people accepted speaking English if necessary.

    Glad you are back.

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    1. That sounds amazing. I honestly wish I’d had more than just a day there, and I’d love to go back. I didn’t mind driving at all (though normally I can get quite nervous on the road). How did you learn Parisian French? My vocabulary peters out at around 10 words.

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      1. I hope you do return. I assure you it will be more than worth the effort, even driving. My first language was Italian, but I went from there into several languages as a youngster and then for graduate school and my career, including in my travel Paris and other places in the world where French was spoken.. I can still manage fairly well in French, but always do much better when I’m “immersed” in the environment.

        I’m betting you have already found that people give you more credit for trying their language than for not trying it. And, most people seem to want to help.

        I’m enjoying your adventures, Marco

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