As an enclave for French speakers and European culture in the Western hemisphere, it’s too easy to assume that the people of Montreal — in all their shapes, styles, subcultures, and colors — are just like their counterparts in Paris, Lyon, and other famous francophone cities. What you find out very quickly is while there are certainly similarities between the French and Montrealers, these are a people who have their own complex identity. These are just a few of the things I managed to learn about those who call the City of Saints home.
- These Are Not Parisians
Nothing drives this point home quite like the clouds of people you see wearing a t-shirt reading “This isn’t Paris.” Sure, you’ll see people flock to the boulangerie on the corner for a fresh baguette on Saturday morning, and cheese, wine, and bread may be close behind. The few similarities don’t come close to the things that set these two people apart.
- Montrealais Are Kind, Helpful People
Perhaps because of Parisians’ reputation as rude, rather gruff people and Montreal’s unfortunate fate of being lumped together with the City of Light, Montrealais are often said to be much the same. That notion, in my limited experience, is insane. I will say that you’ll find a much warmer reception in the city if you at least try to speak French. A Bonjour and a parlez-vous Anglais will endear you in a way the presumptuous — even arrogant — Hello might not in a city with French as its first language.
- Welcome to Montreal, Now Have a Drink
If you’re willing to reach out, you’ll find Montrealers not only friendly, but exceptionally welcoming. The first night of my stay, my AirBnB hosts invited me to a party of friends and family, where beer and conversation — admittedly in broken French on my part — were flowing, genuine, and frequently affecting.
I found myself walking from stall to stall, bubbling cistern of paella to fromagerie, at Atwater Market, a European-style open air market offering food, wine, and the occasional busker. To put it bluntly, I was overwhelmed by choices. One of the florists, a lovely woman with deeply tanned skin and bright blue eyes, scrunched her eyebrows as she watched me pass her stall in a hopeless back-and-forth for the third time.
Noemie, a local artist with a penchant for capturing the magic of Old Montreal, found me wandering, asked me to sit and what sort of food I liked, returning shortly thereafter with a beer and a lobster roll. She asked only for my story as payment. I’m not suggesting you should expect handouts; I am saying there are people interested in finding out more about you and offering the same in turn.
- Bikers, Walkers, Runners, Oh My!
I come from a town where people would rather be dragged along by one of our resident black bears from place to place rather than cause themselves to sweat by walking, biking, or — gods forbid — running to get anyplace. Finding an unbelievable number of Montrealers doing all of these things, both for exercise and to commute, made me keenly aware of the paunch built of beer, hours in a chair, and bad food I carry around. I tried to adopt the local habits during my stay. Blisters the size of gherkins were the result.
- The Devil is in the Drivers
Drivers in Montreal, if I may say so, seem to be filled with the rage and hellfire of demons. I mean it. I cannot count on two hands how many times I was nearly run down, left like a large smattering of pressed gum into the pavement, by a driver who didn’t acknowledge my right away, nor the instances of my seeing the same thing happen to others. Montrealers, loveable though they are, number among the most aggressive I’ve encountered.
What were your experiences like with the people of Montreal? Share some of your stories in the comment section below!