Tuesday, 6 July 2010

blessed are the cheesemakers

The Montrealers have quite a lot to thank the French for, such as brutally claiming Quebec [province] from the original inhabitants, introducing their lilting language, giving the region some quite delightful architecture and establishing the production of cheese. Despite this the Montrealers seem to hate the French even more than they despise Les Americains.

Noted local musician Dan Bigras, playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival, opened his set by enquiring [in English] if there were any Americans present. Three hapless persons in the front row innocently raised their hands, whereupon the great man spent the rest of the evening speaking ever broader Quebecois and making jokes at their expense. Sometimes he switched to picking on the French instead and once or twice had a go at the ‘other’ Canadians. That would be those who are not Quebecois. In between he sang [great voice, terrific range] and expertly played keyboard [again, respect].

I’ve wandered quite a bit in my life and [perhaps foolishly] consider myself a traveller rather than a tourist. In general I travel for work rather than amusement. I’ve slept in places as diverse as an abandoned cowshed in the Swiss Alps, the railway station at Boulogne and on red sand in the wilder bits of Australia, where the trick is to unroll your swag only as you’re getting into it for the night so as to be sure that nothing reptilian [or otherwise] occupies it before you do. I’ve mended mosquito nets at the youth hostel in Suva before turning in for the night and walked down the west coast of Scotland in wild weather hefting a pack. I think it’s fair to say I generally maintain a fairly optimistic outlook and am pretty flexible except where bedbugs are concerned.

I try to become familiar with at least a few words of the local language wherever I go. I find it helps. For example, if you make the effort to speak French in France the locals invariably respond in a friendly fashion. They might find you slightly hilarious but they will be gracious about your massacred attempts to mumble pleasantries.

J’adore la France.

I came to Montreal to revisit what was once home [hey, my brother was born here] but with the exception of the charming young lady serving at the epicerie on Maisoneuve, the lovely people at the Fairmont Bagel bakery and lots of friendly dogs; I encountered nothing but venom and sullen stares from the Montrealers [or are they properly called Montrealists?]. I even tried dressing sedately in jeans and a Tshirt in case my distinctive clothing style was the problem. Same response.

So after some thought here’s my advice to the residents of Montreal. If you want people to continue visiting your city and giving you money to prop up your economy, try at least to pretend that you don’t mind them breathing.

If you want the rest of the whirled to leave you alone why not declare yourselves La Republique de Montreal, close the borders around your town [most of it should be easily defensible, being on an island] and keep the rest of us out. That way you can enjoy yourselves without all those nasty foreigners cluttering up the place. Perhaps you could put a box at the border so those people who like being insulted can just put their money in and listen to a recorded message about how pathetic they [and the rest of the whirled] are and then go away again. Et moi? I can take a hint and have gone somewhere else.

After a short train journey we’ve arrived in Quebec City, which by contrast appears to be full of genial folks who bear with my rusty French, are helpful and actually know how to smile. As opposed to just baring their teeth.

Tomorrow should be a lovely day.


  1. Oh dear! Sorry you didn't have such a good time in Montreal; here's hoping Quebec remains friendlier and happier.

  2. i hope quebec city holds some magic for you both. that museum in montreal was...strange.

  3. Glory Be! I'm relieved you are getting better treatment in Quebec City. It doesn't hurt to smile does it? (Mental note to smile at visitors :-)

  4. Your article took me back to my one visit to Montreal where I, along with my traveling companions, received the same sort of treatment you described. Some time later I travel to Paris and used the same French I used in Montreal and had a wonderful experience save for one crusty male waiter. It must be very lonely up on the "high horse".

  5. hey i understand....was in montreal on friday, was only made bearable by the fact that i was with friends and drank zambucca coffee... but there is a mystique about montreal anyway.... you should come visit in the country....am in mont-saint-hilaire, it is beautiful here, le montainge et tres jolie....how much longer are you in these parts for???? come visit and we find the luciel...the fireflies and friendly francophones....not like in montreal.... blesss....imbi

  6. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience in Montreal. I must be the exception. I've never encountered such experiences in Montreal, even though I speak French from France. But Quebec City is, I agree, another world -- definitely one of my favourite cities.
    Happy travels,

  7. "maybe it's me"....as Hugh Grant's character said in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'
    on the other hand, Quebec has been delightful
    and i look forward to returning one day [probably when the leaves are red and gold]

  8. Beautiful writing India. Amusing and insightful. I have enjoyed traveling and experiencing Canada vicariously through your words and images.