Friday, October 14, 2011

What Canada Does Right

As an American, I will admit that, on a number of occasions, I too have said something to the effect of, “It’s just Canada—geez, it’s practically the US.” This is likely the result of my having little-to-no knowledge of what Canada has to offer (apart from maple syrup and hockey, of course). Geographically, it is identical to the majority of New England, and it borrows even its languages from other countries (namely the US and France). I’ve been to Niagra Falls and I’ve camped in Toronto, and I can honestly say that these places are no different from any number of spots in the United States.

However, I am currently visiting Montreal on a work-related trip, and I must say—while this city may resemble other cities I have seen, it does a tremendous job of melding together some of the best of them. To put it into one little phrase, Montreal is pretty much a French Portland.

“French Portland?” you say. “How could crunchy, laid-back Portland ever be French?” Well, first let me tell you the ways in which Montreal resembles Portland: first, it is probably amongst the most bike-friendly cities I have ever seen. One night I went on a 7-mile run, and I was able to stay on bike paths—true bike paths, which were in no way obstructed by cars—throughout the entire run. Also, as I explored the city, I ran across such an assortment of dyed, sheared, shaved, and teased hair, I had to wonder if there wasn’t a punk rock convention happening nearby (which, I might add, would have been a hilarious compliment to the Human Genetics convention I was attending).

Now, how could such a city be French? Let’s begin with the fact that everyone here speaks French. The street signs are written in French, the grocery store products are labeled in French . . . yes there is a considerable amount of English, too, but it is all written as “subtitles,” below the French. Every shop owner, hotel concierge, taxi driver, and restaurant server has addressed me first in French. Montreal’s dominant language is clearly French.

Add to this, the design of the city: the buildings are all old, ornate stone structures; the roads are primarily cobblestone; the shops are tiny and boutique-like; the restaurants and cafes are small and intimate. It’s a wonder visitors can remember they’re not actually in France!

All of this being said, it’s a shame Montreal isn’t in the US—I’d consider moving here! (At least for a bit.) I love the bicycle-friendly atmosphere, and the city is right on a river, which is wonderful. The language would be somewhat of a barrier, but it would also be good incentive to expand my linguistic repertoire. Instead I’ll just have to check out San Diego . . . they speak Spanish there, right?


Kelly said...

If you really want to immerse yourself in Spanish, go to Miami.

any how town said...

Ugh. You and my brother all off gallivanting in Montreal and not taking me with you--as your personal interpreter, of course :) *sigh* so little traveling these days...unless you include my ride along the Eliza Furnace trail in the rain to get to work on Friday :) You would have been proud! Love the post...although it should be noted that Canada probably "borrowed" the English language from the Brits and not us. They could take offense to that. Of course, French and English could also be considered colonizing or imperialistic languages as opposed to "borrowed" ones... if you're considering politics. Any suggestions on places to see?

agoldste said...

Yes! If you aren't paying, I definitely recommend staying at hotel Place d'Armes. Also, a very delicious, unique "tapas" type restaurant is Le Bremner. I had a really wonderful pineapple-basil margarita there, and also freshly fried jelly donuts (and I don't even like donuts!).