A Few Things You Have to Explain to Out-Of-Towners about Montreal

April 29, 2014 , In: Design, Living, Montreal , With: 9 Comments

no-right-turnsPhoto from Fagstein

I have been wanting for a while to write a blog post on what it’s like to live in Montreal, but frankly, it could so easily get controversial I am not sure if I have the stomach for it.  Montreal is charged with emotions on so many issues (language, politics, etc.) that I’m just not sure I’m ready to go there.

But, a recent article on Thrillist called 21 Things You Have To Explain To Out-Of-Towners about Montreal hit the nail on the head.  So many of them I’ve had to explain to visitors (#1 – Montreal revolves around it’s own compass, #9 Terrasse refers to a Patio, #15 The Confusing Bonjour/Hi Greeting) that I thought it would be worth mentioning it here.  Plus, of course, I have a few to add of my own.

1. Paté Chinois translates to chinese paté but is actually what most of us know as shepherd’s pie…

2. Sometimes on English news radio or TV they won’t bother to translate a French language interview.  Whether this is oversight or because they just assume everyone understands French is tbd.

3. There’s no high school.  Instead school ends at ‘Grade 11’ which I believe is actually called Secondary 5 (I could be completely wrong).  Students then move on to two years of CEGEP.  This means that university is only three years.  It’s all very confusing and I still need to figure it out.

4. Speaking of school, you have options of English Public school (if you qualify), French Public School, French Private school which is subsidized by the government, and English Private school which is not subsidized and runs upwards of $20k.

5. People get really uptight about bagels around here.  I mean they are good and all, but they are almost a religion to Montrealers.  Ditto with poutine and smoked meat.  Maybe you have to grow up with these foods, I don’t really get it.  (For the record I don’t see what the big deal is about Tim Hortons either).

6. It’s custom to say goodbye to everyone in the room when you leave.  If you are at a party goodbyes take a very long time….  I usually just ignore that custom and slip out.

7. Female to Female or Male to Female greet each other with two kisses on the cheek.  Male to males make it a handshake.  This is done pretty much every time after the first time you meet someone.

8. Quebec loves it’s French wine.  You’ll find fewer wines from elsewhere in the stores or on restaurant menus (although you will find it – stop the hate mail saying I’m wrong).

9. BYOW restaurants are plentiful and there are no corkage fees.

10. Quebecers tend not to get married.  It’s very acceptable to have children without getting married here, although I might add that most of my friends have tied the knot.

11. Politics is prickly.  Never bring it up.  People are very passionate here.  I have no clue if our friends and family are separatists or federalists and I’m very happy with that.

12. I usually start a conversation in French and let the person decide if my French is better or worse than their English and in which language to continue the conversation.  If I hear a hint of an English accent in the greeting I speak in English.

13. Women do not change their name after marriage.  Quebec banned a woman from taking her husband’s name in 1981 and the logic is that by taking her husband’s name it makes her seem like her husband’s property.  So no one takes their husbands name, and no one really seems to care.  I have to explain this when I go out west and people always ask what my last name now is.  Personally, perhaps because I’m used to no one changing their name here, I always wonder what the big deal is.  As well, because no one has the last name of their kids, it’s not a big deal and no questions are asked at say the hospital or when travelling.  I do carry my sons birth certificate when we travel just in case though which lists me as the mother, but US border guards are so used to it the situation has never been questioned.

Did I miss anything?

    • Aimee
    • April 29, 2014

    I am so happy you have explained the not taking your husbands name thing. I spent all my summers in Granby growing up and I noticed that but had no idea why! My grandmother moved back to granby from the US a few years ago and has all kinds of name issues because she moved to the US with my grandfather in the 70’s so some of her records are in her maiden name and some are in her married name.

      • Michelle
      • April 29, 2014

      Yeah – I think you have to have certain documents in your maiden name (like your health care card) but I’m not sure. Glad I could help out!

  1. Reply

    A nice list full of things that took me longer to figure out than they should have when I arrived in Montreal! The cegep concept was pretty confusing.

    Regarding 13, I moved here with my husband after the name change, so here people often ask if we are brother and sister because we have the same last name…

    And oh, no. 9 is glorious!

      • Michelle
      • April 29, 2014

      Thanks Cassie – a lot of those things took me a while to figure out too!
      That’s funny that keeping your maiden name is so common here that people ask if you are related! It certainly isn’t that way in the rest of North America.
      And I agree – yay for no. 9!

    • Yulia, Alex and baby Phil
    • April 29, 2014

    How about cabane a sucre madness?..))

      • Michelle
      • April 29, 2014

      That’s true – that’s definitely something pretty unique. I’d especially have to explain cretons, oreilles de crises and putting maple syrup on an omelette!

    • Leslye lang
    • May 2, 2015

    Great blog, Michelle! I spent most of my morning exploring it, and really appreciate your take on the new Monkland Avenue spots. That said, I think you should explain parking to newcomers; if they don’t speak French, suggest a cribnote that translates the days (Monday=lundi, etc) and that the signs go on a 24-hour clock, so 2:00 is 2 am, not also 2 pm, which would be 14:00. It’s fine for Europeans, but other Canadians and Americans always get tickets, which they may have to actually pay.

      • Michelle
      • May 2, 2015

      Thanks for the kind words! And thanks for the crib note idea!

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Michelle Little

Writer & Photographer

Originally from the prairies and now in Montreal, I love exploring new places, eating great food and modern design. I'm mom of two wild things and paper and cake make me happy. Photographing your cutie family would make me very happy.

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