Montréal: Suddenly Everything’s French

After my time in Toronto, seeing Montréal felt like a relief. It’s still a big city but it seemed so much more playful, colourful, somehow younger.

My hostel was in the Quartier de Spectacle – the entertainment district, basically – and you could really feel that. I arrived in the afternoon and after resting for a bit, I decided to just walk around and see what I could find. And only one block away from my hostel awaited the first find: a circus show with acrobats, music and dancers.

DSC_7711When that was done, the whole crowd moved and turned into one of the nearby streets. Ste-Catherine Street is one of the main streets of Gay Village and setting of Aires Libres, an annual public art event.

The pedestrian-only road was studded with bars, restaurants and street vendors, hanged with pink balls and the air filled with the sound of buskers on every corner. And what waited at the end of the street, just over the river? Yes, a massive fireworks show put on as part of L’International des Feux Loto-Québec (or Montréal Fireworks Festival) where pyrotechnicians from all around the world show off their skills and compete against each other. Therefore, you had colourful lights arranged in the shapes of smiley faces or teddy bears and explosions so big, you could feel the blast in your chest.

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All this happened in 3 hours only and on my first evening – Montréal looked promising.

The Educational Side of Montréal

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The building of the Biosphère looks like an exhibit itself.

However, I started quietly into the next day. During breakfast, I met Alex, a girl from Sweden, who was also travelling by herself. So we decided to team up and go to the Biosphère together to see one of Montréal’s museums.

North America’s only environmental museum educates visitors about how the weather comes to be, different kinds of pollution, climate change and how all of those factors influence each other. Next to a lot of depressing statistics and maps showing what we’ve done to our planet in the last centuries, the museum also has an optimistic exhibition showcasing modern innovations that reduce our carbon footprint or use energy in a more efficient way than our recent products do.

Your standard smartphone, for example, uses only 7 to 10% of the energy it needs effectively. That means, 7 to 10% of the energy it uses up go towards running Candy Crush smoothly or posting your newest selfies on Instagram. Most of the rest is turned into heat which gets lost unused unless it’s deep winter and you warm your hands on your phone. As many of our modern devices have such a low energy efficiency, scientists constantly try to find alternatives that could save us a massive amount of energy.

And Suddenly Everything’s French

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This is one of the friends I made! And in the background, on the left, you can see Québec’s flag – it’s everywhere.

On my last evening, I was lucky enough to run into a group of people from the suburbs of Montréal, who came into town for a fun evening and asked me to tag along (or, well, honestly speaking, it was me who just asked if I could tag along after they asked me for directions to a bar, but what’s the difference? Don’t be so shy, guys).

After the first excitement that I, as a tourist, could actually point them towards the bar the locals had been searching for 15min was gone, we had interesting conversations about Québec’s position in Canada, differences between our cultures and just our lives.

For me, it was incredibly fascinating to see that one of them sometimes had to desperately search for an English word, just as I do, or how he and his friend suddenly fell into fluent French and I completely lost the conversation.

Québec is still Canada, yes – it just sometimes doesn’t feel like it. All the shops have their signs in French, everyone asks you things in French first before seeing your blank stare and then switching to English and even the stop signs say “arrêt” instead of “stop”!

I felt a bit helpless again and as if my communication was limited. I mean, most people do speak English (I only had one young woman quickly turn to her friend when I asked her something because she just didn’t understand me) but especially since I had French in school for seven years, I wanted to speak it so badly.

On the one hand, being immersed in French made me realise how much I still remember because I could form complete sentences in my head that seemed alright and understandable to me. On the other hand, I was way too shy to actually say those sentences out loud then. I simply felt like those poor baristas and waiters have to deal with tourists that just want to test out their bad French every single day while Quebecois people are known for being very proud of their French heritage. So I didn’t even try to pretend and just accepted my role as a tourist.

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