What about Montreal?

In a comment on a post over at Driving Fast on Loose Gravel, Amak from The Queer Behind the Mirror asked Mae and I why he has never heard either of us write about Montreal. Is this true? Have I never written of that Lovely City?

It seems I mentioned it once.

A branch of my extended family lives in Montreal. My older sister moved there after high school, and stayed for 9 years. Three of my best friends from high school did the same, even living in the same building as my sister that first year. At any given time, I always know a handful of other folks making a home there, though not always for long.

Most of them are Anglophones, and it can be a really hard place to find work if you don’t have the French. Even my sister, whose grade school immersion buoyed her through multiple complex love affairs with Francophones who spoke little English, eventually left because she couldn’t grasp grammer. The lovers never cared, it was the jobs: She was a social worker, and as long as she couldn’t write proper reports on clients, she was stuck working for private English agencies, which she hated.

It would be the same for me, if I tried to work there: I have enough French to read the paper and chat with slow-speaking strangers, but I can’t write well enough to get a good job. More specifically, I can’t write well enough to get a job doing anything I’d want to do, because it would drive me crazy if I was limited to working with Anglophones. Even when I visit, I’m overly aware of all the things I’m missing out on simply because I don’t fully understand the language. Though I suppose I could just get used to it, as I do when I’m in any other unfamiliar cultural context, this is much harder for me than it sounds.

I think a lot of that is guilt: Anglophone guilt to go with my white guilt! I was raised in Toronto by Anglophone parents who believed that putting their kids in French immersion would be a step towards national unity, would repair some of the damage of the British/French colonial agreement. Never mind that I knew more kids who spoke Cantonese or Amharic or Urdu, or the fact than some Gaelic (my ethnic language) or Ojibwe (one of the local indigenous languages) would have provided a more useful context for my identity… To this day, I have this nagging sense that I *ought* to be able to write fluently in French. I ought to know French better than these funny rambling sentences that come out of my mouth! IT’S MY DUTY!!!

So this is how it is with many friends: They move to Montreal for school or with a bit of savings, I visit them and we spend long evenings drinking in the parks or walking around the streets or visiting markets or what have you. Then I leave, and they do too. It never feels permanent.

I could spend more time with the relatives there, but… Well, they’re relatives. Though, for the record, they are Francophone, which makes them increasingly appealing as time goes on.

I wish I knew Montreal better. I wish I felt it, like I feel Toronto or even Winnipeg. I love reading Mark My Words because I love the way Mark writes about the city: He really makes me feel that Montreal *could* have a place for me, a place for all of us romantics and foodies and artists and appreciators of neighbourhoods. Same thing goes for quiet in the city: When I read these blogs, I feel like I could do right by Montreal someday, if I committed to it.

For me, that would mean some serious French classes. Also, fashion… I would need to dress better, because my daily jeans-with-black-shirt would not be up to local standards. I used to think it was a stereotype, but after my sister left Montreal for the west coast, I really noticed the difference in her choices in clothing. In Montreal, her kicky outfits just seemed casually hip, but in Vancouver I saw how drab everyone else looked by comparison. It’s the weather, or is it the mountains, or maybe the different colonial influences.

At any rate, I *do* love Montreal, but there’s baggage there for me. Amak? Yeah, I can see Amak in Montreal… From what little I know of him from his blog, I think it might charm him to pieces. In a good way.


4 responses to “What about Montreal?

  1. Over the years, I’ve met and mingled with so many people from all parts of the world (but mostly from the US and the rest of Canada) who have passed through Montreal, and many have said what you have said in your post. Apparently, the language, politics, culture, and winters here are um, quite the challenge for some, but they all nevertheless fall in love with the city. It seems to me that many people, especially young, adventurous anglophones, see Montreal as a poor man’s version of a stint in Paris (caricaturally-speaking, and not intended to berate Montreal in any way). They often see living in Montreal as the informal part of their education, a chance to experience an arts-oriented, quasi-bohemian culture with a deep North American history, after graduating from school, and before settling down somewhere else more suitable for career and family.

    Btw, thanks for the blurb about my blog. Appreciate it! I also enjoy reading “quiet in the city” – she’s quite the writer.


    • feralgeographer

      Yes, exactly! Though from the perspective of my friends when we were in high school in Toronto, Montreal was where everyone went when they couldn’t afford to be hip and bohemian in New York City.

      Not to ruin the surprise, but one of my upcoming reviews in Capital Xtra is of your blog… I don’t know when it will be published, but will send you the link when it is!

  2. That’s alot of how I felt about Montreal; I wish I’d felt more connected to it, because it’s such a great place. Still, it taught me tons about activism.

  3. Hey FG!
    You actually wrote an entire post about Montreal [and so much more than Montreal, since it dealt with nationalism, race politics, (pseudo)-dreams ets.] Wow! Thanks SO much!
    I can’t wait to go to Montreal and find out what’s waiting for me out there. I have been told oft-times that Montreal is the Paris of North-America and that it’s there that I’ll finally fall in love– maybe not with somebody, but at least with the city itself.
    I am even more excited now… It’s just a question of money now, and I shall make it there!
    I have to say that I chose Toronto (well kinda, since I am stuck in Pboro) as an alternative to NYC!! Couldn’t make it there and thought T-dot would be a good back-up. Should I have chosen Montreal instead?!
    Thanks again for this post. And I found the ‘anglphone guilt’ particularly pertinent.

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