I mentioned before that my first time in Canada was to the only place in Canada not known for its niceness. That said everyone I encountered seemed pretty normal, leading me to believe that Americans travel the world and find themselves surprised that other people treat them the same way another American would. Because I don’t really have a longer piece, let me tell you about some of my experiences around Montreal.
The Worst Feeling
I spent a bit of time picking up French phrases and greetings before heading out. I can greet a person in three different ways, say please and thank you, ask for water, and tell you that an apple is red in French. This isn’t quite sufficient but most people seemed to appreciate the effort. That said, there is no worse feeling than opening a conversation with “Bonjour” and immediately having the person you’re speaking to switch to English. Due to my slow and dumb tongue, it happened to me a lot more than it happened to Marissa.
Speaking of Bad Feelings
Some cashier at a little grocery store was more than a bit short with me over my debit card. See, it is a debit card, but it is a MasterCard debit card. We walked around in this store for awhile and found that it basically carried most of our favorite foods despite its small size. They had halloumi (a Cyprian cheese with a very salty taste), bread with cheese baked right in, and a wide selection of cheap pre-made meals (my favorite food — easy and cheap).
The conversation wasn’t particularly damning, but the tone taken was awfully condescending. We reached the checkout and I placed my basket on the belt. Apparently you’re not supposed to do that because the rest of conversation she acted like I was an idiot. Maybe she was right, but usually we pretend it isn’t so for propriety’s sake.
We Had Some Fun
I figured out pretty quickly that when you ask to switch to English every French Canadian informs you that they only know “a little” English. These people are being modest.
We went to one little pizzeria and asked to switch to English. The woman apologized profusely for only knowing a little English. She did this, of course, in perfect English. Then Marissa did something I cringe at a bit. She asked the woman to describe one of the items on the menu. (The menu was also in French but foodstuffs is pretty easy to translate. The woman apologized for the menu as well.) Everything was pretty clear except when the woman said, “That’s English cream.” No idea what that was, so she went all over the restaurant asking for a better translation. Eventually she, laughing the whole time, ran back into the kitchen before running out practically shouting, “Custard!” Which really should have made perfect sense to us.
On The Flipside
I had heard there were some Anglophile communities around French Canada that refuse to speak French. I think we stumbled into a person of this persuasion at a local ice cream shop in Montreal. The people ahead of us paid with American currency, not something accepted in most places anymore, and the server refused to answer questions in French. Sure, she understood French well enough to know what was being asked but she always replied in English. It was odd.