At tourist facilities like our hotel, restaurants we ate at, and attractions we visited, English was spoken by the workers (some with truly impeccable English even though you could tell French was their native tongue). On a few instances, workers approached us speaking French until they saw our moment of hesitation and asked “anglais?” However, on public transportation, French ruled. Prior to going I read a story in which a rider on Montreal’s metro were basically mistreated as she was not a native French speaker and had addressed a metro worker in English, prompting indignation from the fiercely proud French worker (You can read about these two incidents here and another related story here.) This made me majorly worry that we would run into the same. While neither bus driver spoke any English, they could seem to at least understand enough of my little French to answer my questions. (One time we actually got on the wrong bus but after asking the driver if he was headed to our destination, he promptly replied in English that we needed to get the bus on the other side of the street.) The incident I mentioned was from last year and while I had read that public transportation workers are not required to know English in their jobs, I can only imagine the “training” the workers had to go through so as never to put such negative publicity on the public transportation system again.
When I traveled to New Orleans, I really didn’t feel anything “French” to it. Yes, signs were in French, along with French sounding names, but I was in America through and through. To me, any “living” sign of French life that harkens back to Louisiana’s days as part of New France are long gone. However, in Montreal (and I’m sure the rest of Quebec, perhaps even more so), I felt like I was in a French city somewhere. No, Montreal is no Paris and shouldn’t be thought of as a “substitute” for it, yet I couldn’t help but feel transported to the country while in a country with an English speaking majority.
-A little French goes a long way in terms of appreciation by the locals. Be sure to say the basics like “bonjour” and “merci” to people you interact with.
-Although most likely at tourist venues you will be able to find someone who speaks English, don’t always assume this and instead be polite by asking, “parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?)
-While this probably wouldn’t come up, don’t start any “nationalistic” debates. And just remember that the Quebecois people are fiercely proud of their culture and heritage and don’t necessarily like being lumped in with English speaking Canada’s.
Montreal, Canada-a sneak peek
Montreal’s Atwater Market
Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica
Vieux Montreal-a photo essay
Hotel Nelligan-a review
Montreal’s Mount Royal Park