Montreal: What I’ll Miss and What I Won’t (a Lis List)

by Elisabeth

1) Wine.

I will miss: The nights that Nick and I have been making a salad for 2 hours only to start eating dinner around 9:30-10. We, like any self respecting dinner makers, have been chopping vegetables between sips of wine that- in our latter years- comes from the SAQ (government-run liquor store) rather than the depanneur (Quebecois for corner-store.) At 10:47pm Nick give me the “should-we-get-more-wine” look. I’m already finding my purse, or putting on my shoes. Because there is a special luxury for readily available, low-grade wine. I will miss being able to get it at the Depanneur.

I won’t miss: the stunning lack of Canadian wines available in this province. For a place so pro-local, you would think that the wonderful Canadian wines would make it onto the shelf seeing as they are good quality and inexpensive. But nooooooo. They’d rather stock French, Italian, or Spanish wine. They keep it old-school.

2) Infrastructure.

St. Henri

St. Henri

I’ll miss: Montreal is a place with history, and it is evident by the various buildings and beautiful architecture that you can find in different areas of the city. You can marvel at art deco & modernist, buildings beside old converted factories, or 19th century churches. I will miss this sense of an older city with different immigrant histories.

I won’t miss: A couple years ago I decided to walk along the St. Lawrence in Lasalle in celebration of my new long underwear and the coming of spring. I decided to take the sidewalk for my return. As I walked confidently- and happily- along Lasalle blvd, I clipped my toe on one of the many broken and uneven slabs only to find myself crumpling into the concrete. It was covered in the little stones that they spread all over the snow and ice to help you gain footing. The little stones embedded themselves into my knee which was bleeding through my new long underwear. Both were a torn, bloody mess. I won’t miss the potholes, uneven pavement, or the crumbling infrastructure that Montreal is so famous for.

3) French is the dominant language.

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I’ll miss: Today as I rode home on the metro, I read my book. I tuned out conversations happening next to me, or the strange echo as each stop was announced. Some people go to a city to be anonymous and I must admit that I enjoy the special opt-out feeling when you don’t really understand the dominant language. For years I’ve been getting Nick to order food because I don’t want to struggle to communicate. I’ll miss that.

I won’t miss: Recently I attended my friend’s yoga class in Vieux Port at a studio I’d never been to. As it begun I realized that the class would be held in French, which is kind of stressful for a yoga class, where poses can feel like excruciating torture and you are anxious to get them over with. So my neck was constantly craning to see what my neighbours were doing, and all I could think about is what a luxury it would be to do the class in English.

4) Keeping it Local

I’ll miss: Quebec accidentally helped the buy-local movement when they passed their language laws. A lot of big box chains didn’t want to deal with the overhead of changing their signs and adverts to French. That’s why you see la Belle Province, and St. Hubert, where there might be more Swiss Chalets. That’s why you can find Quebec wines on the shelf where one would expect the Niagara wines to be. It makes me happy when I can support local businesses and spend money that filters right back into my community. I have to take a long metro ride to find any Wal-Mart and that suits me fine.

I won’t miss: The extreme nationalism. Being hated for the language I’m fluent in. The weird obsession Montrealers seem to have with Toronto.

5) Laws.

I’ll miss: In 2008, I got laid off. Somehow I managed to convince the government to fund my learning French for almost a year for a small nominal fee. A lot of laws in Quebec’s civil code support social programs and are very progressive. I have benefitted first hand.

I won’t miss: Moving Day. One of the dumbest laws/ideas that I’ve encountered in my entire life. All leases begin on Canada Day (which means everyone moves for that day too.) This archaic law originates in the 17th century and burdens resources such as moving trucks and movers- keeping them in high demand. It’s expensive, stressful, and a recipe for disaster. I’m glad I’ll never deal with it again.

6) Food.

I’ll miss: Quebecers love comfort food and see no issue with having eating items with a highly caloric density. I love the balls-out, brazen, indulgence that I see here. It seems to be a bi-product of French culture that starkly contrasts my upbringing. People have no problem eating a chocolatine or croissant for breakfast. Most people that I know here will eat dessert when they go out for dinner. Macaroni and cheese is a prevalent side dish. It’s refreshing.

I won’t miss: I don’t eat meat, and honestly Quebec isn’t the best place in Canada to have that lifestyle. I do, however, eat fish and seafood so it’s not a dire restauratnt-situation. But I have ended up in restaurants (Chalet BBQ, St. Hubert) where the only thing on the menu I could eat was french fries. It can be hard to live in a place where pork and bacon are so dear to the national identity. I don’t like, or even understand poutine. Usually when you order fries here, you get weird, soggy and oily potatoes; I don’t understand them either. Furthermore, the ubiquitous Cabane a Sucre culture, and the ever-present maple syrup and pork- wouldn’t have interested me back when I ate meat. It sure doesn’t interest me now; even though I like the indulgent side of Quebec eating, I’m anxious and happy to get back to a place where people are concerned with heart disease.

7) Multiculturalism.

I’ll miss: Back in 2008, when I was taking Francization classes, we had a potluck. The idea was:  we would bring food from the country we were from. Montreal is so diverse and in this class of 20 I was one of only 2 Canadians. I think I ended up bringing donuts for lack of a better idea. I wasn’t going to buy them all smoked salmon. But since living in Montreal, I’ve been exposed to religions and cultures that I’d only heard about from movies, or the news. I’ve met immigrants from French-speaking countries and been able to learn more about the world because of it. I never knew how under-exposed I was.

I won’t miss: While Montreal is diverse and cosmopolitan, apparently the rest of Quebec is not. This is where the proposed Charter of Values comes from, with  all of its protectionist fear-mongering. It’s ironic that the most multicultural place I’ve ever lived in; is also where I’ve encountered the most blatant, outspoken, and systemic racism. The proposed charter of values makes my skin crawl.

8) Sidewalks.

Last winter was so much easier than this one...

Last winter was so much easier than this one…

I’ll miss: There is a phenomenon in Montreal that usually takes place in April, but a few lucky years it’s happened in March. The temperature outside soars up to 10, or maybe 13 degrees. The sun is out. The snow is melting. And there are chairs and tables out on the terrace as you walk along the sidewalks of Saint-Denis or Saint-Laurent. Montrealers wait for this moment- it marks the beginning of summer for us. Restaurant and bar owners are quick to catch on to this weather-based cash cow. Terraces are as much a part of life here as snow or ice. We’ve been waiting all winter for the moment when our drinks can be enjoyed outside and will sit outside the moment there is a sunny and partially warm day. I’m dreaming of this moment right now.

I won’t miss: For some reason, the regular flow of traffic does not apply on Montreal sidewalks. This can be disconcerting to those of us who are used to lots of personal space and a “by-the-rules” approach to walking. I’ve never gotten used to the way people walk here, and how many of them walk into me because they refuse to follow the “stay-on-the-right” rule. Many are in a hurry and try to pass someone ahead of them only to find themselves walking into me.

9) Aesthetics:

I will miss: Tonight I’m missing out on Nuit Blanche– it’s a festival where the public can go out and see art exhibitions, go to museums, and watch different performers. I opted out, because I’m spoiled by all the festivals and art everywhere all year round. Montreal’s value on artistry and culture is why I moved here and it is what distinguishes it from any other Canadian city.

I won’t miss: Being a woman in an aesthetic-based culture. In a city where women wear stiletto shoes in freezing, inclement weather; I feel out of place. Montreal has ties to the old world, and traditional gender roles. I’ve never been good at all the girly stuff, especially when the weather forces you to wear layers. I feel like I stand out- and not in a good way. It feels like Montreal culture places a higher value on style over substance and I’ve never really been into that.

10) Seasons.

I will miss: Fall in Montreal is spectacular. Whenever my mother visits, she takes endless photos, all of them are of trees. The colours of the Boreal forest are breathtaking as the trees shed their leaves. No wonder so many tourists come here to see it. I really connected with the deciduous forest here and I will miss every Fall on the wet-coast because Fall is just rainy over there. Nothing notable.

I won’t miss: Winter. While I grew up figure skating and skiing, I never had to trudge through ice and snow to do my groceries in Vancouver. I never had to wear thick winter coats while shopping indoors where the heat is pumped. I always used to have my window cracked, for fresh air. I can’t wait until I can do that again and forgo the soul-crushing winter like the one we are having now.