Somehow, our Montreal-iversary went by without me even noticing. I assure you that this is strange, because if there is any event to commemorate, I either find a new budget-category Urbanspoon recommendation to celebrate at or use the occasion as an excuse to try out some sort of new recipe-concoction in the kitchen. But as I am a lover of lists, you can be sure that I am still allowing myself to heavily reflect on my experiences.
Stop right there. I know what half of you are thinking. You are thinking, [insert eye roll here] “They only moved to Canada. It’s not like she lives in Tibet. How different can it be?!” My mother admitted to thinking the same thing before she came to visit. And you are partially right. A lot of things are the same. But as any Quebecker will tell you, this isn’t just Canada, this is Quebec. The cultural differences run much deeper than language and after 14 months here, and I am just barely beginning to understand some of its idiosyncrasies and subtleties.
And now, let me tell you what this list is not. This list is not my way of putting the peculiarity that is the Belle Province into some sort of pre-packaged BuzzFeed-like list. This is not a list of facts about Quebec, though some might teach you new things about the province if you don’t have much knowledge about it. Although not everything about my time here has been rosy, this list is not a list of complaints. Nor is it a list of diplomatic praises. It’s simply a list about how I have been influenced by my time here. Some are light-hearted, some are a bit less so. But all are 1OO% true.
14. I will never buy fake maple syrup again.
Quebec is the land flowing with milk and maple syrup. Real, quality maple syrup comes in 54O ml tin cans for between six and seven dollars depending if you catch a sale week. It has a distinct flavor, which you will not find in Aunt Jamima’s Maple-like syrup. Okay, if I’m at your house and you offer me tasty pancakes, I’ll be gracious. But I will try my darnedest to get my hands on actual maple syrup.
13. My admiration for immigrants has multiplied tenfold.
Since I often find myself in language classes (either the ones I teach or the ones in which I learn), I tend to meet a lot of other new arrivals. My mother likes to giggle a bit when I refer to myself being in a class for immigrants. It’s true that I could haughtily refer to myself as an “ex-pat,” but the immigration agent called us temporary immigrants. Sure, driving our little Toyota Yaris across the border during an extended camping trip isn’t the typical “immigrant” experience. But even for me, it has been trying at times. And like you were saying above, I only moved from the United States.
The gumption, the will, the fortitude I have seen from people who have chosen to leave their home countries to settle in a new place for a better quality of life, a better level of education for their children, whatever reason, has humbled me. These people deserve mad props. They worked hard to have the opportunity to be an immigrant and they work even harder upon arrival.
Wherever you are, imagine what it must be like for a new arrival. Be patient with their language skills. Be encouraging but let them move at their own pace. Be welcoming.
12. Coffee and tea have become staples in my life.
Not a day goes by when I don’t have a quality coffee or tea. This started when I started meeting potential conversation partners, and then quickly became a habit, leading to a creation of the morning coffee ritual. Between my morning coffee, a meet-up for language practice, and the occasional coffee dates with the husband, it’s not rare for me to have three coffee/espresso drinks per day. There’s no shortage of cafes to test, either. Montreal, especially the area we have transplanted to, is covered from block to block with interesting coffee and/or tea shops. Thanks to the Coffee Passport system earlier this year, I really got to business exploring.
11. I try to never refer to people as countries.
Why? Because I don’t like when I am called upon to answer for the actions of the entire USofA. Therefore, I don’t like asking others to do the same. Sure, I know a lot about the United States. I am interested in its social policy, try to educate myself about the issues, etc. But I am not John Kerry. I am not a representative of the United States. Please don’t point to me when saying things like, “The U.S. made a mess of the Middle East.” While true, I hadn’t even been old enough to vote in an election before the decision to invade Iraq was made. I do not like people associating me on a personal level with every violent act the United States’ government has committed since 1776. Don’t assume a person you meet believes or stands for all of the things you associate with a country. Don’t assume they don’t, either.
10. I say “it depends” all the time.
On a related note (maybe this is still me flushing number 11 out of my system), the U.S. is big. (Yes, I’ll grant you that Canada is technically larger, but that does not negate my point). Because the events described in number 11 are simply unavoidable, I needed to learn how to convey how much variation there is in that big country of separate states.
Sometimes I feel like the token “United States-er” (refer to number 6) in the room. It has happened on oodles and oodles of occasions that I’m the only person from the States in the room. (Every single time I step into a classroom, for example). When the government/society/overeating habits/resistance to health care comes up in conversation, eyes tend to turn toward me. It’s not that strange to get a “Cassandra, I don’t understand why the people in the United States don’t want their own people to have access to basic health insurance,” followed by expectant stares. Loaded questions have complicated answers.
It depends on the state. It depends on your family. It depends on if you grew up in a rural or urban neighborhood. It just depends, okay?
9. I am a cheese snob.
Quebec makes some superb cheeses. And they do have that whole French heritage thing really working for them in this regard. Cheese is important. As a Wisconsinite, the cheddars and the jacks were nothing new, and I had known about my love for brie for a while now. But my cheese tastes are expanding. I get extremely excited to see what cheese specials there will be at the grocery store each week. I love the place cheese platters play in entertaining. Cheese is just delightful. That said, our cheese consumption is actually quite low compared to years past (excepting the veganish months of my life). Our dishes our seldom swimming in pools of yellow grease, but more attentively planned to get the most out of our cheese. Because while Quebec cheeses are good, the prices are high.
8. I walk.
My average weekday contains 4 miles of walking. Even if I wimp out and opt for public transportation, I still need to walk to connections, in between buildings, etc., which adds up to approximately 4O minutes, or about two miles. I go through a pair of shoes like nobody’s business.
7. I am so unspecial.
Move somewhere where you know no one and have never lived before. And networking, to me, feels forced. It just does. It doesn’t take long to realize that you’ll have to work for every valuable relationship you want to form. You’ve got to do things the old-fashioned way. Be a good person. Be a good friend. Call people back.
It’s easy to feel lost in the crowd. And you might feel even less special if that crowd has oodles of attractive, smart young women. Don’t you worry, though, I’m from the Millennial Generation, and we were told too often how special we were.
6. I avoid the word “American” more than ever.
This does not mean I lie or am ashamed about where I am from. I am from New Auburn, Wisconsin, United States of America. We (notice I am still employing the “we”) currently have 562 residents, up from 485, of which one is a small-scale celebrity. I’ll tell everyone about it. That’s right, people in Montreal are going to learn all about Michael Perry if I have anything to say about it.
But, let’s step back and take a look at that word “America.” Where is a America? Pretty much all the western hemisphere. North America–which includes Canada and Mexico, Central America, and South America. Now, that’s a lot of Americans. And the ones that aren’t from the United States often cringe at the incorrect use of the term. So just to be safe and avoid confusion, I avoid the word. If someone addresses me as americaine, I go along with it because I know what they mean, but won’t say the word in return. From the U.S. From the States. You get the point.
5. I believe even more strongly in education.
One day I am certain I want to remain a language teacher forever. The next I am just as certain that I want to return to my first love of libraries. And so I tried to look at these two professions and see what it is that binds them together. It’s education. It’s creating lifelong learners. It’s keeping people interested to learn something new. It’s allowing people to live more fulfilled lives.
I don’t know if I’ll return back to libraries or stay in a teaching role. Because, well, life has a funny way of throwing us curve balls. Either way, I know I’ll always be passionate about education. I find myself watching TEDTalks about education or reading articles about the educational system in my spare time. Teachers are awesome. Librarians are awesome. And both of these professions ought to be held in high esteem.
4. I am a feminist.
This doesn’t mean you’ll hear me roar…all the time. I know, all those who were upset that I don’t say America unless preceded by United States of are once again unhappy. But gosh darn it, I am tired of people misusing this word, acting like it’s a bad thing to think women can have careers, babies, and happy marriages at the same time, accepting a lack of representation in government and management, etc. I want the next generation of women to value themselves and to be valued.
So why is this idea connected to my stay in Quebec? Many reasons. And they all have names. I have met some incredibly independent and achieving women since my move here. I actually feel and see a difference in the way families here are expected to share household and child-rearing responsibilities as compared to other places I have lived. I hear intelligent women talking about their full-to-the-brim lives every single day at work. And I think to myself….with women like these, I am outraged that women are being denied their share. (I’m not implying that all of this bias is explicit in our day and age, but obviously the systematic discrimination still exists.)
No, things aren’t perfect for women here (representation in the national assembly is still around 35% women) and there are still many expectations placed on women in terms of the “second shift,” etc., etc. And I don’t know if it actually has something to do with extended maternity leaves (is three months really enough??!!), affordable daycare (seven dollars per day), or the law which prevents women from taking their husbands’ names. But I the women I have met make me even prouder to be one.
3. I am a bread snob.
There are high quality carbohydrates at every corner. I can buy a quality baguette (yes, a Frenchman may tell you that it’s overpriced here) at almost every grocery store, mosey down to Mamie Clafoutis (which was a weekly habit of mine last spring), or visit the homes of Jordan’s labmates.
The fear of losing this supply of amazing bread inspired us to learn how to make it while we’re still surrounded by it, i.e. can buy a loaf of it when in dire need. We started an official bread challenge a month ago, and are no longer buying bread, but making it at home. I will never return to the habit of buying sliced/bagged bread. Ever. Unless I live in a place with no oven, of course.
Yes, I have referred to my sourdough starter as “my baby” on more than one occasion.
2. I speak two languages.
Sure, if you ask me if I’m “perfectly bilingual,” I’ll be the first to say no. But really, what does that frickin’ mean? Can I slip a witty joke into a fast-paced conversation with ease? No. I stammer, I make grammatical errors (though fewer and fewer). But I can order my food with zero to minimal problems, have hour-long conversations that are no longer painstakingly slow for the other people engaged in the conversation and I even had a job interview in French. I can watch a movie (provided that accents are relatively comprehensible) without subtitles and understand what is happening. I can read the newspaper without holding my dictionary in the other hand. I’m getting close, I can feel it.
1. I won’t bat an eye if you tell me you speak four languages fluently.
It’s really not that uncommon in Montreal. I used to marvel at bilingualism in the U.S. But in Montreal (not necessarily Quebec at large), it’s the norm to speak two languages. Or at least to speak English/French (whichever isn’t your native language) at an advanced level. Even though speaking three languages very well seems like an amazing feat to the monolinguals out there, it doesn’t even surprise me here. One of my conversation exchange pals here says she’s going to raise her [future] children to be tri-lingual by the age to 8 or so, just so that they will be able to compete in the job market here when they are older. You might be scoffing, but I assure you that “Help Wanted: Must speak French, English, and Spanish” sign hanging for a new server/cashier at the small market down the street is no joke.
I will grant you that I work in a language school, so my contacts may be a bit skewed. So, yes, we’ll forget my fellow instructors who are qualified to teach eight languages and can converse easily in 11. Even Jordan’s colleagues, who don’t work in a language-focused settings, are impressive (by my previous standards). Four, five, or six languages. Not shabby, Montreal, not shabby at all.
So while I am impressed/jealous, I am also starting to realize this is either a result of the environment you grow up in or hard work. You can spend time being frustrated with your parents for not putting you in immersion programs, but it won’t help. Some people have that advantage over you. But many didn’t. They just put in a lot of time because that’s what people do here.