Archive for July, 2008

un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept… québec!

I’m currently back in sunny NorCal, but I’ve amassed the notes that I made during my whirlwind journey to Francophone Canada and am sharing them with you.

I hung out with a fair amount of Brazilians in Canada. It’s really hard to get an American visa if you’re from Brazil, so they’re now immigrating to Australia and Canada. In Québec I went to the Festival d’été with a girl named Laïs (who despite her braces and being younger-looking and skinnier than I am, is actually 30 and a lawyer in Brazil), a ridiculously outgoing person, and she practiced her French with everyone we met. It was great for me, since I usually need a week or so to grow balls and actually try the language I’m learning with a local.

I didn’t bring an umbrella. This was a huge mistake.

The only poutine I had in Quebec was in a fast food chain called Chez Ashton. It might’ve been ‘coz I went in the middle of the summer (it’s more of a winter thing), but even when Laïs and I asked someone in one of the shops nearby if they had recommendations, they pointed us there and said that they hated poutine. Wtf? It’s delicious!

Ice… everything
The province of Québec is known for ice cider. The province of Ontario is known for ice wine. Get it right.

Maple everything
There’s a shop on the rue Saint-Jean called “Délices de l’érable” (Maple Delights) and it’s got maple syrup, maple sugar, maple butter, maple mustard, maple ice cream, everything. There’s a tasting counter, just talk to the staff at the front counter (the one with the ice cream counter). The guy who helped us with the tastings was the first Québecois whose French I could sort of understand. Go me!

Nobody curses in Québec City. Seriously. I never heard the word “Tabernac!” (or any other phrases that involve God, basically – they’re sacrilege here) muttered in the same way Parisians mutter “putain ce bordel de merde”. So polite. (Montréal is a slightly different story.)

People “tutoyer” (using the familiar “tu” and “toi” to say “you”) here a lot more than in Paris, but when in doubt, err on the side of “vousvoyer” (using the more polite “vous”). (Although I did get “Madame”d once and felt pretty old and fug the rest of the night.)

Following the dots
During my search for the Château Frontenac one day, I happened to come across a bunch of green dots on the sidewalk

and decided to follow them. I was taken through some really cool places, so if you see orange, yellow or green dotted lines on a sidewalk, follow them and you’ll get taken through some of the best sights in the city. For free! (I came across the château about two hours later, though. Turns out it was two minutes away from my hostel.)

Tours of the interior of Château Frontenac
If you ask about them, people will point you to the tourist desk on the ground floor, but the real guides to Frontenac’s interior are offered one floor below, at the bottom of the staircase at the far end from the revolving doors. They’re in either English or French, and the guides are in costume and in character as chambermaids and bellhops from the 1890s. It’s pretty incredible. ($8.50)

A whole lotta ugly coming from a neverending parade of stupid
I overheard a kid who was yammering on in English to his tourist parents and he was like, “My dad let me drive on his lap before we parked. I’m practicing using my left hand now, so I can drive in Paris!”

The accompanying adults praised him. It took about two minutes for one of them to ask, “Wait, don’t you mean England?”

Best mispronunciation of an American place name by a Frenchman EVER
Missy-pissy. By our hostel’s tour guide, Christophe, who is from Lyon and really, really sucked at English. XD

Okay, that’s about it. I’m off to dinner, but I think I’m finally gonna upload some pictures from the past year onto my Flickr account later.


of bilinguals and road trips

I’m now in a youth hostel in Québec, putting my feet up on their old church pew chairs in the recreation room as I type and plan my next few days. (The pews are actually kind of creepy. I think this was part of an old monastery or something. Or maybe the pew benches were just really cheap on Craigslist.)

Montréal was a fun place, except that it was completely dead since the Jazz Festival just ended and I stayed there on Monday and Tuesday night, so no hoppin’ clubs to check out. But hey, they had fantastic beer at the bars. (More like tavernes since people all knew each other and it was cozier, it seemed.)

Sorry, but omfg I can’t understand you guys at all

I still can’t pinpoint exactly what makes the French here sound so different. I can tell whether a Canadian Francophone is stronger at English by the way they speak French (it’s just the slightest hint of a Canadian English accent, but I can pick up on it), but while I know that Quebeckers (which sounds so much more ducklike than Québecois) speak French so strangely that Parisians stop in their tracks to listen, they sound less conspicuously non-Parisian than shopkeepers and bus drivers in southern France. I have to listen carefully to hear the slightly AFLAC duck difference. That said, 1) sometimes I really DO hear quacking ducks! but mostly because 2) I still can’t understand Québecois French to save my goddamned life.

It’s like the Utopia of bilingualism

A lot of staff in establishments in Montréal were bilingual. I think they’re all required to speak English and French, but there are some who do so with complete ease and you know that they were born and raised in the city. I love it. It’s like the bilingual signs all over Canada… except that the signs are completely in French once you get to Québec (perhaps a vestige of their European counterparts’ snobbishness? lol).

Anyway, to illustrate: the cashier at the bookshop near McGill that I chilled out at greeted me with a “Bonjour, hi!” and switched to English once she saw what language my book was in. And on the train ride here, there were a bunch of old people who spoke French in the line for the bathroom, but then a guy piped up in English and they all switched to fluent English and I was like WHOA!

I know that all the politics behind this shit is pretty serious and polarized, but man, to have a thirty-second moment like that…

But what effing language should I be speaking, guys?

They say in Montréal you should always try to speak French, or at least start all your conversations with “Bonjour!”. It’s a sign of respect. It’s almost like Paris– you don’t always get an A+ for effort, but in a place where people bitch and whine about everything all the goddamn time, a B is pretty stellar. However, if you’re fluent in English and sound like you’re fluent in French (à la moi-même), starting the conversation in French can be kind of hard because they might continue the conversation in French, and then you’ll have to ask them to repeat themselves multiple times because you’ve only ever heard Parisian French and you can’t understand them to save your goddamned life (and then they’ll start to think that you’re mentally challenged). Then the person you’re speaking to will have three options: 1) continue in English, 2) continue in French, but really ridiculously slowly, or 3) just say everything in both (“Vous allez où, where are you going?”). Needless to say, #2 doesn’t happen too much. But hey, you’d definitely get an A+ for effort… if they ever find out that you’re actually American. -_-;;;

n.b.: I’m really sorry if I’ve offended anyone by comparing their language to quacking ducks. It was the best analogue I could come up with.

oh canada

I’m currently sitting in a fancy house in Londontown, a la Gwen Stefani. (London is a town two hours away from Toronto.) I never really appreciated the differences between Canadians and Americans until now. For brevity’s sake, I’ll be doing another series of shorts to illustrate my point.

Pronouncing the “ou” properly
Americans have this strange habit of pronouncing “ou” as “OW” (like the exclamation of pain), as in “abOWt” and “hOWse”. Canadians pronounce the “u” as an “oo”, so they’re actually truer to the spelling. But it still sounds really funny.

It’s like they’re British or something
Canada is what the U.K. would be like if it were transported to the sprawling plains of North America and if their accents were less posh-sounding. Signs and everything look American, except that everything’s in kilometers and kilograms and degrees Celsius, and the words are mostly British, like “colour” and “mum” and “fish and chips”. Oh, and all of the packages in grocery stores have labels in both English and French. But it’s weird French– who the hell translates “candy” as “friandise”?

My brain’s fried right now, so I’ll save the rest for later, when I’m not traveling with my mother and when I’m in Quebec, where the Francophones sound like quacking ducks.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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