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.

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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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