Montreal: A One Month Impression

As of writing this, it's been just a little over a month that I've lived in Montreal. I've made my first trip back to my old home as a non-resident and had my first out of town guests over. I think it's safe for me to consider myself a resident of the city. And with that, now seems as good a time as any to give my impressions of it.

Coming from a town like Ottawa, Montreal is a massive change. The city is bustling. There is a variety of people, culture, places, and experiences here that simply cannot be compared. It helps that in this city I live just a stone's throw away from downtown, right in the heart of everything, whereas in Ottawa I lived in a suburb close but not quite in the heart of the city. However even with that taken into account, the difference is staggering.

Among the first things I observe in a city is the people. And call me vain, but what I noticed first was their fashion sense. Comparatively speaking, people in Montreal dress very well. For context here, Ottawa is a government city. People there by and large dress like bureaucrats: pret-a-porter suits or simple dress shirt, tie, slacks... And sneakers. With all due respect to the Tenth Doctor, there's something wrong with wearing a suit and sneakers to work (I know why, but still). As someone who dresses in three piece suits all the time and sticks out like a sore thumb more often than not, there was something deeply satisfying about coming to this place and finding groups of people similarly dressed. Right away it gave me the sense that I fit in. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of hoodies and t-shirts and guys with beards too, but at least my style has some representation in there as well. Oh, and I neglected to mention, but the girls here seem to take way more care of themselves and their appearance. Maybe the over-exposure to university students wandering around the campus in sweatpants and pajamas is to blame here, but there's something really refreshing about seeing people (both guys and girls) putting in the effort to look pretty.

Another factor is the language. Montreal is unique in Canada in that it's distinctly French, but is sufficiently metropolitan that you will still find plenty of English. It's funny considering Ottawa, what with being the capital and sitting on the border to Quebec, is dominated by English save for a few pockets of French. I know this because I spent my childhood in those pockets and University out of them. In the first year out of a French school, I started losing my French so fast it terrified me (and I was good at French too). Coming here, I feel it's much easier to be bilingual. Of course, my Ontario accent is glaring enough, but I imagine it will change with time (for the record, Ontario French is like a weird half breed between France French and Quebec French; not all Canadian French is the same).

And then there's the culture. Food, entertainment, lifestyle... Everything here is just so much more flavourful. As one might expect from a government city (especially a Canadian government city), Ottawa is fairly milquetoast. Granted, for the most part it suited me well enough (don't get me wrong, I do really like Ottawa, as much as this post may suggest otherwise; it was simply too dull for me), but there's something about the looseness and easygoing attitude in this city that I feel I really needed in my life. It's encouraging me to go out and see things I might otherwise have ignored. I'm experimenting. I'm wandering and looking to unlock the secrets of the city, and I can tell that there is so much more here for me to explore than there ever was in my home town. I won't deny, it is a huge perk that I am an absolute sucker for French Canadian food (lumberjack breakfasts, poutine, smoked meat, bagels, etc.) and this city is known for most of my favourite dishes (heck, my favourite seasoning is called "Montreal steak spice).

I should note that though most of my comparisons have been to Ottawa, I've had the good fortune of traveling a lot in my youth. I've been to many large cities in Europe and even a couple further East (before it became quite as tumultuous as it is today). I've seen both historical cities and modern cities, and everything in between. Montreal of course has many of these things. Just from looking at certain parts of it the historical influence of the French is obvious. I live very close to the Old Port area and have visited it a few times now. It's as touristy as any tourist trap might be. Admittedly, that's something I've never been fond of in cities. It usually lacks the authenticity of the real thing in favour of snagging a few extra coins out of tourists who don't know any better. Fortunately, as a modern city Montreal isn't nearly as caught up in this aspect of its culture as many other cities are. The Old Port is nice to visit, but it's also fairly well delineated and distinct from other regions of the city, which cater to every type of interest that might be sought (except of course the quiet farmland). There's something I appreciate deeply about a city that can acknowledge and celebrate its past, but doesn't dwell on it (comments about Quebec separatism aside).

So, all that is to say, in the month I've lived here, Montreal already feels very much like home. It is a city that is very much my speed, that I feel not only comfortable in, but also exited by. As I've returned to my efforts to find employment (no luck so far, but I'm preparing for my next volley as I write this; business cards, networking, new personal projects, the whole shebang), I do so with a sense that I'm on the right track, and that I made the right choice in coming here to forge my new life.

Now, I just have to start building it.