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Montreal Guide: 3 Essential Tips

old-montreal

Heading to la Belle Province? If you plan on making a stop in Montreal, Quebec, here are my 3 essential tips to make your stay the best it can be.

In This Montreal Article You Will Discover:

  • French Language Survival Guide
  • The Best Way to See the City
  • How to Put A Smile on Locals’ Faces

Quebec is simply lovely. A visit can illustrate to even the most die-hard Anglophones how Canada as a whole benefits from this wonderful diversity right in its backyard. To be an officially bilingual country should be a matter of pride for Canucks — and I will go as far as to say a visit to Quebec is as important to Canadians as a visit to Washington, D.C. is to our friends to the south.

It’s a matter of patriotic homage. Je me souviens.

Montreal is the first stop for most Quebec tourists. It’s not only a major international hub, but it’s also a soft introduction to French Canada. However, for Anglophones, a visit to Montreal is still a different beast than, say, Vancouver or Toronto. Here are three tips to make your stay a productive one:

1. Learn the Basics

montreal-french

It’s in your best interest to learn a few basic words and phrases…

Much of the city is bilingual (except the eastern portion) and some parts are even predominantly English. However, you’ll find life a lot easier if you make yourself familiar with a few basic phrases and words, such as:

Merci: This means “thank you.” I’m sure you can figure out when to use it.

Si’l Vous Plait: This means “please.” As above…

Comment ca va: This means “How Are You?” It’s more likely you’ll be asked this, than need to ask it yourself. Keep it simple — answer with “bien” (well).

Bon/Bien: I’ll keep it super simple here — “bon” is an adjective or adverb for good or nice, perhaps used to describe your dinner. “Bien” means well, perhaps used to describe your mood.

Bon Jour: Most people are familiar with this one, but many don’t realize it literally means “good day,” therefore it is used as a greeting and as a casual goodbye.

Ou est la…: This means “where is the…” It’s very helpful, if a little blunt. Make sure to follow the answer with “merci.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but enough to point you in right direction to learn some more on your own. Pop quiz: when the barista asks you “Pour ici?” after you order le café, what will you answer with? Better find out…

poutine-montreal

A cafe serving Montreal’s signature dish, poutine, in Old Montreal.

2. Effort Counts

If you’re at all intimidated by the above paragraph, don’t be. You can enjoy Montreal without speaking a word of French — but if you want to enhance your experience, well, effort counts.

Believe me, locals will pick you out as a tourist from a kilometre away, so blending in is a fool’s errand. It’s all about trying. As they do in every culture, Montrealers will appreciate the effort you put into assimilation.

Greeting a shopkeeper with “bon jour,” even if it sounds like “bun jower,” will put a smile on their face faster than “howdy.” The conversation may slip into English from then on — though perhaps not — but your attempt will be respected.

This is usually true for any country and any language.

3. Pedal Power

bixi-velos

For-hire bicycles are the best way to get around Montreal (in summer, of course).

So, you’re OK with the language? Good — my final tip is on transportation. Yes, taxis are everywhere, and the Metro system is very good, but there is really only one way to see Montreal (in the warm months): via velos (bicycle)!  In popular sections of Montreal, visitors will notice banks of bikes — called Bixis — available for on-thespot, automated rental. Simply slip in your credit card, take an available bicycle and ride! When you’re done, return the Bixi to any rental station you see. A simple $5 fee allots riders a 24-hour rental period, with some nominal additional fees for multi-hour rides. (A full day’s worth of bicycle sightseeing could cost less than a single taxi fare.) Cycle tour Vieux Montreal, Plateau Mont Royal, Mount Royal Park and more — then you won’t feel so guilty when you dig into the poutine at day’s end.

Bon voyage!

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

2 comments… add one
  • Dennis D. Oct 12, 2011 Link

    Ce n’est pas une liste très complète – mais assez bon, je suppose.

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