I Just Moved To Montreal From France — Here Are 10 Ways I Experience Culture Shock

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Staff Writer
My first winter in Quebec. Right: a poutine.

My first winter in Quebec. Right: a poutine.

This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

I'll always remember my first time driving to the "Paris of North America" (no, not Paris, Ontario).

Stuck in traffic on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge back in April, I was watching Montreal's skyline with sparkles in my eyes, without realizing that it would soon become my home.

Originally from La Réunion, a French department in the Indian Ocean — think of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon but next to Africa — it goes without saying that I am still adapting to the big city life. Here are 10 ways I experience culture shock daily.

Québécois French vs. Parisian French

\u200bA stop sign in Quebec.

A stop sign in Quebec.

Jerome Cid | Dreamstime

We share the language of Molière — mostly. There's an ocean between us, and the impact goes far beyond differences in accent.

According to translation service Lingualinx, Quebecois French is based on the Parisian dialect of 17th and 18th-century settlers. After French colonization and the following British conquest, Quebecois French went on its own evolutionary trajectory.

So what does that mean for me? It means that I told my neighbour that his girlfriend has red hair when he called her his "blonde" (slang for female romantic partner in Quebec French).

It means that I always think about eating dinner when you are actually talking about lunch. It means that I smile when I see "arrêt" instead of "stop" on the road.

Last week, it took me half an hour to understand what they wanted to do with my "char" at the auto repair shop. Poor guy had to lay on the floor and point at stuff underneath the car. The struggle is real, but I am doing my best.

Understanding Canadian Sales Taxes & Tipping

Person paying with a twenty-dollar note.

Person paying with a twenty-dollar note.

Kingmaphotos | Dreamstime

Back home, the price you see on merchandise is the price you pay in the end. No more, no less.

Imagine my surprise during my first ever shopping spree on Sainte-Catherine.

I can still remember doing some mental arithmetic at the counter, looking for mathematical mistakes that don't exist, while the queue of impatient customers was growing behind me. Fun times.

Tipping is also not customary in France. I quickly realized that it can be offensive to a waiter not to tip at least 15% for adequate service, since their wages depend on it.

Not long ago, a bartender actually snatched the card machine from my hands when he realized I wasn't gonna tip. He also took back the two G&Ts I ordered saying, "if you don't tip, you don't get drinks. Welcome to Quebec."

Sorry, I didn't know. Lesson learned!

Progressive Quebec vs. Conservative France

People march in a Montreal Pride parade.

People march in a Montreal Pride parade.

Marc Bruxelle | Dreamstime

I was pleasantly surprised to see how socially progressive Quebec is on many levels.

Montrealers dress however they want (when the weather allows it). In the streets, queer people openly hold hands in public and feminism is no joke here.

Don't get me wrong. A lot of progress has been made in France, especially in big cities. Paris has its own queer neighbourhood in the fashionable Marais district.

However, I believe my country remains more traditionalist overall, with a culture based on heteronormative values.

As a matter of fact, my hometown only had its first Pride last year. Things are changing slowly, but surely.

Why are you so nice to me?

Canadians have an international reputation for being polite, and people from Quebec are no exception. On the other hand, FFFs ("French from France") are widely considered to be rude.

I hate generalizations, but it is evident to me that there is a disparity in the way we approach others.

Back home, we express ourselves frankly and directly. In my opinion, the French aren't necessarily mean, they're just unapologetically honest.

Then, you have Quebecers, who seemingly despise drama. One of my new friends from Montreal recently confirmed that they'd rather keep quiet in many cases instead of starting a conflict and risk hurting someone's feelings.

I do feel surrounded by courteous people in this city. In Montreal, people queue for everything, without pushing or cutting in line. And yes, they do say "sorry" a lot. It's cute.

Why is wine so expensive?

SAQ logo on their main shop for Montreal center

SAQ logo on their main shop for Montreal center

Jerome Cid | Dreamstime

Coming to Quebec from France, this is heartbreaking. When I go to a supermarket back home, I can find a decent bottle of wine for 6€, sometimes less.

Two months ago, the SAQ announced in a press release that an average price increase of 3.7% would be applied to 2,500 of their products, and the most affected products come from French wine regions.

At the liquor store in Villeray, I've never seen a wine bottle under $10. And because I am picky, I find that the good ones usually cost around $18 or more.

Eventually, I admitted defeat and started drinking local alcohol such as craft beers from Quebec microbreweries instead. Those are delicious!

Still, I do miss my traditional wine and cheese pairings at 5 à 7s. I guess you can't have it all.

OMG Weed Is Legal

Line up of people waiting outside the SQDC patiently

Line up of people waiting outside the SQDC patiently

Derek Robbins | Dreamstime

Cannabis became legal for recreational use in Canada back in 2018, with SQDCs rapidly popping up everywhere in the province.

I can't imagine such legalization happening in France in the coming years. Producing, importing and selling recreational cannabis containing THC is completely forbidden.

In January 2022, the French National Assembly dismissed a draft law that would have legalized the production and use of cannabis under a "strict," highly-regulated system defined by the state.

Yet, France is the European country with the second highest number of cannabis users as a proportion of the population according to this survey by Statista. How ironic.

Clubs & Bars Close At 3 a.m. 

I miss the days of emerging from the club at 6 a.m. Nightlife in France ends when the sun is up.

Unlike Quebecers, we eat and drink until late, and then go to nightclubs around midnight. Before then, they're empty and boring. Plus, we still have a lot of time to dance all night long.

I get that we don't want people to drink late and stumble out of clubs with no easy way to get home, but, honestly, are all of you really going home after 3 a.m.?

The Job Market

It's no secret that French Europeans come en masse to work in Quebec. But why is that?

The allure of the celebrated "American dream" is definitely a factor. But have you ever looked at the unemployment rate in France? It's bad — and was bad even before the pandemic.

Fresh out of university, it's tough for a young French person to find a job. The French job market has a reputation for being an unfair one, where you may have to pull some strings.

On the other hand, Quebec is in constant need of more people to address its labour shortage, offering enticing immigration and tuition advantages for French speakers.

Poutine & Maple Syrup vs. French Cuisine

My first poutine.

My first poutine.

Charlotte Hoareau | MTL Blog | MTL Blog

The food scene in Montreal is dope. I still have so many restaurants and food festivals to discover.

From what I've seen so far, you can eat almost everything in this town, just like in big French cities. Korean, Lebanese, Thai, Italian, Japanese, vegan food... anything your stomach desires if you're willing to pay the price.

I avoid French restaurants entirely because I don't want to be disappointed and feel homesick. Also, I didn't come all this way to eat the same things, even though I miss France's rich culinary culture a little bit more every day.

Overall, I struggle to maintain a healthy diet on a budget. I find that groceries are pricey, and fast foods seem to be the cheapest option when you're in a rush. And why do people eat dinner at 6 p.m.? It's called 5 à 7 for a reason!

As for Canada's traditional cuisine, I haven't tried much, but pâté chinois and potatoes with gravy don't do it for me. The only time I will enjoy a poutine is after a hangover.

But I highly endorse maple syrup. I guess everyone's taste is different.

And of course... winter

Snow storm in Montreal

Snow storm in Montreal

Marc Bruxelle | Dreamstime

Last but not least, January and February 2022 were probably the coldest months of my entire life. I was born on a tropical island, and nothing could have prepared me for this.

I remember going to Walmart to buy winter outfits and not knowing what to get.

I also remember experiencing -30 degrees C for the first time and questioning my life choices. That morning, I had to leave early for work and my car wouldn't start. I am still traumatized.

On a good note, seeing that much snow brought back my inner child. Despite the cold, I spent a lot of time outside enjoying the white season. I must admit some days were better than others.

Canadian winter, we love you. We just wish you were shorter. Like, much shorter.

Charlotte Hoareau
Staff Writer
Charlotte Hoareau is a Staff Writer for MTL Blog focused in things to do in Montreal and Montreal weather. She is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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