Monday, October 29, 2007

O Canada!

Everyone around me is speaking a different language. This is not new to me. I've been in kitchens with everybody around me speaking nothing but Spanish. But this isn't Spanish, it's French. And I'm not in a kitchen. I'm in Montreal.

This, I must admit, is my first time outside my own country. I got a passport a few months ago in anticipation of some international travel, but after a while I didn't really expect it to happen. Then the Bossman decided to send me to our neighbors up north. I packed carefully, being sure not to bring anything the least bit suspicious with me, such as food. Consequently, I have no chocolate with me right now. Fortunately, I think they sell chocolate in Canada. I may survive the week.

The trip was largely uneventful for the first of two flights. There are no direct flights from Salt Lake to Montreal, so I had to connect in Atlanta. We even arrived about fifteen minutes early, giving me time to grab a quick bit at the food court. We boarded on time, and then sat at the gate for nearly an hour as somebody unloaded checked bags for passengers who were still in the air, and would not make the flight no matter what. Apparently it's illegal for somebody's bags to arrive internationally before their owner arrives. All checked luggage must be on the same plane as the person to whom it belongs. Still, we managed to arrive in Montreal only about a half hour later than scheduled.

On the plane, we were handed cards to fill out for customs/immigration. It stated that we needed to "declare all goods", no exception. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant. Did I need to make a list of everything with me? There wasn't enough room on the card. Fortunately, it only ended up asking about things like food, weapons, alcohol and the like. I had a package of airline cookies saved (just in case), so I declared it. It also wanted to know about any equipment that I was bringing for work purposes, whether not it was intended for sale, so I declared my laptop. I wonder, if I weren't teaching a Linux class, would I have had to declare it? Would I even have thought to declare it?

When we landed, we spent a long time making our way to the terminal. I was starting to guess that YUL is a pretty big airport. By the time we made it to our gate, I was thinking that we could have circled the SLC airport at least a couple of times. We got off the plane and started following all of the "Arrivals" signs. We walked for forever. And then we walked some more. Eventually I saw a sign pointing out customs. We rounded the corner and I saw a waiting area so large that I was suddenly glad to arrive late. We still waited in line for several minutes before I made my way up to a customs agent.

I don't know what he said, other than that it started in French and ended in "Hello and welcome." This was to be the first of many greetings that I would receive in two languages, always French first. I responded with, "hi." He said, "Hi. What is your purpose for being in Canada?" I was glad he decided I wasn't worth spending much time on. He asked me what food I had, and I told him that it was all from the airplane. He asked me what kind of class I was teaching, and when I told him it was a computer class he said, "and the equipment you have brought is your notebook computer?" I replied affirmatively, and he decided that that was all he needed to know. He stamped my card and my passport, and wished me a good evening.

I found a currency exchange booth and turned $30 of my American money into $22 of Canadian money. I then walked for another eternity and found the taxi waiting spot. The sign told me that American Express would be accepted and I relaxed. I wasn't sure how much the taxi ride would be, but I figured I wouldn't have enough in Canadian dollars. My driver ended up being a man from some place who's name I could not distinguise. His accent was neither French nor English. As we talked, I picked up Algiers a couple of times. His family moved to Montreal 21 years ago, he went to school for electronics, couldn't find a job in electronics, and now he drives a taxi. He didn't drive it well, I might note. I often wondered if he was going to run somebody else off the road. Then again, the lanes here don't seem to be very wide.

At one point in the city he signaled a right-turn (the first signal I had seen him make), and then stopped at a red light. I asked if it was illegal to turn right on red in Canada and he replied, "only in Montreal. Nowhere else in Canada. I don't know why. Very expensive if police see you do it though. Especially for taxis."

He dropped me off at the hotel, and I tried to give him my American Express card. He got a worried look on his face and told me that he didn't have his card machine with him. Great. I ended up being able to pay him with a mix of Canadian and American dollars.

The hotel looked like a dive from the outside. Little more than a hole in the wall, surrounded by other tightly-packed shops. I began to wonder about the lavish photos that I had seen on their site. When I walked in, I saw a very nice, if a bit old lobby. The men at the front desk greeted me bilingually and asked for my "family name". Once checked in, I asked about shuttle service to my training center. I showed them the address and they laughed. They told me that it was a five minute walk. Go out the front doors, turn right. Go two blocks, turn left. Go two more blocks and it will be right there. The next day I would discover that another five minutes and another couple of blocks should have been added to the end of those directions.

The room is nice. It's very French and fairly large. The mini-bar is well-stocked, with everything from booze to Pringles. I haven't touched a drop or crumb of it, not even the chilled bottles of water. There are prices posted, but even with the Canadian conversion I'm still sure I'd be getting ripped off. The TV doesn't get Food Network, and most of the channels that it does get are in French. Discovery Channel is in English. There is a balcony and I can see a Hard Rock Cafe a block away. The mattress is almost as confortable as mine at home, certainly better than I've ever seen in a hotel.

The room service menu is very French, with everything from onion soup to duck terrine. It also has a hamburger. There is free wireless Internet access, and it's very fast. In fact, not only is it faster than any hotel Wi-Fi that I've ever used, it's also fast than some wired access that I've used. Kudos to the Hotel de la Montagne's technical staff.

I'm pretty worn out at the moment, so the room service menu beckons. I'll post more later.


  1. I LOVE Montreal! I've been many times. They are very good about speaking to you in English, but if you go outside Montreal people will get annoyed with you for not speaking French. I know where you are staying, and if you head NE up Rue Sainte Catherine, you will get to the old part of the city which is very worth the treck. Montreal is a good walking city, so you can do it. The cathedrals are marvelous and you should be able to find some amazing restaurants. I was introduced to good chocolate for the first time in my life in Montreal. I went to an amazing Italian restaurant with some friends, and they walked around with a large tray of chipped dark chocolate after dinner instead of mints. The whole city seems to be like the step between America and Europe. Very modern juxtaposed with very old (and then an old beer factory on Lake Champlaign that doesn't quite fit). Enjoy! I am wicked jealous.

  2. well, nat, your lit buddy rachie is totally wrong - unless he also considers american english not being "real english" (real english being, of course, British English)... The difference between Quebec French and France French is about the same as the one between American English and British English.

  3. When I was in Canada (about 5 years ago) the exchange rate was backwards from what you describes. $30 American would've got you $43.50 in Canadian.


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