Our Early Lessons in Settling into Montreal

We are, once again, trying to settle into a new city, this time in Montreal.  Since we are here for quite a while—just a bit over 2 months—we are all the more aware that LIVING in a new place versus just VISITING brings with it a whole host of challenges and opportunities.  Over the next few weeks, we’d like to record some of those challenges and opportunities here—if for nothing else, it would be a good reminder for if and when we do decide to MOVE to another country.

Our first challenge: we cannot treat our stay in Montreal as a “vacation” for any longer than about the first 24 hours or so.  Typically when we travel about and enter a new city, we are like every other visitor.  We want to see the sights, eat at well-reviewed restaurants, and make the most of the little bit of time on earth we might be given to explore these new sights, possibly even a different culture.  

However, when we are staying put for a month or more, it’s important that we switch gears and re-calibrate.  We need to think about what it would mean to “live” here, and attempt to do that.  No, I’m not really sure that it’s the same thing as “living like locals” since it’s a bit misleading to say that having rented a furnished apartment for still a relatively-short (and finite) two months really approximates “living like locals.”  

Besides which, even when I used it myself as a “shortcut” to having to explain the longer view, I’ve always felt that phrase (“living like locals,” or its cousin “do like the locals do,” etc.) sounded a little patronizing, too much associated with the breeziness of first-world travelers who fly in and out of countries where we spend some money, produce a lot of trash and recycling, show temporary interest in the “community,” and then move on to a new destination. 

So perhaps we won’t exactly be able to “live like locals,” but we still need to LIVE, and not just VISIT.

Step one in trying not to treat 62 days like it’s a “vacation”: Stop spending so much money purchasing items at the nearest "farmers" market!  (Canadians just call it a market.)  Sure, Canadian sage leaves look almost circular in shape, as opposed to the US oblong shape.  (How neat!)  And those Montreal pine nuts are way skinnier and longer than the US type.  (We never knew!)  But we are now desperately trying to purchase only the food we KNOW we are going to consume—completely—before they go bad.

Ooops!  We should have written and then read this post before we went Sunday morning to the Marché Jean Talon (the largest open-air market in North America).  Here is our bounty from ONE visit!  Strawberries, smoked trout, fresh tagliolini, (almost) just-laid eggs, cherry tomatoes and more.  It wouldn't be so bad if we didn't know for a certainty that we would be stopping at four other grocery shops that same day, after the market jaunt is over... 

Something we have become more successful in: we are looking less alien in our temporary neighborhood, thanks to our dog Katie.  We were very excited to bring Katie on this trip--her first border crossing!--and we read up on everything we needed to do in order to bring a dog into Canada.  All websites insisted that we needed a signed rabies certificate, but perhaps our eagerness to show it to the customs officer in the bridge kiosk (crossing over from Michigan) was somehow conveyed.  She didn't even ask for the piece of paper we were clutching and hoping to show off ("We did our homework!").

In any case, having brought Katie is already paying huge dividends, even aside from our immense enjoyment in having her with us.  We take long walks in the afternoon with Katie, and we are happy to see that Montreal-ers are quite taken with her.  We have been accosted enough times by people wanting to ask about her "race" ("breed") that we're starting to recognize what they want.  Someone offered that Katie was a "melange" (which would be a "mixed" breed).

In our previous travels we've met with much kindness from residents trying to help clearly befuddled (and usually lost) tourists, but these Montreal encounters are different.  When we're walking with a dog, most people assume that we actually belong here.  Hopefully, that rubs off on us as well and we'll feel less like we're foreigners.  

However, in all this, we are once again reminded that our own language skills just do not compare to those of pretty much the rest of the universe.  Yesterday, we saw a little girl on our way to the market with Katie.  She said something in French we obviously didn't comprehend.  Split-second later, she said in perfect English: "Can I please pet your dog?"  We were delighted to let her pet Katie, of course!  Then the girl--of about 8 or so--said, "She reminds me of a wolf.  She looks like a cross between a Golden Retriever and a wolf."  

Here we are, two well-educated adults trying desperately to recognize the few words we were starting to associate with Katie ("race" and "melange"), and this tiny figure switched flawlessly between two languages and was even conversant in English language names of popular dog breeds.  Go figure! 

So, as we settle into Montreal in our first week here, we know that 1) we need to control our natural proclivity towards impulse purchases at markets, 2) it's easier to blend in when we're with our dog, and 3) we should hang our heads in shame at our lack of foreign-language skills.  

We'll try not to be too hard on ourselves, at least on that last point.  After all, Will's French classes start on Monday!


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