When I told my friends from back home that I’d be spending a semester abroad in Montreal, they were skeptical. “Montreal? Isn’t that like two hours away from Vermont? That’s not studying abroad; that’s studying next door!” Things like that. I guess I can understand where they’re coming from, but then again, the ones who say that have never been here before.
While Montreal may not be impressively far away when measured by miles (or kilometers!), it is truly a completely different world, offering endless new experiences. Why, as I sit in this café downtown, sipping on my moka glace (iced mocha) and write this blog post, a small contingency of birds are hanging out with me, like it’s no big deal. Alarmed, I look around at others to share my amazement at these unusual customers. Nobody else seems to care. Apparently, sharing the newspaper and coffee with feathered friends is just part of daily life here.
Judging Montreal’s vibrant and active culture based on its proximity to the U.S. is a huge and, unfortunately, common mistake. While certain American influences are definitely apparent (I’m looking at you, Boston Pizza. And since when is Boston known for its pizza? Oh well.) Montreal maintains its own unique and unmistakably “Quebecois” feel.
Before anything else, just looking at the architecture lets you know you’re somewhere special. The buildings are a seemingly impossible blend of extremely modern high rises and beautiful European ivy-covered terraces. Why, just across the street from our glass eight-storied residence hall is a charming array of structures that look like they were plucked directly from Paris itself.
As for the Quebecois people themselves, you couldn’t ask for nicer neighbors. A metropolitan crossroads for countless cultures, representatives can be found from almost any walk of life here. It’s no wonder that “Montreal was named North America’s number one host city for international association events”.
A distinctly European feel is apparent in the population as you walk down the bustling streets of Montreal. The standard for dress is much higher here, creating an atmosphere of pleasant formality not usually found in the United States. With manners to match their attire, people are incredibly polite here. Plenty of “pardons” and “excusez mois” are to be found on a daily basis. I can’t think of a better example of Canadian civility than the fact that people here actually line up at the bus stop! I just can’t see that happening in Boston.
Well that’s it for first impressions for now, but that’s far from all. I have a feeling that this city has many more surprises in store for me and the rest of the Champlain students lucky enough to be here.