Life in Montreal - Telegraph Mentor
Patricia Smith says Canadians are genuinely nice people; friendly and welcoming, fond of the British and very proud of their homeland.
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 28/11/2007
Patricia Smith is willing to answer your questions about Montreal.
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My family moved to Montreal in early 2000 when my husband was offered a job with a Biotech company here. I also worked in the Biotech sector in Montreal for two years but left to start my own relocation company, Home Thoughts.
My company is a Destination Services company that specialises in helping Brits who are moving to Montreal to find housing and schools, showing them where to shop, helping them to get drivers licenses, finding them cleaners, doctors, dentists, child-minders etc. Basically, all the things I wish someone had helped me with when I moved here!
In addition to my experience of international relocation, having worked here as well, I understand the work ethos, which is very different from that in the UK and in the US. If anyone has any questions about visiting or moving to Montreal I am more than happy to answer them.
Ask questions and read the answers on the Mentor Noticeboard.
Geography: Montreal is located on an island gently nestled within the St. Lawrence Seaway in Eastern Canada in the Province of Quebec. The city is dominated by a large hill in the centre, grandly called 'The Mountain' by the locals, and only slightly less grandly officially 'Mont Royal'.
This beautiful parkland, with the Mansions of Westmount and Outrement cut part way up it, has a chateau at the top and a lookout from which you can see right across to the States. Looking down you can see the business center of Montreal, the McGill University campus buildings and the bridges that cross the St. Lawrence. To the north of Montreal only 45 minutes away are the Laurentian mountains with their superb ski resorts, golf courses, lakes and cottages for summer and winter. To the East an hour away, are the Eastern Townships, again with superb skiing, golf, lakes and holiday cottages.
The US is 40 minutes away to the south with Boston and New York six hours drive away and one hour by air. There are several daily flights to London only 7 hours away, and to the rest of Europe.
Cuisine: The French influence means that the food is great; the croissants and pastries are second only to France. It appears that everyone who has ever emigrated here also loves food because there are restaurants of every nationality serving good food to suit every budget. Eating out here is so cheap compared to the UK, the portions are large, the service is great and children are welcome everywhere.
There is a lot more smoking here than in the UK so ask for a non-smoking table if that is your preference. Wine and spirits are very expensive as they are sold by a Quebec government agency, the SAQ.
The wine sold in the supermarkets is more like Ribena. Beer is more reasonably priced and can be bought in supermarkets or corner shops called depanneurs.
People: Canadians are genuinely nice people; friendly and welcoming, fond of the British and very proud of their homeland. It has been said that Canada is a bit boring, but this is really not the case in Quebec. The European influence, particularly that of the French, really livens things up.
After Paris, Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world. 69% of its three million people speak French as their mother tongue, 12% speak English and 19% don't speak either. The reality of the situation, however, is that in this tolerant, vibrant, and youthful city most of its inhabitants are functionally bilingual, often trilingual, and so coming here only speaking English is not a problem. Even if you speak perfect French you will be spotted as a visitor as the Quebecois accent is very different. I have lived here for four years and people still start speaking in English to me the minute I say 'Bonjour'.
Montrealers love Brits and the shop assistants always want to chat, telling you who in their family is British, and how much they love your accent. There are also large numbers of immigrants from non-English or French cultures and there is no obvious racial tension. I suspect this is because they are not perceived scroungers or benefit seekers but just as new additions to a long line of immigrants, who are here to work hard, learn French and get on with life.
Weather: Montreal has four distinct seasons. Winter is long lasting from November until the end of March. It has usually snowed by the middle of December and carries on intermittently until March. January and February are the coldest months with temperatures averaging -10ºC but on the odd day it does fall to -40ºC with the wind chill factor. -10ºC sounds cold but it isn't really provided you have the right clothes. It is a dry cold and so it doesn't penetrate through to your bones as it does in the UK. The children love the snow, which is dry and brushes off easily, and you can always appreciate the beautifully clear blue skies.
Spring is very short lasting from April to the end of May, but everything grows extremely quickly and it is delightful to see the grass and flowers pushing through past the residual snow. Summer runs luxuriously through June to September and is hot and often humid. The temperature can reach the mid 30's in July and August and it is truly fantastic. Fall (Autumn) runs from October until mid-November and is beautiful with red, brown and gold colours abounding. It is a great time to travel to Vermont and the Laurentians or anywhere woody and rural.
Standard of Living: Everything in Montreal is roughly half the price of that in the UK, from food and clothes to restaurants and housing, and people are not embarrassed to question prices or complain about bad service. Salaries are lower than in the UK but despite this you will still have a much better standard of living in Montreal.
Healthcare: The medical system, Medicare, is very similar to the NHS with the same sorts of advantages and disadvantages. Treatment is free on demand and the doctors and nurses are generally very good but the waiting lists are often long. GP's are in short supply and you have to wait for hours in the Emergency Room (casualty).
Once you arrive on a work permit or land as an immigrant you need to obtain a Medicare card to get treatment. The private health system in Quebec is very limited. You cannot pay to see a consultant or have tests performed in a public hospital more quickly but you can go to a private clinic for certain tests, particularly if you are an adult. Many health insurance schemes will pay for this.
The cost of prescription medicines is borne by the patient or by the private insurance that you will have through your employer.
Dental care is high quality but very expensive and not covered at all by Medicare for adults and even for children the provision is limited. Employee insurance schemes cover dental treatment but cover varies from scheme to scheme.
As in the UK, adults in Quebec pay for eye check ups and children and those on welfare benefits do not. Medicare does not cover the cost of glasses or contact lenses, however, most insurance schemes cover the costs in part or completely. Glasses and contact lenses are considerably cheaper in Quebec than in the UK.
Driving: If you hold a valid British Driving License you can obtain a Quebec license without taking a test. You can drive for a few months on your international license but it is best to get a Quebec license as soon as possible. You can obtain this from the SAAQ (Société de l'Assurance Automobile du Quebec).
You are legally required to carry your license with you when driving as well as the insurance and registration documents for the car. The rules regarding drink-driving, the wearing of seat belts, and use of child car seats are similar to those in the UK, i.e do not drink and drive, wear seats belts at all times and make sure your child has the correct car seat for their size and age.
It is relatively easy to adjust to driving on the right hand side of the road in Quebec, because the speed limits are lower than in the UK and they are, by and large, obeyed.
The general consensus among expats is that drivers in Quebec are not very good. It is not that they are deliberately obstructive or aggressive; they just seem unaware of other cars, not letting you into a lane or out of a side street, pulling out suddenly and rarely indicating. There is 'no fault' insurance in Quebec. That is, if you have an accident your insurance company pays for your damage and the other parties company pays for their damage regardless of who was responsible. Any injury to your person is insured by the SAAQ.
Banking: If you are just visiting banking is fine, you can use your UK cashpoint cards in the ATM's which are everywhere, not just in the banks but in cinemas, depanneurs and supermarkets. Of course, UK credit cards are accepted everywhere. The banks are open 10am until 4pm on weekdays only and have very long queues so use the ATM whenever possible.
If you are planning to move here for a few years banking is more difficult. Your credit reference in the UK is no good here at all and you basically start from scratch proving your financial worthiness to be given a credit card and overdraft facility. Getting as many store cards as possible is one way to improve your credit rating.
Taken For A Ride In Montreal
Warning: Loyal reader ripped off by taxi driver at Montreal Airport.
by Wendy Perrin
Frequent globehopper Joe_Kayaker reports that he was "taken for a ride" when he landed at Montreal International recently:
"It was late in the evening, the shuttle bus to the Airport Novotel had stopped running at 10:00 p.m., and none of the taxis would take me on such a short trip. Grrr. I finally found a taxi driver who would take me. As we were driving to the hotel, he said he didn't understand why the Novotel was called an "airport hotel," since it's not really that close to the airport. We drove for quite a while, and the ride cost $30. When checking into the hotel, I asked how much a cab ride from the airport is supposed to cost and was told, 'No more than $15.' I overpaid by only 15 bucks (well, Loonies), but how does one avoid being taken in by unscrupulous taxi drivers? Thanks, Joe"
Joe, you paid $15 in what I call "tourist tax." I've been taken on circuitous routes and overcharged by cab drivers in many a city -- Cairo, Beijing, Moscow, New York -- but I have to say I'm surprised to hear of this occurring in orderly and lawful Montreal. Here's my test-driven advice for avoiding unscrupulous airport cabbies:
1) Ask the hotel in advance how long a taxi ride it is from the airport and what the cost should be. The Hotel Novotel Montreal Aeroport's web site says it's "just 10 minutes" from the airport and provides a map of the route (see left).
2) Before getting into a cab, ask the driver how much the ride will cost. If he quotes a price higher than what the hotel told you, offer your price. Negotiate and reach an agreement before stepping into the cab.
3) When you arrive at your destination, if the driver demands a higher price than was agreed to, ask for a receipt with the driver's name on it, write down his ID number (make known to him that you're recording it), and take out your camera to snap a picture of him and the car. Often, as soon as you pull out the camera, the driver will drop the price.
One more thought: If the hotel has a doorman or bellman, see if he can hold the cab while you notify the front desk that you're in the process of being ripped off. I've never done this myself, but I bring it up because a few weeks ago a hotel in Madrid happened to suggest just this. When I called the Tryp Atocha a few days before my arrival in Spain to confirm my online reservation and find out what the length and cost of a cab ride from the airport should be, the front-desk clerk volunteered that if the driver tried to overcharge I should tell the front desk and they would deal with him for me. I got the impression that they had done so for other guests in the past.
Hope this helps, Joe. Always good to hear from you.
Un autre article faisant l'éloge de la gastronomie montréalaise
Hungering for beauty and the bistros
The Boston Globe
La tire, maple syrup frozen on a stick, for sale at Marche Atwater. (Jonathan Levitt for the Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Levitt
Globe Correspondent / May 4, 2008
Interstate 89 north of Burlington, Vt., is as big, remote, and windswept as the Western plains. I cross the Canadian border at Highgate and drive through the flatness, past miles of tidy dairy farms - pert suburban-type houses with barns and cows in back - and keep going over the Saint Lawrence River, looking down to spot Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and her gypsy cabin, but she's long gone. Then there it is, the island of Montreal, and at the base of Mount Royal, the skyscrapers, just a few, but tall, and huddled together. Like most big cities in Canada, Montreal feels like one last great human place before the bleakness of the northern wilderness.
At Hotel St-Paul in Old Montreal, I stare at the manicured cedar bushes and the 1900 Beaux Arts façade, then walk into the lobby, past the Spanish alabaster fireplace to the front desk. Everyone who works here looks younger than 30. With the key I go upstairs and into my room with the low-slung bed, faux fur throw, ebony-stained wood floors, and view of another Beaux Arts building across the street with a giant perfectly accurate clock. I take off my shoes, turn on the flat-screen television, and watch "The Age of Innocence" dubbed into French, and I nap.
When I wake up it is still light out. The streets of Old Montreal are hushed and narrow. It's the oldest part of the city, along the river, and near the original French settlement of 1642. In the twilight it's easy to imagine fur traders and Iroquois attacks.
I wander through Chinatown and across rue Sainte-Catherine with its grime and strip clubs, and accidentally make eye contact with some "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" punks. They are begging and drumming, exotic with tattooed faces, dreadlocks, and big handsome dogs. The last time I walked around Montreal it was January and so cold that inside my coat pockets I wore socks on my hands. But now it's April and sunny and 60 degrees, and at the outdoor cafes it looks as if everyone pretty shoved off early from work to eat and smoke and drink cold beer.
On Duluth Street in the middle of the flat, graffiti-clad Plateau neighborhood I stop for dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. P.D.C., as it is known, is a former wood-fired brick-oven pizza place converted into a temple of excess and neo-Quebecois peasant food by celebrity chef Martin Picard. I order venison steak frites. On the walls are jars of preserved summer tomatoes, and in the bathroom, a showerhead for a sink faucet, and a bucket of beer on ice by the toilet.
It's early but crowded. Word has gotten out because the food press seems to write about the place every few weeks. But it still feels like a chummy club, and every portion could serve two or more. Picard is giant, hairy, balding, and looks like Shrek. The fries come fried in duck fat with a side of good mayonnaise; the venison steak is smothered in a rich jus with mushrooms and caramelized onions. On the plate is a cartoon of Picard, wearing a tall chef's hat, riding a pig or a shrimp, depending on the plate.
After dinner I walk and walk, then wander into the bistro next to the hotel. It's called Restaurant Holder, and the music sounds like the soundtrack to a video game. They've stopped serving real food, so I order the Quebec cheese plate and eat lots of baguette. Benedictine monks make one of the cheeses, and it tastes like cleaning out the chicken coop, but in a good way.
For breakfast I walk down St-Paul Street to the bakery Olive + Gourmando where, once again, everyone is beautiful. They are carrying yoga mats and ordering coffee and pastries like almond croissants and apple tarts that look too good to be real, and so I order the same.
By now I am certain that the food here is better than back home, better than the over-hyped poutine, those french fries soaked in gravy and studded with cheese curds for which Quebec is known.
So I think only of food and have lunch at L'Express, a bistro that has been in the same place on rue St-Denis for almost 30 years. I order duck confit on greens and frites with mustardy mayonnaise. The waitress brings a crunchy baguette and a jar of even crunchier cornichons to grab with worn wooden tongs. There is white paper on top of the marble tabletop. The duck skin stays crispy and is the prettiest golden brown.
L'Express is as reserved as Au Pied de Cochon is boisterous. The bill comes on a tin plate. It seems like a good bistro can be like a diner, like a place to go every day, a kitchen away from home. And so I go to another bistro, the restaurant Leméac, at the base of the mountain, and this one is much more posh. I get the veal a la Lyonnaise, which is just a fancy way of saying liver and onions.
Now it's late, and I'm tired, but I poke my head into Garde Manger, a new place people are raving about, but all I see are rich kids with their cocktails and lobster poutine, so I go back to the hotel and fall asleep in front of the TV.
In the next morning's cold rain, la tire, maple syrup frozen on a stick at Marché Atwater, makes for a smoky sugar high of a breakfast. Marché Atwater is the smaller and more expensive of the city's two public markets. Afterward, I wander around the cleaned up and condo-fied, but still gritty, St-Henri neighborhood until it's dinnertime and time to go to Restaurant Joe Beef. The place is named for Charles McKiernan (1835-89), the inn and tavern keeper nicknamed Joe Beef because of his knack for rounding up meat and provisions for hungry fellow soldiers during the Crimean War. The legend goes that McKiernan kept wild animals - black bears, monkeys, wildcats, a porcupine, and an alligator - in the basement of the tavern and brought them up for entertainment and to restore order at the bar. When he died the animals were in his funeral procession.
Joe Beef preserves the innkeeper's outlaw attitude and supposedly his bathroom door. At the bar, John Bil from Prince Edward Island shucks oysters. He is a Canadian shucking champion and an elite marathon runner. He feeds me oysters and bourbon until chef-owner Frédéric Morin brings out the deep-fried white bait with tartar sauce, and the whole king crab, and more bourbon. Then we go next door to Liverpool House, a quirky sort of Italian/French/Quebecois place that Morin also owns, and we eat black pudding with foie gras and ribs braised in Dr. Pepper. Morin makes rum punch and brings out a cheese plate with warm green grapes.
The restaurant closes and I follow the cooks to their favorite dive bar, and after it closes, I go along to their favorite diner where just before dawn I have a plate of poutine, soggy and wonderful.
Jonathan Levitt, a freelance writer in Maine, can be reached at [email protected]
Michael Phelps, the billion dollar man?
"In the heat and intensity of this event it may seem that his earning power is limitless, but you have to pull back and look at someone like Tiger Woods who has performed at a top level for years and years in front of the world," he said.
"The Olympics is only held once every four years. After a year to so Americans forget about the Olympics and move to stars they see more. Kids want someone else on their Weetabix box."
THE PHELPS PHENOMENON
Phelps is already the epitome of the modern American corporate Olympian with the Phelps Machine in full swing before he topped the record nine gold tally held by Spitz and Carl Lewis, Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi and Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina.
Portnoy said Phelps's youth and composure under pressure made him a marketer's dream. The only blotch on his record was an arrest for drinking and driving in 2004 for which he apologized.
"In the short term, he is a gold mine because he represents everything that is pure, young, strong and visionary about America. We haven't had anyone of this significance since Mark Spitz," said Portnoy.
"Guaranteed there will be marketers wanting a piece of him that make no sense and it will interesting to see how his handlers cope with this and if they get greedy because the Olympics has a narrow avenue of marketability."
Phelps, who became a professional swimmer at 16 and a millionaire by 18, has sponsors, agents, lawyers, accountants, charities, his own website in English and Chinese, and even his own logo with a wave-like blue M and red P over his name.
An Octagon spokesman said his sponsors were credit card company Visa Inc., Speedo, watch maker Omega, AT&T Wireless, energy food company PowerBar. Kellogg's, Rosetta Stone, and PureSport. He declined to say what they paid Phelps.
Within seconds of Phelps's snapping up his 10th gold medal, Visa released a special edition television commercial commemorating his title as the most decorated Olympian.
"You need to be out there early and establish your affiliation with the property, Michael Phelps," said Michael Lynch, head of global sponsorship management at Visa whose relationship with Phelps dates back to 2002.
"His performance here will benefit us as it will add to the visibility we will get through this affiliation ... and his earning ability will increase, there's no question of that."
Un article très positif sur Montréal dans le Frankfurter Allgemeine (un journal allemand très important)
L'article au complet en version originale:
En dehors des extraits, l'impression générale du texte est que Montréal, avec laquelle on utilise des qualificatifs et des noms de lieux à 150% anglais (Mount Royal, la City, ...), et axée autour du monde anglophone. On nomme les universités francophones (avec de belles erreurs d'ailleurs) une fois et c'est tout, alors que Concordia a droit a une belle description.
Bref, le texte est flatteur mais laisse un gout amer.