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The first thing I noticed when we got our temporary work permits, in early December 2021, was the provision that we would have to leave Canada by May 2023. I remember thinking, Great, I thought. We just got here, and they’re already kickin’ us out.
Of course, I already knew the realities of my work permit. I also knew that the odds of failing to renew it when the time came were slim, which gave me some comfort, but not enough to erase the bitter taste of feeling othered once again. I’m not new to this whole immigration thing, having lived in Ireland, Japan and, despite my better judgement, southern England. I am, however, getting older, and this whole “uprooting your whole damn life” thing is getting old, too.
If anyone’s curious what it’s like when you’re fresh off the boat, read on.
Our first day in Montreal #
It took us a couple hours to get our luggage and clear customs and immigration. Finding a taxi was easy enough (there’s a taxi rank right outside). Telling the guy where to take us, though, felt like a scene out of a 90s comedy flick.
Me: We need to go to Rue Joseph Manseau… *gives full address*
Guy: OK, we’re going to Rue Joseph Morceau…
Me: (WTF?) No, I said Joseph Manseau-
Guy: *visibly annoyed* Yes, Joseph Morceau.
Were we talking about the same street? Yes.
Did it take me a wee while to realize that? Also yes.
Anyway, if anyone can point me out where’s the “r” in “Manseau”, I’ll eat my shoe.
We got to our temp accommodations eventually, and after unpacking some of our shit and figuring out how the heating works, we went out to look for food.
…those traffic lights, man. We thought the orange light with a timer meant “this is how long you have to wait until you can cross, but don’t cross now”. That took us a hot minute.
Anyway, we found a depanneur (convenience store, I guess?) and went in. Once we got past the shock of just how big everything is (bigger botles, bigger portions, bigger everything), we grabbed some stuff and made our way to the counter. The salesperson must’ve caught on that we weren’t from around here, because she also let us have some cookies free of charge.
Oh, and we accidentally triggered the fire alarm in our building and clogged the toilet that same night. We were that zonked after the trip.
Everything’s bigger #
…Okay, maybe not everything. Condos are criminally small for how much they cost. But that’s a story for a different day.
Montreal looks like one the quintessential North American city as I remember it from watching American movies as a kid. I used to joke that I felt like I was in Home Alone (the one where they’re in New York). It took me a while to get used to having to look up (and up, and up) at buildings whenever I went out for a walk.
This is one of the first photos I took after we arrived. After two years in a tiny village in southern England, everything in Montreal felt massive.
Skyscrapers aren’t the only thing that felt enormous. Lots of people drive trucks and SUVs here, and some of those need a friggin’ ladder to get in. Roads have more lanes than 99% of the ones back home. Shops are huge, and the sheer variety of things you can buy–even with all the supply chain issues–still leaves me scratching my head sometimes.
And then, there’s people
I’ve never been one for crowds, so Montreal feels crowded to me. That may well not be the case compared to, say, Tokyo or New York; still, if I have to spend my commute in a bus so packed I’m literally touching strangers, don’t blame me for wanting my own four-wheel bubble instead.
It’s not as simple as “Bonjour-Hi” #
Something that didn’t really come up during my pre-move research was just how much of a big deal it is to be speaking French. And not just any French, but Québécois. We ran into a number of Francophones early on who didn’t speak any English, and my continental French could only help so much1.
Before we moved, I assumed Québéc was officially bilingual (it isn’t), that I could always fall back to English (I can’t), and that being an anglophone wouldn’t be a problem (it is). Here’s how things actually are: Québéc is officially francophone, some folks either can’t or won’t speak English, and discrimination against anglophones is more or less government policy at this point.
I’m fine with brushing up on my French; hell, if I could learn to understand folks up in Belfast, I can handle Québécois. What I’m not fine with is the thinly-veiled (and sometimes explicit) racism towards anyone who’s not a White2, Christian, francophone native of the province.
In fairness, the vast majority of people I’ve interacted with in-person have been A++. Online? Not so much. Just another reason I’m glad to be de-birdified.
I won’t let shitty people drive me away from here, either way. Bigots are just gonna have to deal 🙂
Free healthcare ain’t so free #
I lost a tooth shortly after Christmas (fun) and had to pay out of pocket for a dentist ‘cause I didn’t have my RAMQ card yet.
A RAMQ card is a medical card from the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québéc. Once you have that, you can, in theory, have access to free healthcare.
Except there’s a shortage of GPs, so you have to wait for months (and sometimes years) to be assigned one, so your only recourse is to go private. If you need something done–like surgery, say–you’re stuck waiting for months or, again, years. Even if it’s something that can’t really wait. Which is to say I paid around $7000 altogether for a day surgery when my gallbladder decided to try to kill me outta nowhere.
Himself and I also got COVID last summer, but we managed it at home after reading that wait times at emergency rooms nearby were hovering around 10 to 12 hours, sometimes more (and it looks like it’s getting worse).
To be continued… #
I’ll probably do a part two at some point and write about things like buying a condo as an expat (hard) and dealing with Montreal snowstorms (impossible, just don’t go outside). For now, though, this one’s long enough.
I can read and, to a lesser extent, write French without a hitch. Québécois pronunciation, on the other hand, is something that I still can’t wrap my mind around. ↩︎
I do have some passing privilege–until I open my mouth or show ID. At least there’s no racism that’s specifically anti-Romanian here. ↩︎