Flying to Paris, I came through Montreal and had a few hours to kill. I had never been to Montreal so I thought it would be fun to sneak out of the airport and see the city.
My escape was delayed by contradicting advice from airline employees, two of whom assured me that my luggage would happily find its way to Paris without my assistance and two who insisted that some action was required on my part in order to make this miracle of air travel occur. I always treat airline employees as authority figures, so getting contradicting instructions was like getting a mixed message from mom and dad. Eventually the confusion was sorted out, I was given a bus schedule by a cheerful mass transit employee and I jumped on a waiting bus to downtown Montreal.
Like most Americans, I don’t know much about Canada. Also like most Americans, I feel as if I do. Except for the occasional “Aye” interspersed in their speech, one is tempted to think that Canadians are just Americans who strayed a little out of the flock. Flying over the Canadian border at night, I have seen the lights in a long, narrow line along the U.S. border abruptly thin out and disappear entirely as the plane travels north. This has caused me to entertain the idea that perhaps the country of Canada is an elaborate ruse, with a few people strung along the border to give the appearance of a populated territory in order to fend off land-hungry Americans.
But coming to Montreal, it was obvious I was in a different country. Of course I expected them to speak French, I just didn’t expect them to be quite so… French.
When traveling abroad I have mixed feelings about my fellow country folk. We can be loud. We are often demanding. We seem to assume that when things do not work as they do in America this is not a charming difference but a problem to be fixed. But living overseas has also given me an appreciation of the flip side of our national character. I like Americans’ boisterous enthusiasm. We may be a little offensive when we expect all the world to speak English, but I admire that we are generally generous and exuberant in our enjoyments.
As I stepped off the impressively quick and clean bus and walked into the old port district of Montreal, I found it difficult to believe I had not crossed an ocean. Narrow cobblestone streets held tiny bistros and cafés overflowing with the sound of French and a cacophony of other languages. Families strolled with impossibly well-dressed children in tow, women lean as jaguars in precariously tall heels prowled the streets in packs, and a handsome young man with a two-day beard in a striped muscle shirt dashed out of a café looking as if he had escaped from a 1920s era poster— complete with the lipstick outline of a kiss adorning his cheek.
I sat in a sidewalk café watching this wondrous parade go by and regretting that I had only a couple of hours to spend in this lively city. As I enjoyed grilled goat cheese, I searched for my fellow Americans and could not see a single person I could positively identify as having come across the border. Just then, a stout man with a camera around his neck rounded the corner with a huge smile on his face.
“They have cupcakes!” he announced loudly, with undisguised delight.
My heart warmed. Yes, that would be an American.
Till next time,