One thing people should know is that I love Montreal-most of the time. I see it as the Audrey Hepburn of cities: pretty, stylish and full of character. Just like Hepburn in the role of Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's), Montreal is good at keeping up appearances, but underneath the polished exterior are little personality quirks. They once seemed cute and endearing but recently they've begun to drive me crazy. I'm not breaking up with Montreal, but I feel that the first step to improving our relationship is admitting that we have a problem.
Item #1: People cutting in line to get onto the bus
Picture this: It's -30 degrees-or with the wind chill factor, -45. You bundle up in forty-two layers, painstakingly descend your outdoor staircase (a death trap after last night's freezing rain), and walk into the wind towards the bus stop on the corner of Du Parc and Fairmount. Patiently, you wait in the long cold line of fellow public-transit-takers and close your eyes. For a fleeting moment, you manage to block it all out by picturing yourself sipping a strawberry daiquiri on a Mexican beach...
A few achingly-long minutes later, the bus arrives, already simmering with people like an overcooked pot of stuffed cabbage. As passengers start to get off, you notice someone behind you, someone who has just arrived, jumping on the bus through the side exit door! Before you know it, others are following his example and jumping the line. By now, the bus is so packed that you have to wait for the next one. You stand there, numb, late for work and filled with quiet rage.
There's nothing I hate more than this animalistic, kill-or-be-killed behavior. If anyone reading this is guilty of such an offensive crime, please stand quietly at the back of the line and wait your turn. Last time I checked, we were living in a society and not in a bad movie adaptation of Lord of the Flies.
Item #2: The language thing
Anglophones in this town have it rough - basically, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. When we try and speak French, many Francophones recognize our accent-deficiency and try to be helpful by continuing the conversation in English. While they have nothing but good intentions, this just makes us Anglos feel stupid and self-conscious. Other times, when it's important for us to be understood-like for instance, when we want to buy a car or tell someone off (see Item #1)-we have no choice but to speak French, but we're often struggling to get the right words out; again we're left feeling stupid and self-conscious.
Then again, there are also those Anglophones who don't even try to speak French. A few months ago, I was at the Westmount Square food court, waiting for my tuna sandwich to be prepared. An older Anglo man waited behind me, and when it was his turn to order, the guy behind the counter asked what he wanted-in French. The older man stared at him before replying obnoxiously: "This is Westmount-here, we speak English, understand?"
Shocked, the cashier gazed up at me and we eye-locked for a second. No interpreter needed - that bitter, stuck up man was an asshole, in any language.
Item #3: Motorists not stopping for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings
According to a recent Radio-Canada report, about 4,000 pedestrians are hit by cars every year in the province of Quebec. Apparently, 47% of those accidents are caused by jaywalkers. I'm no math expert, but I guess that means that the other 53% are caused by aggressive drivers plowing down the city streets with no regard for people's safety. What's the point of even having pedestrian crossings if motorists completely ignore them?
I never realized how bad it actually was until I found myself attempting to cross a busy intersection in Edmonton, Alberta a few years back. As car after car sped by, I was filled with anxiety; crossing that street seemed as insurmountable a feat as trying to cross the Red Sea. But as the traffic showed no sign of letting up, I decided to take my chances and hope for a miracle. I dangled one foot off the sidewalk, and just as I did, amazingly, ALL THE CARS STOPPED. I know it sounds crazy, but they all came to a complete halt. Shocked and confused by this strange behavior, I couldn't believe that they were all patiently waiting for me to pass. I looked one motorist straight in the eye; he smiled and nodded with an unhurried, friendly gaze. I collected myself and strutted confidently across, thinking: "I get it now! Canadians really ARE nice!"
A week later, I was back in Montreal and tried to cross the pedestrian walkway on Laurier and Hutchison in Outremont. An SUV screeched to a halt centimeters away from me. Not only did he almost run me over, but he honked frantically AND gave me the finger.
La Belle Province, indeed.