Must-Sees and Manners in Montréal
May 3, 2016 10:45 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I will be visiting Montréal in a couple of weeks, and I have a few questions on both suggested sights to see, and local etiquette.

We'll be heading up there from Friday 13th - Wednesday 18th of may, and we're staying in the Old Port area - near the conference center. We're in town so she can attend a work conference, so for at least part of the time I'll be wandering the city by myself. I was hoping that fellow mefites might have suggestions for things to see and do - we're both nerds, reasonably fit, and I do intend to do a fair bit of general exploring and looking at the local architecture. Any specific things we should really see while we're in town?

My other question is about local etiquette - I've not been to Quebec before and my french is... not the best. How can I politely ask if someone speaks english once I run through my extremely limited knowledge of French? Is it a simple Parlez-vous Anglais, s'il vous plait?, or is that rude? Je voundrais parlons Anglais, s'il vous plait? Any Montréal MeFites care to weigh in?
posted by Nice Guy Mike to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've never had a problem starting a conversation in Montreal in English. But Parlez-vous Anglais is also appropriate and polite.
posted by bluedeans at 10:47 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Other than a handful of common words, I don't speak any French, but when I visited Montréal this Fall, no one seemed to be bothered when I began speaking in English without some sort of prelude in French. Granted, I felt like an asshole every time I did this without thinking, but that's on me. Everyone was polite and kind.
posted by katemcd at 11:02 AM on May 3, 2016

I've recommended this in every Montreal travel thread, and I'll recommend it again: The Pointe-A-Calliere Museum! It's an archeological museum that documents the earliest history of Montreal, in a renovated/rebuilt historic building atop several layers of archeological sites from the colonial period. One of the coolest museums I've ever visited.

Re the language question. When I went, I stayed in Plateau, which is traditionally a more Francophone part of town, and one of my reasons for going was to practice my French. So I made a point to at least start any conversation in French. However, in my experience people in public-facing roles generally do speak English. It's most polite to ask, "Parlez-vous Anglais?" before you launch into a tirade in English, though. Definitely phrase it as a question using rising intonation and a polite tone, though. "Parlez-vous Anglais?" sounds fine. "Parlez-vous Anglais, s'il vous plait" sounds like it might be a command unless you lean really hard on the rising intonation.
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on May 3, 2016

The last time I was in Montreal (admittedly, almost 20 years ago), most people in service jobs would greet patrons with "Hello, bonjour" or vice versa, which gave them the option to choose whichever language they preferred. (As a French speaker, simply saying "Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français" wouldn't generally be considered rude.)
posted by asterix at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

-Climb Mount Royal for the view, and the weather should make the trek enjoyable
-If you enjoy architecture, the Canadian Centre for Architecture is located here and always has such unique and memorable exhibitions.
-Nthing Pointe à Callière Museum.
-Buy a bottle of wine at the SAQ (liquor store) on Duluth & St. Denis and walk down Duluth street for a huge selection of bring-your-own-wine restaurants. Hopefully by the time you arrive most of the terraces will be open and the weather will be warm enough to eat outside!

I'm a partially bilingual anglophone who lives in Montreal. Most public-facing employees will begin with "Bonjour, hello" (so you can begin speaking English straight away), or they will immediately begin with French, but if you politely say "Pardon, parlez-vous anglais?" it shouldn't be an issue. "Je voudrais parlons anglais, s'il vous plait?" translates to "I would like us to speak English please" which is correct, but as Sara C. remarked, sounds bit more like a command. I think you'll be surprised at how bilingual the city is, and you likely won't be venturing into areas where it is less so, like Montreal North or east of Papineau. No need to worry! So many tourists visiting year-round, I doubt you'll have an issue. (If you were visiting Québec City, then its a bit of a different story).
posted by hollypolly at 11:20 AM on May 3, 2016

I like Parlez-vous Anglais, s'il vous plait?, but honestly, once they hear your anglophone accent they will automatically switch to English. The Old Port is a touristy area so most of the customer service will speak English but the further east you go, the more likely it will be that they just don't speak English.

If you like board games, check out Randolph's on St Denis which is a board game cafe that has hundreds of them.

You should probably check out the Notre Dame Cathedral in the Old Port ( where Celine Dion got married omg). Also might want to visit the St Joseph Oratory up on the mountain.

Hiking up Mont Royal would be a nice daytime activity (i say hiking. . it's probably a half hour walk?)

Or rent some bixi bikes and bike along the Lachine Canal and maybe stop by the Atwater Market.

If you're a foodie then you obviously have to try the bagels at St Viateur or Fairmount.

If it's a nice Sunday and you feel like hanging out outside then check out the Tam Tams in Mont Royal Park (basically a huge gang of colourful people playing djembes that goes on for hours)

If you like art then definitely check out the Canadian section at the Musee des Beaux Arts on rue Sherbrooke which also has some really cool Indigenous art

Honestly in the Old Port you will have so much fun just walking the streets, it's a gorgeous area.

I also recommend just walking north from the Old Port and getting to St Laurent and just walking all the way up the street, there is so much to see there.

If you like indie music at all, check out what's playing at Cagibi or Casa del Popolo On st Laurent

Or just want a cosy bar, my all time favourite place is Grumpy's on Bishop street downtown ( very chill low key vibe though)

If you want any more specific info feel free to message me :)
posted by winterportage at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

...honestly, once they hear your anglophone accent they will automatically switch to English.
Yes -- this has totally been my experience.

I second the recommendation of the Canadian Centre for Architecture. I also second the recommendation to pick up some wine at the SAQ and pick a restaurant on Duluth -- there are tons of great spots.

Whenever I'm in Montreal I stop by Drawn & Quarterly -- they're both a bookshop and a publisher of amazing comics and graphic novels.

Definitely plan on using public transportation and bixi bikes. I've actually never felt safer on my bike than in Montreal -- they've got clearly marked bike lanes (fully separated in some parts of town), there are lots of other folks biking (safety in the peleton!) and drivers seem to respect bikers more than in any other place I've traveled. I've had an extremely good time in Montreal just getting on my bike and wandering around the Plateau and Mile End.
posted by ourobouros at 11:39 AM on May 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you've got no dietary restrictions: get a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich. Imagine the cut of meat they use for corned beef, but with similar spices to a pastrami, on rye bread slathered with spicy mustard.

Also, I really liked Da Emma. Delicious Italian, in a former women's prison.
posted by qcubed at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I went to an 1812 site in QC I said "hello" when I walked in, which is how the staff knew which language I preferred to speak. I've done the same in francophone areas of ON and bilingual NB.
posted by brujita at 12:37 PM on May 3, 2016

Also, I really liked Da Emma. Delicious Italian, in a former women's prison.

Yes, yes, yes, yes. I had one of THE BEST Italian meals of my life there: Cacio e Pepe. SO GOOD.
posted by cooker girl at 12:41 PM on May 3, 2016

As qcubed mentions, get a smoked meat sandwich.. for the quintessential Montreal experience hit up Schwartz on St. Laurent.

I also recommend a stop at La Banquise for late night poutine (expect a line!).
posted by mbatch at 5:18 PM on May 4, 2016

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