Are restaurants and grocery stores in Montréal only written in French?
July 24, 2019 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I would like to visit Montréal, Québec this coming fall with my friend, and we do not speak or understand written French. I am wondering if most restaurants and grocery stores (ingredients) are mostly written in French and not English? I also have a food allergy to eggs, and my friend is a vegan as well. We are not sure if it would be difficult, since we only speak English. Thanks in advance.
posted by RearWindow to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
All grocery store products in Canada are labelled in both French and English as a matter of law.

In restaurants in Montreal, there is a good chance any given restaurant will have a menu that is bilingual but there will be some that aren't. Most service staff will speak English. Food allergies and veganism are well understood here, and while not every restaurant will have vegan dishes, they will understand the request and know whether they do or don't.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:03 AM on July 24 [13 favorites]

I should clarify that the some restaurants that don't have bilingual menus are likely to be small, out of the way places, not restaurants that tourists go to -- and even there it's pretty rare, because Montreal has a significant anglophone population.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:08 AM on July 24 [2 favorites]

You’ll be fine. The only person I ran into in Montreal who didn’t speak English was at a farmer’s market. You can also get a French-English translation app to assist in reading signs and menus.
posted by something something at 10:11 AM on July 24 [2 favorites]

I am currently part of that anglophone population and in the last 2 years the only significant communication 'adventure' I'd had was a Vietnamese place where one day I wasn't in at a time that wasn't my usual no one on shift spoke English, and our broken French didn't overlap much.

Pretty much everywhere I've gone (by myself or with work colleagues, partner or friends with assorted dietary restrictions) the magic words "vegetarian, vegan, gluten, celiac, peanuts" have all been readily and graciously understood.
posted by mce at 10:13 AM on July 24 [4 favorites]

I've traveled to Montreal several times recently with a partner who has celiac and lactose-intolerance. We have not had any issues finding food or communicating dietary needs. It's a wonderful city for dining out. There are plenty of options that specialize in vegetarian, vegan, raw and whole foods, etc. Enjoy your visit!
posted by meinvt at 10:30 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Some tips:
Vegan in French is vegetalien, vegetarian is vegetarien. It's rare they will use the French rather than the English words but just watch for that L. Vegan dishes / vegan restaurants are pretty common, and if you want pastries check out Sophie Sucrée!

It's extremely rare that a server won't speak English but if you're worried, "allergy/allergie" is the same. But you'll be fine, it's only if you go to small towns that you'll really need French.
posted by 100kb at 10:34 AM on July 24

You'll be completely fine. Montreal is by and large pretty bilingual.
posted by at 12:07 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]

One thing that confused me a bit in Montreal - servers will often ask if you prefer to use English or French, but will ask in French. Fortunately, my confused look sorted that out pretty quickly. Requesting English was fine and no one was rude about it.
posted by momus_window at 12:16 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]

Concerning grocery stores, you'll find that the vast majority of products (if not all of them) have the product description and ingredients in both English and French on the packaging.
posted by DavidfromBA at 12:20 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

I like to start out with "Bonjour, Hello." to let people know that my French sucks and I prefer to communicate in English. "Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas la Francais." (I'm sorry, I don't speak French) is often useful.
posted by porpoise at 12:48 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]

What porpoise said. Or "Bonjour, Hi." Once you say that, the person (assuming they're in a fairly trafficked area) will almost definitely start speaking English.

But yeah, it's a super-easy place to speak English. I lived there for a year and my French was basically non-existent (and the little French I knew didn't help much because the Quebecois sound really different from French French people), and I was totally fine.
posted by nosila at 12:52 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Agree 100% with what jacquilynne said, but also want to add that, if you happen to get to the table and the menu is in French only (sometimes the host/ess don't pick-up the language cue), don't be embarrassed to ask if they have an English menu (they almost always do).
And... if you are in a grocery store, most products will be placed on the shelves so that the French side is visible, but the English ingredients will always be available (except very occasionally with "fresh-baked" grocery items, and pre-made meals, but they are still supposed to).
posted by Laura in Canada at 2:28 PM on July 24

You'll be fine, especially if you are visiting with other Anglophones. It can be a bit awkward to default to English if you're travelling with bilingual people who will default to French in most settings, especially if you're in more Francophone-heavy parts of MTL such as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal.

As someone else said above, servers will often default to French even when they are bilingual, and one of the best ways to avoid awkwardness in that scenario is to get good at redirecting in French using phrases like "Pardon, mais mon francais n'est pas bon, est-ce que vous parlez anglais, s'il vous plait? " or "Je suis desolee, mais je ne parle pas bien francais" (I'm on my phone, I know that there are missing accents).
posted by blerghamot at 2:37 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

We went to Montreal two years ago and do not speak French, and it was not a problem at all anywhere we went. At a lot of bars and restaurants we were greeted in French and everyone switched to English immediately when we said "Hello!" and it did not even feel awkward at all so I wouldn't worry.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 3:22 PM on July 24

As an aside I visited Montreal with my vegan daughter a couple years ago and ate at a restaurant called Aux Vivres the first night we were there. It was so good we ended up having every single one of our meals there. So I would highly recommend! Oh and neither one of us speaks French and had no problems in Montreal at all.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 3:55 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Seconding everyone else that Montreal is extremely English-friendly (enough that the "Anglicization of Montreal" is regularly bemoaned in certain Francophone media, but that's another story).

About the only thing that you may run into as a tourist, should you be driving there, is that Montreal street parking signs are in French only. However, if you know your French days of the week and months of the year and can count in a 24-hour clock, that's all you need. (Better yet, of course, is not to bring a car at all, as you don't need one at all if you are within the city.)
posted by andrewesque at 4:12 PM on July 24

Vindaloo’s wife here. My parents have managed to live in Montreal for 75 years as anglophones and never spoken French. They dine out almost daily and never have problems getting served in English at restaurants, you should be fine getting accommodated for your dietary needs.

I’ll leave the discussion of why they don’t speak French to another thread... the younger generations in our family are all bilingual.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:17 PM on July 24

I was in Montreal last month. Signage is required to have the French more prominent, but nearly everyone I encountered also spoke English. We went to some wonderful restaurants - Montreal is very much a foodie city. Everyone is very friendly. You may find that when you walk into a place you will be greeted with "Bonjour, Hello!" and depending on how you answer back they will choose the appropriate language.

Restaurants we particularly liked were Helena and the Stash Cafe. But we didn't have a bad meal there. If you take Uber, the drivers are also a great source of information.

There are many fun places for drinks and people-watching at night -- look up The Cold Room, Clandestino and Boho. Clandestino serves grasshoppers with their drinks on occasion and it's not a euphemism. Watch out for that.

You will absolutely love Montreal! It's such a fantastic city! If you have time, check out the Archaeology Museum -- it is amazing. (They also have a really good restaurant as well).
posted by Ostara at 5:16 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

(fwiw, I try ernestly and fail in French, I'm worse than a Quebecois, I'm a secondary school dabbler from Anglo British Columbia; my native accent is Vancouver - in both English and Cantonese)

I do try my best at pronouncing bonjour, but I West Coast the Hello.
posted by porpoise at 10:42 PM on July 24

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