Bienvenue à Montreal

Ben Collins notes five things that make Montreal stand out as being special

Since the day I was born I have always had the comfort of knowing that whatever happens I will be able to communicate to those around me in English. Well for the first time in my life, that comfort is no longer there as I have now breached the Quebec border and am well and truly in French territory.

Je suis désolé je ne peux pas parles francais
Thankfully though, my week long trip into Quebec begins in Montreal which as a truly bilingual city means that whilst everybody by default will speak French, I can still get away with speaking English and get along just fine. That is the majority of the time anyway.

And I have to say it's really quite exciting because for the first time since leaving home I really do feel like I am in a different country. I mean yes, I realise Ontario is different from England but with it being equally (if not more so) developed, with the same language and same political system, the differences I have noticed up to now have been subtle... like for example the way that Canadians buy their milk in plastic bags as opposed to bottles or cartons.

The view of downtown Montreal from the lookout on Parc de Mont-Royal

But when everything you hear is French and everything you read is French things start to feel different. And whilst I only am able to recognise a few words I have to admit it's quite exciting.

And that's not it. There are quite a few things I have noticed that make Montreal stand out as being quite a lot different from its Southern neighbour and these are my top 5:

5. Students in Montreal like to strike: Since arriving in Canada the student strikes in Quebec have dominated the news with quite a lot of people it seems unhappy by the prospect of paying more for University. But unlike at home where the students pretty much gave up after a couple of rallies down in London, Montreal folk walked out of classes at the end of November 2011 and are still yet to go back. What I (and most other Canadians I have met so far) find funny is that Quebec students already have the lowest fees in North America and pay just a fraction of what you might pay in England... just £1,500 a year! Many people therefore think they should just get over it (which I sort of get with) but Quebec students are not too fussed it seems with the level of the hike, it's the principle of it going up in the first place, believing education from elementary to undergraduate should not be a commodity you can buy, rather it should be your right should you which to have it.

4. Everybody in Montreal likes to smoke: Or at least walking the streets it certainly seems that way.

3. Montreal has a personality: Don't get me wrong, I loved Toronto and Ottawa but they both seemed to me to feel like a rather generic North American city. Montreal however is different. I don't know how to describe it but Montreal is Montreal.

2. Boutique. Boutique. Boutique: That's right, Montreal seems to be built on boutiques and they are everywhere. And I mean everywhere. If I enjoyed shopping and had money then this really would be paradise.

1. Beauty, beauty everywhere: I am not joking but this city could turn the straight gay and the gay straight. The population here is frustratingly attractive and only a small handful seem to be in anything other than great shape.