Postcards from Montreal: First Impressions
I know. It’s been a while. What the heck have we been doing? In short; house-hunting and parenting an emotionally-charged boy and a rambunctious baby in a child-unfriendly apartment. Then we kicked off a terrible run of luck and moved to a half-ready apartment with a meagre set of furniture. This whilst also dealing with a new job, crazy weather and the draining effects of learning how to survive in a foreign country. There really isn’t enough time in the day (or at least virtually no time without someone hanging out of me demanding something). So, some late night random musings in no particular order for you…
Four Seasons in One Day
Ireland is notorious for green fields that flourish in year-round rainfall. We also commonly experience all four seasons in one day. The former is not true of Montréal, but the latter sure is. The main difference is that those four seasons are all far more extreme than the mild Irish climate. The temperature can rise or fall by about ten degrees from one day to the next. We arrived to an unseasonably cold May, having packed for average May temperatures. After a few chilly days I was seriously eyeing up the winter coats on sale. A couple of days later I was melting in a pool of sweat wishing I had the kid’s UV suits that were still locked up in storage somewhere. The weather switched then to torrential rain for a claustrophobic week of being stuck in an apartment looking out at grey skies with only the contents of a couple of suitcases to entertain us. We could only wish for our rain gear, also in storage exile. A short break in the rainfall would tempt us out, knowing full well that setting foot outside would result in instant showers. You get disapproving looks walking the streets with a soaking wet baby, let me tell you. Summer has now finally arrived, but just like Ireland you might need your umbrella, your coat, your sunglasses and suncream when you go outside. Hot sun and thunderstorms are a popular combination.
Housing: Duplexes and Triplexes
If you want accommodation within a reasonable commute of Montréal then realistically you’re talking a high-rise apartment or a duplex or triplex (there’s such a thing!). For historical reasons, July 1st is “Moving Day” in Quebec. The notice period for ending a lease or not renewing it is 3 months. Which means the market is flooded with properties in May/June. It seemed like we were arriving at a fortuitous time. Until it turned out that the market was particularly cut-throat this year with any decent properties going faster than people could view them. Do you pay over the odds to make sure you have something before July 1st, or do you risk navigating the inevitable drop in availability just after in the hope that you get something more suitable? We couldn’t afford to play chicken. We broke the ceiling of our planned budget and committed to move into an apartment with negatives, but also a lot of potential. We committed, then it was radio silence for days. One constant about property markets everywhere is unreliable agents that are terribly vague about handing over keys to what you’re paying for.
French is the official language of Montréal, but we knew from visiting previously that it was possible to get by without any French as a tourist. I did assume that to relocate to Montréal it would be almost essential to have conversational French if we wanted to integrate. Actually, it turns out that we could totally survive socially without learning a scrap of French if we wanted to. The Anglophone/Francophone divide is quite pronounced when it comes to social circles. You can simply choose to circulate amongst Anglophones (and Francophones with better English fluency than I will ever have in another language). I was surprised that many families with a French-speaking parent are raising their children without French. This easy option of avoiding the language barrier is all well and good until the occasions when you encounter someone who only speaks French, especially on the phone when you need information or a service from them. You’re totally unprepared for the struggle of communicating because usually as soon as you open your mouth people switch to English, assuming your French is as useless as it actually is. As an English-only speaker it may actually be very difficult to get exposure to enough French to become conversationally fluent. So I’m pushing myself to seek out more opportunities. It’s a legal requirement of our visas that our children learn French, and we would like them to be bilingual. This would nicely lead me on to the topic of schooling in Montréal, but that’s going to have to wait for another day and a dedicated post all to itself.
Winter is harsh in Montréal, or so every person who has ever experienced it has told me. I believe them! I do harbour a fascination at the thought of seeing the city carpeted in snow drifts and the river frozen over with a gluttony of winter sports never available in our home country to choose from. Yet I also dread the practicality of living in new city/country where the temperature is capable of falling so low. Something to worry about later in the year, as for now the Summer is only getting started. After the long cold winter, when summer finally arrives this city is more than ready to roll out the red carpet (literally). The streets are bursting with various festivals and events. And construction too, unfortunately. The celebration of both a 375th anniversary and a 150th, means there are a wealth of events to keep track of. We particularly loved exploring the outdoor museum for the Balade du Paix. Sometimes too, it’s the simple touches that really brighten the days. Pianos can be found here and there all over the city, available for the public to hammer out a tune. Aside from the usual butchery of ‘Chopsticks’, a surprising number of people patiently wait their turn to haltingly play their own particular party piece. Whether on a street decorated red with carpets and paper trees, or enjoying the birds eye view of the city from the Mont Royal lookout, the melodies greatly enhance the atmosphere on a pleasant day.
It’s hot. Obviously. But it’s also a damp, cloying heat that can suck the energy right out of you. We’ve been learning a lot about what we should have been watching out for when house-hunting the hard way. I know little about the practicalities of air conditioning units, but it’s 10000000 times as much as I knew a couple of weeks ago. Googling how to keep a house cool without air conditioning is becoming a regular pastime. We’ve a perfect storm of events creating an uncomfortably warm apartment. Non-standard windows makes adding air con difficult and potentially costly. We’re waiting on the landlord to repair some of those windows that can’t be opened and closed to freshen the air. Nor do they have curtains yet. Throw a sweaty baby in on top of you because you don’t have enough mattresses for everyone, and it makes for soaring temperatures and tempers on sunny days. When the maintenance handyman mentioned that he could remove a couple of windows and set up some adaptations for air con I nearly fainted in excitement at the thought of cool air ‘on tap’. An expensive tap, but a nice one to have nonetheless.
Two months into our emigration/immigration journey and we’re slowly crawling towards some kind of ‘normalcy’ here. Much has happened, more still to come. It’s been a tougher road than we could have prepared for, leaving everything else on hold while we scramble to catch up on what needs to be done most urgently.