Hi Frugalistas! Well, I’m back from Canada, and have so much to share with you. Being the true Francophile I am one of the things I was keen to explore was the “Frenchness” of Canada, particularly Quebec. How to find France in North America was one of my goals. During my time in Montreal and Quebec City I sought out the best French experiences I could find in North America. If you live in North America, can you find a French experience on your back door step? It’s a complex question that I’ll be exploring over subsequent posts, but here are some genuinely French experiences I found in Montreal and Quebec:
1. Practice your French
This is the most obvious way to seek out how to find France in North America. In all honesty I found it much easier to do this in Quebec City than in Montreal. I found the Montreal French accent very difficult to follow. In Montreal, English and French speakers are about 50/50, so when people hear your accent, they will often automatically revert to English. In Quebec City over 95% of people speak French as their first language. While English is still very widely spoken, I found people more willing to “let me” speak French in Quebec City. I also found their accent easier to follow.
If you are not a confident French speaker, speaking French in Quebec is perfect for you. Canadians expect to switch between English and French as required. Practicing your French (with a safety net!) is a perfect way to go about finding France in North America (with not a grumpy French waiter in sight!)
2. Eat French food
Yes, there is maple syrup. Yes, there is also poutine. And in Montreal, there are those famous Montreal bagels. But your favourite French foods are also yours for the taking. Croissants, baguette, patisserie, even duck confit are easily found. Cheeses can either be French, or locally made. Either are equally delicious.
While you will find plenty of French wines available, do what I normally recommend and go with the local Canadian wine. It is a real surprise and because quantities are small you will be unlikely to find it elsewhere (even outside Quebec in other parts of Canada).
I even managed to track down a local crème de cassis for my kir royale – combining the best of France and Canada in one drink.
3. Go to a French market
Whether you are in Montreal or Quebec City a French market is within your reach.
In Montreal, hit either Marche Jean Talon or Marche Atwater (both easily accessible by the Metro) for your French market fix. In Quebec City the Vieux Port Marche is right on the St Lawrence River, just near the railway station.
I found the markets in Quebec just as “French” as any market I’ve been to in France. Yes, there is maple syrup, and yes, there is local Canadian seafood, but there is also the beautifully arranged fruit and vegetables, delectable cheese and charcuterie stalls, and fabulous boulangeries.
I promise you won’t be disappointed. Just remember that shopping basket – you’ll need it!
4. Visit Notre Dame (no, not that one!)
Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica was a real surprise for me. Built in the nineteenth century, its interior reminds me of my favourite Paris church. No, not Notre Dame. Try Ste. Chapelle. If you want a little taster of what the gorgeous twelfth century chapel has in store when you visit France, or even if you want to remind yourself of how pretty it is if you’ve visited, head to Notre Dame. It is stunning.
5. Ride the Metro
Imagine my surprise when I went to use the Montreal Metro for the first time. While the stations look very different, and the platforms look very different, when the train pulled into the platform, I felt as if I was in Paris. The trains look the same. They run on rubber wheels just like in Paris. The service is fantastic just like in Paris. The Montreal Metro is definitely a true French experience in North America.
How to find France in North America? Go to Montreal, go to Quebec City and keep your eyes open to opportunities. Vive la France et vive le Canada!
Author’s note: In Montreal and Quebec City I was a guest of Quebec Tourisme, L’Hotel and the Auberge du Tresor.