The idea to write this story came to me in the solitude of a public bathroom stall, like most brilliant ideas do.
I knew there was something wrong with this place when I noticed the graffiti in the bathroom stall, "Go home Englishman" – instead of the usual making light of my genitalia.
Early morning fog and an overcast sky greeted us as we landed in Montreal – starting point of our cross Canada trip. With me was my oldest and dearest friend, who is less adventurous than I am, and who has spent his whole life in Alberta. I felt like a pioneer, exposing him to different places without leaving the country.
Our itinerary was very vague and shaped around our financial limits. My friend and I were both naive, first-time travelers – perfect for a memorable adventure. The story didn't really start until we got to Montreal. Anything before that was boring, typical, not worth a sentence on a travel website.
I'm sure everyone has experienced the "Come quick! – TV" scenario. You’re watching television, something exciting comes on and you say to whoever may be interested. "Come quick! _____ is on TV!" and when they arrive, too late, you feel like a idiot. Well, I felt like this the entire time I was in Quebec.
It took thirty strong men and twelve horses (metaphorically) to convince my friend to spend more time in Quebec than a washroom break. I liked Quebec because I had traveled there before. My friend's redneck mind was already stuffed with all the negative things he had heard about Quebec and the French Canadians. I had to use many skills to tickle his curiosity and sense of adventure enough for him to go. I must have made the travel gods angry because by the end of the trip, I had my foot shoved so far in my mouth.
I could have kicked myself. Our first experience in Quebec was one night in a small city called Montmagne. I never considered myself a redneck, but when my friend and I were strutting through the downtown cobblestone streets, tipping our cowboy hats to all the fine ladies who passed, that's when it hit me – I'm a redneck. I was sure I heard Achy breaky heart playing in the background. Montmagne was short-lived. I picked up my sorrow and moved on to a much larger, more tolerant city.
During the three-hour bus ride, I was busy defending a place that shouldn't be defended. "Joey, I know the people we came across weren't very friendly, they're not all like that, just bad luck, I guess. I promise Montreal will make up for it." After spending an uncomfortable night on the bus, we arrived in Montreal in the awkward hours between what you'd consider night and morning.
Sitting in the bus station was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. Our eyes met. She had this erotic look on her face. She raised her hand, crooked her pointer and middle finger in the "come hither" motion. I slowly approached, trying to prevent my knees from buckling. We gazed at each other for a moment then I went in for a kiss.
Before we made contact, I saw a Lonely Planet's Paris Guidebook in her lap. I got up, picked up my trench coat, tipped my hat and gracefully walked out with a soured look on my face. I tried my best to filter all the bad things of Montreal and show my friend only the good sites.
We sat and talked in a local restaurant. ”Joey, try some local cuisine. You can't come to Montreal and eat cheeseburgers" "But,” looking at me with wide glassy eyes, "It's all I know how to eat." The waiter approached. I realized I had a chance to use the little French I know to converse with him and prove my sophistication.
I smiled and said, "Bonjour, Je veux la club sandwich." He replied, "Bon. Comment le genre de vous parler votre ordre avant que je même le sandwich de club de demande. L'est un bon choix, un de mes préférés. Le resteraunt fait de l'autre côté de la rue un sandwich de club de simular mais ce n'est pas comme bon. Qu'aimeriez-vous boire pour aller avec votre repas?”
Like a deer in front of headlights, Joey and I stared. I was thinking of what the waiter just said so I could reply – to keep up the pathetic charade that I actually spoke French.
I didn't want to see the look of disappointment on the waiter’s face. He went on. "J'ai dit, Qu'aimeriez-vous boire? Café? Bière? Il y a quelque chose mauvais?".
We continued to stare blankly. I panicked and said, "Bon". His face dropped, "Do you speak English?"
"Alright, then, I'll speak to you in English".
After dinner we were standing in line to buy tickets for the metro, still laughing about what happened in the restaurant. The ticket woman was scolding an Asian tourist. She was yelling and seemed to be giving directions in a slur of English and French. Uh. Oh, We're next, I thought. We don't know where we're going, we're wearing big cowboy hats and there's an endless line of angry Montrealers trying to get home”.
When it was our turn, I didn't bother with French. The woman was upset. I could barely understand what she was saying. It was like she was cramming English words and French words into sentences that made no sense.“You go.vuex. Ton… end lights.. Je ne moiré…??…until!.. I politely said "Excuse me, St. Catherines, Commo du? Tuna!"
Two people behind us got impatient and decided to yell as well. So there I was, standing in a hot, clammy metro station with three Francophones screaming at me, and all I could think of was what my friend was thinking. He's going to hate me for taking him to a place like this. I released the Clint Eastwood buried deep inside me. "Dangit! Speak English properly or don't speak it at all."
Finally a professor in astrophysics pointed at the sign, St.Catherines Street, this way. What a relief, and what does that have to do with tuna?
Before leaving Montreal, we ordered a steak at some restaurant figuring we had earned it. It was the best steak ever .
I was uphappy with the outcome of the trip. I felt I had failed my friend. Trying to make small talk to lighten the mood, I said, "So, Joey, how did you like Quebec? It was better than the last time I came." I didn't know what to say. "Wait. You…”
He cut me off. "You know, if the French can make a steak this good, maybe they're ok."