This is a list of 10 things I like about Montreal, Quebec and Canada and 10 things I miss about Dublin and Ireland. They are discussed alternately, beginning with something I like about this place. Let’s go…
Montreal/Canada: Pubs open ‘til 3am, even on a Sunday
“Have you no homes to go to… Can you finish up there please?” The usual GTFO call of barmen at about midnight where I grew up. When my cousin visited here, she left Toronto at about 6pm on a Sunday and set out on the six-hour drive. We still had time to meet up after midnight and get merry. With nobody forced to concentrate their drinking and socialising into narrower time periods, fewer people throw a load of alcohol into their bodies very quickly.
Dublin/Ireland: The Sea
Look, just look! Where I grew up, if I kicked a football from my garden gate it would – after a few hops and a little help from our friend gravity – end up in the salty goodness otherwise known as the sea. Obviously I never did kick a ball into the sea, at least not on purpose. Rivers are a poor substitute, especially when they’re frozen five months of the year. I miss the smell, the sounds and the visual beauty of the sea. And I miss swimming in it. The last time I enjoyed swimming in a river was in Ghana, almost two years ago.
Montreal/Canada: Integrated public transport at less than $3 a day
You have a card that cost $6, once off. You pay $72 per month or $22 per week to use four metro lines and all public municipal buses. That’s under $3 per day or around €2, cheaper than a single journey ticket from Dun Laoghaire to Dublin city on the DART. The LUAS lines in Dublin do not even meet up and you can’t buy integrated bus-rail tickets. The Montreal metro comes every five minutes or so except for the wee hours when it’s about every ten minutes. Did I mention it runs into the wee hours?
Dublin/Ireland: Living in a place where people like football
At the pub in which I work at weekends, the kitchen staff finish their preparation work at around 10.30am, leaving a good hour for us to sit and watch the football from England on the TV in the bar before opening. They don’t have much of a clue though. Say, for example, it’s Bolton versus West Brom, they might ask: “Is this Champions League?” Or maybe it’s Man Utd against some other lot: “So does Rooney score all the goals for Manchester?” I suppose I’m the same when I watch (Ice) Hockey, but I miss watching football with people who know what is going on.
Montreal/Canada: A walk in the country in the city
Montreal, as the name suggests, has a mountain (more like a large hill) smack bang in the middle of the city. My former housemate used to bring her skis on the walk to school in winter, and the walk up the south slope through the snow is a lot of fun. I can’t vouch for summer yet, but it seems like a perfect short hike to walk off a hangover. Few cities have such a wonderful natural amenity in their city centre.
Dublin/Ireland: Taking the piss out of each other
If one stereotype is true about Canada, it’s that people are nice. Frustratingly so. Let me make my point by way of anecdote. About two months ago I went to Quebec City with a friend that I had met for the first time three days previously. We had got along well but we both knew that there was a giant elephant in the room – neither of us actually knew each other much at all. When we got out of the car – a rideshare – my new friend went searching for his money in his bag. A slight panic set in when he could not find the $200 he swore he put in there before leaving. It was a large enough bag packed with loads of things and I had seen him put the money in there earlier, so I was sure he would ultimately find it. “Ha! Man, you are useless!” I said. What I was suggesting here by saying this was that I now felt comfortable enough in his presence to be able to take the micky out of him. It was me saying ‘we’re friends now’. Unfortunately, he took it as me being frustrated and nasty, meaning that I had to explain that in Ireland, friends spend their whole lives telling each other they are useless or fuckin’ eejits. Canadians do not do this.
Montreal/Canada: Respect for cyclists
450km of cycle paths. A public bike system with over 300 stations. Cyclists generally rule to roost here and, as a reluctant driver and four-time driving test failure, I think this is great. Now that the snow has disappeared I can get out and cycle to work and around the mountain.
Dublin/Ireland: Proportional representation
Ireland should not be held up as a beacon of leadership in how to compose a just electoral system, but this first-past-the-post thing over here is slightly ridiculous. Take for example this week’s federal election; a slight national shift to the left has resulted in a more solid right-wing government. How does this happen? The centrist Liberals lost ground to the centre-left NDP as well as some votes moving to the centre-right Tories. With vote splitting occurring between the Liberals and NDP, the Tories won more seats and a majority government without significantly increasing their vote. Counter intuitively, the Tories were delighted with a surge in support for their ideological opposite, and that’s just wrong. In Ireland the makeup of Parliament is proportionally closer to the will of the people.
Montreal/Canada: Classified ads
North America has realised before any part of the world that classified ads are now free to post and offer a new way of getting stuff done. If I need a lift (“ride”) to another city, it’s cheaper at short notice to get a rideshare from someone on craigslist than to get a bus from a bus company. And you can also buy THINGS. So far I have bought a lamp, a microwave and a teapot through classified ads, at a much reduced cost.
Dublin/Ireland: Playing football on grass, outdoors
With snow guaranteed to cover the ground for five or six months of the year (I just watched the weather forecast and there were snow warnings. In May.), football is played on synthetic surfaces, usually indoors. There seem to be no grass fields for football anywhere near the city. I suppose that, with land value being higher, having a piece of land redundant for half the year makes no sense. That said, I really do miss playing on soggy grass fields in Ireland. And old habits are dying hard; I’ve got cuts on my legs from slide tackling on synthetic grass. Indeed, going in for a slide tackle – one of my favourite things to do during a game – is seen as a bold move here that instantly gives the tackler a degree of respect among other players. ‘Watch out lads, this fella is prepared to bleed to get the ball back.’
Montreal/Canada: Tense political atmosphere being played out without violence
In case you did not know, about 40% of Quebecers want to separate from Canada. This is naturally a sensitive area and, unless invited into a conversation on the subject, I generally avoid the issue while in social settings. Comparisons with Ireland are made, and I have been asked how I can explain the perceived double standard of supporting an independent Ireland as well as Quebec’s continued role within Canada. Whatever the case, I’m just glad – if not a little impressed – that this tension is carried out on a political level through democratic means. The number of dead during “The Troubles” in Ireland is measured in the thousands. The last time that a politically-motivated death was directly due to Quebec’s constitutional status was in October, 1970, when a provincial cabinet minister was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ. I find it amazing that extreme violence has not resurfaced since then.
Dublin/Ireland: Dairy products
The butter here is tasteless and white-ish and the fat content of milk is measured in low percentage points, the highest being 3.25%. I miss fatty churned goodness.
Montreal/Canada: Choice of beer in bars
When it comes to booze, the Irish are probably the most unwaveringly loyal and conservative bunch in the world. Walk into a pub and you see Guinness, Smithwick’s, three or four very similar lagers and maybe, if you’re lucky, one other choice. The pub I work in here has something like 22 different beers on draught and the bottles we keep in the fridge are different to those available at the taps, making about 30 in all. This is standard. Most pubs will also stock some local beers as well as imports, and there is a healthy respect for micro-brewing that sadly does not exist back home.
Dublin/Ireland: Being able to use Irishisms with impunity
Ireland is more like a big family, more so than its inhabitants realise. Like the best friends or siblings that have in-jokes that nobody else gets (“we see things they’ll never see” /Live Forever – Noel Gallagher), Ireland is full of euphemisms and lines that cheer us all up from time to time. Towards the end of the winter here I trained with a local rugby team, ostensibly to keep fit, but really to try and make some friends. (The latter mission failed and, after going to a wedding in March, any fitness benefit was soon lost.) The men’s team trained after the women and, as is normal with a group of men, conversation came around to which (if any) of the ladies were attractive. “She has a nice ass,” said one of the Canadian lads and, like an unconscious reflex, I said “they all have lovely bottoms”. Perhaps they hadn’t seen Father Ted, and perhaps it’s no surprise I didn’t make great friends there. Another phrase I use more consistently is to ‘give out’ to someone, meaning to reprimand them. Here, among certain people to ‘give out’ means to pleasure someone orally. Oops.
Montreal/Canada: Gay marriage
I’m not going to get into my argument for gay marriage here because that’s an essay in itself. Suffice to say I support it, and passionately so. It’s not an issue here, because it exists. When I was born, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Ireland. Take note, however, that this is not a Canada-wide thing. Same-sex marriage is only legal in Yukon, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Vive le Quebec.
It just arrives far too late here. Snow all through March and, as I said above, snow warnings for tonight. At least summer is meant to be longer, warmer and more reliable than Ireland.
Montreal/Canada: Music, shows, gigs
Young people go to gigs here en masse. And not to Justin Bieber or Coldplay, but to small gigs in dingy little places. People take each other’s recommendations and check stuff out. And it’s cheap. A lot of the stuff here at the moment seems to be electro and dubstep, a genre I can’t get into despite my best efforts, but there’s other stuff going on too. And lots of it.
Dublin/Ireland: Knowing where to go to get stuff
A haircut, for example. Anyone who has ever hung out with me knows that I like to take care of my hair. It’s my not-so-secret succumbing to vanity. A week before I went to my brother’s wedding in March, I went to get a haircut. Not knowing where to go, I went to a local barber. I asked him to use scissors and he ran a razor over me. I asked him to leave my sideburns and he cut them to the top of my ear. Then he ran a straight line across the back of my neck at the hairline with a raw blade. The cut was all wrong and, when I got home, one of my friends said ‘you need to find yourself a new barber.’ Two things came out of the ordeal: I took to wearing a hat and it was the only time I have not tipped for service since I got here. A few hours before returning to North America, I went to a barber in Limerick and asked for a rescue mission, which was successful (note: Johnny’s in Annacotty). I’m due a haircut very soon and am trying to find a place that won’t fuck it up. (Note #2: the place that DID fuck it up was ‘Athens’ on St Laurent, photo below.)
Montreal/Canada: Proper debate over healthcare
We’re too passive back home about the state of our health system. Canadians and Quebecers demand more and, with healthcare ultimately being a political issue, they usually get it. Fair play to them.
Dublin/Ireland: Tea, being offered tea, and being served tea in an appropriate fashion
I drink a lot of tea because it’s delicious. When you go into someone’s house in Ireland, you’re offered tea. This is one of our strongest and most brilliant national traits, and long may it continue. When I enter a home here, I might be offered juice or water. I want tea! Restaurants and pubs are worse; they serve you a vessel – sometimes a glass – of non-boiling water with a tea bag on the side. Two things: the water should be boiling and it should hit bag, not the other way around. Otherwise you have to squeeze the bag to within an inch of its life (figure of speech, people) for five minutes in order to get a weak cup of tea. When I was in Quebec City, I asked for tea in a cafe and was served green tea. ‘Do you have any black tea?’ I asked in French. ‘Earl Grey? Breakfast? Anything?’ Nope.