Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Montreal, etc.
A real travel addict, I was born and raised in Switzerland, and from early childhood understood that borders are meant to be crossed. As such, I have always hoped to have a chance to live and work abroad, and when I was offered a job in Montréal in 2009, I didn't think twice. Unlike a classic emigrant, I have not left Europe with the notion of never going back. And yet here I am five years later – still enjoying life in la belle province.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Only a few months after I'd arrived in Montréal, a friend from university visited and suggested that I start blogging to keep friends and family appraised of what's happening in the life of le p'tit Suisse overseas. Since then, my blog has become both my personal diary and, hopefully, a somewhat entertaining lecture for my readers.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
This is a tough one – my blog serves as my diary, and reading any of my older posts brings back a wealth of memories and emotions, not all of which may be obvious to the casual reader. So I'll pick two: An older one from 2010, talking about how one builds a new sense of home, and a light-hearted one showcasing some of the cultural challenges that any expat will be familiar with.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Montreal differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
In many ways, French Canada is an ideal half-way house between the values and culture of Europe, and the free-wheeling openness of North America. As such, it was enough of a challenge to be interesting, yet offering enough familiarity to avoid culture shock. I especially appreciated the open minds, and arms, of the Canadians I have met: Conscient of the fact that they all have some immigrant roots, they are much more open to new arrivals than certain Europeans would be. They were curious to know why I came and what I brought along, rather than telling me how to behave and when to leave. It made for a refreshing and encouraging start.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Montreal? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
By pure coincidence, I'd spent a summer taking French classes in Montréal some ten years prior to immigrating. In hindsight, that greatly helped me imagine and anticipate what my new life would look like, and prepare accordingly. I also had a good friend in town who offered invaluable help in the run-up of the move, and the first months after it.
Most things went smoothly, but if there is one thing I'd do differently next time, it would be to bring less stuff. I'd shipped half a container of goods, but I've since seen people arrive with nothing but two suitcases of clothes – and be just as well.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I was led to believe that Canada had adopted the metric system (as any civilized country should, dear friends south of the border! :-) ). Don't be fooled by what the law says. Food is still sold by the pound, and when I applied for my Québec driver's license, I was asked to state my height. Giving it in centimeters resulted in rolling eyes and a deep sigh on behalf of the clerk, who drudgingly converted it to feet and inches and lectured me on it.
When I got my license issued a week later, it stated my height in centimeters.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Montreal?
- If you come from a country with a temperate climate, expect much more pronounced extremes of both sweltering summer heat and freezing winter cold in Montréal. But know that the city has learned to cope exceptionally well with both, and infrastructure and gear to let you live comfortably are readily available.
- If you have a choice, avoid to move into your new place on July 1st. Why, you ask? That's why.
- If you don't speak French, but would like to learn it, bring steely resolve. In downtown Montréal, even the panhandlers are bilingual, and as soon as people notice that you are not a native French speaker, they will switch to English to help you out. Staying true to your intention of practicing your French can be hard when you're continuously invited to cheat. Taking weekend trips into the countryside is a wonderful fix for that – you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who can even speak a word of Hanglish. But your every attempt at French will be rewarded with a smile (and ideally, maple sugar pie).
How is the expat community in Montreal? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
For the first few years here, I did not focus on meeting any expats at all. Instead, I really enjoyed making Québecois friends, and getting to know language, culture and city through them. I can definitely recommend this approach, for I found that it offers a different perspective on a place than the one a typical transient expat gets to experience.
It was only in 2012 that a friend put me on to InterNations, which has since brought me many new friendships from the large and vibrant expat community that I would not want to miss. I've also participated in a few MeetUp groups, which offered a good mix of both pure laine Quebeckers and recent arrivals, united by a common interest.
How would you summarize your expat life in Montreal in a single, catchy sentence?
Honi soit qui mal y pense.