A Question for all ye Québecois Dopers

I debated whether to put this in GQ, but it’s more of an opinion thing so I stuck it here in IMHO. As always, the Almighty Mods may feel free to huck this puppy to a different forum if need be.

Here’s the situation: Sometime in the next couple of years I’ll be leaving my scholastic exile here in Orange County clutching undergraduate degrees in French and Linguistics. It is my fervent hope to go into a career in translation, but there is one flaw in this plan: I can’t speak French for crap. Read it, understand it, to some extent write in it, sure. But speak it? Ech.

So, in order to actually get any use out of my French degree, much less translate professionally, I need to learn to speak it fluently. The only way to do this, is to go someplace francophone and try to become less of an “américaine stupide.” I’ve considered studying abroad in France, but this seems a bit unpractical at the moment and, to be honest, quite terrifying for someone who’s barely left her own state, much less the North American Continent.

My current plan, then, is to spend some time in Québec after graduating. Maybe work there, maybe go to grad school or something, pick up a Québecois accent to match my American accent. Being American, though, I know exactly jack about Québec, so I’m looking for input on this plan. What d’you guys think? How are the local universities? How many people will actually continue to speak French with me after hearing me massacre the language? How’s the job market? Am I smoking crack?

Well, speaking as a Montrealer…

What will render your puny French degree useless, foolish mortal, is joual, the French-Canadian dialect. A crazy mixture of Napoleonic slang and appropriated Anglicisms renders the day-to-day language of a typical Francophone completely opaque to someone who has spent hundreds of hours learning how to properly conjugate the 16 “être” verbs.

On and around the island of Montreal, you should be able to get by, as well as in the touristy areas of Quebec City. I make no promises for the more rural areas of the province. Overall, simple Canadian politeness should keep all but the most drunken locals from insulting you (in sharp contrast to, say, Paris, where asking directions is practically a blood sport).

The local universities are actually okay. We have the world famous McGill and the somewhat less famous but still charming Concordia (my own school). Those are English institutions. On the French side are the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) and the University of Montreal (try not to confuse the two; I think it upsets them).

The job market for an imported American is pretty slim, unless you’re a qualified stripper. You can probably find work at any of the local McDonald’s restaurants (number 4000 is right here in Montreal - it has a plaque and everything).

If you get lonesome for the good ol’ USA, we have access to all your television networks. I’m sure scott and matt will be along presently to get anything I missed.

Dragonblink, I did much the same thing that you’re thinking of doing. I’m a purebred anglo from the Prairies, and although I had a good foundation in French grammar, vocabulary, etc., I wasn’t fluent - so I spent a year at a Quebec university.

But, I would recommend that you don’t go to a university in Montréal. They’re fine universities, and you’ve got a choice of four of them, as Bryan explained, but the drawback is that Montréal has a large population of bilingual citizens, both anglos and francos - so it’s just too easy to avoid speaking French. If your ultimate goal is to become fluent, I’d stay away from Montréal. Instead, think about doing a year at a university in one of the centres outside Montréal. Once you’re away from Montréal, the bulk of the population is francophone, and the incidence of bilingualism is lower. It forces you to use French, which is what you want.

I spent my year at Université Laval, in Québec City. Aside from a few anglos, almost all the students I met were francophones, and even if they were bilingual, they would normally speak French to me. Plus, Québec City is a beautiful, historic city, with a completely different feel to it than Montréal. You could spend most of your time there, leaving Montréal for the occasional wild weekend. :cool:

Another option would be Université de Sherbrooke, in the Eastern Townships. Sherbrooke is another primarily francophone town. It’s got more of a rural setting, and is close to both Montréal and Québec City, so you’d be able to experience both cities. I had a great time at U de S.

Hope this helps. I’d certainly encourage anyone who’s got the time and inclination to spend a year in Québec, whether Montréal, Québec City or elsewhere.

I’m not sure whether you’d truly be able to avoid French in Montreal. You certainly would have to try.

Hmm… I’m not sure what else to say that hasn’t been said. The job market isn’t too bad from what I know, then again all my friends work in the tech industry.

I don’t know if I would dismiss Montreal so quickly, especially if you prefer to hang out in the big city. If you are somewhat careful, you can be immersed in monolingual French. I would recommend UQAM, and (from experience) moving in with a Québécois person. Living with Éric, I went from well-intentioned anglo to fully bilingual montréalais in all of six months. But good arguments are to be had for Quebec City.

And do not be alarmed by joual. You won’t have much more difficulty with it than someone who’s learned (say) international Spanish dealing with everyday usage in Mexico or Argentina (or Spain, for that matter).

Furthermore, I think you should embrace the chance to learn Québécois! A lot of people have this weird inferiority thing about Québécois, which I frankly fail to understand and am doing my best to counteract.

By dint of the politics of being a French island in North America, Québécois is at the cutting edge of international French in dealing with things like computer terms, bureaucratic terms, and nonsexist usage.

And the cuss words will burn your eyebrows off.

taking frantic notes

Thanks for your input, O Wise Dopers … I have some time yet, but I’ll start looking around at the places you’ve suggested.

“If you prefer to hang out in the big city” … heh. I’m a die-hard Angeleno, definitely used to the big-city life. This is not to say that I wouldn’t learn a lot from someplace less urban, but – well, to be honest, I’m a tattooed Pagan. How well would that fly in the more rural areas?

Moving in with a Québecois person would be an excellent idea, but I also worry about moving in with someone I don’t know, zillions of miles away from my family (well, okay, so I have some relatives near Rochester, but that ain’t that close). Any suggestions on how to meet up with decent potential roommates? (keep in mind this’ll be about two years from now, but it’ll probably take that long for me to muster up my courage anyways)

And I dunno if I’m gonna get shot for asking this ( :smiley: ) but are there any Starbuckses around? I know there’s some in Canada somewhere, all the stuff is labelled bilingually, and since I already have a job Wearing The Green Apron, a transfer might be a good way of ensuring employment. Though if I can work on those stripper qualifications …

Well, there are at least 2 Starbuckses (Starbucki?) on the island of Montreal, at:

1171 STE CATHERINE O MONTRÉAL QC (514)843-4418


But stripping and lap-dancing is where the serious bucks are.

There are many more Starbucks than that (including the airport, but there are literally scores of Van Houttes which are just as good, maybe better. About Quebec City I know less.

It is certainly possible to live in Montreal and never speak a word of French. And it can be hard to get people here to continue speaking French. I have seen people wearing buttons that say, “Parlez francais, s.v.p.”. And if you persist, they will oblige. The hardest problem is learning to hear it. This is true for standard French too, but I think it is worse here. And the sound is quite different from standard French. The standard language is supposed to lack accented syllables, although to me it sounds like some accent on the last. In Quebec, there is a strong tendency to an iambic pattern, similar to English.

Don’t imagine you could get into translation here. First place, there are several hundred thousand totally bilingual people here. Second, translation is a specific skill and just being totally bilingual does not make you a translator. McGill does offer a translation degree, but I imagine that the other three universities do too and I do think that you would be best served by one of the French universities. But the suggestion of going to Laval or Sherbrooke is sound.

Okay, here’s something unusual you may want to try.

Move to Florida. Thousands of Quebecois head down to Florida every winter. You can even get French newspapers, and French TV piped down straight from la Belle Province.

But as for being a tattooed Pagan-- sorry, but those aren’t allowed. You’ll have to pretend to be a Hell’s Angel member to be accepted :wink:

As a french canadian, i can tell you it’s hard in Montreal to be submerged in french quebecois culture… not impossible though. As for jobs, i would have to go with working with the public (waitress or service person whatever the PC term is)…

And i know for a fact there is a Pagan community in Montreal (i don’t know how large it is… but it’s there… i don’t know about elsewhere in Quebec…

I understand they have a few positions opening up.

Good one Bryan :smiley:

Not planning on it. Ideally, I’d like to do translation work in my beloved Los Angeles; failing that, just about anywhere in the States.

Or maybe I’ll just man the espresso bar 'till the end of my days. :slight_smile:

We love tattood pagans here!

We’re very accepting people as the oppressed and slighted who flock here from around the world and find a place in society will attest. Vive la différence!

Don’t worry about joual it’s a stereotype. Québecois speak good French and don’t punctuate every sentence with a swear word. To compare, I’ve been in L.A. for almost a week now and have yet to hear anyone say “omigodddd, gag me with a spoon”…:rolleyes:

As mentioned, there are many, many fluently bilingual people in Montréal. Frenchies take heat for using English words when speaking French, but Montréalers often do the opposite when speaking English instead of searching for the mot juste (see?) and slowing down the conversation. Yet when this happens, nobody critiques their English skills. Welcome to Bilinguo-Double-Standard-World.

As much as I’d like to encourage you to come to Montréal and show you the sights, (you’re a hottie, I checked :wink: ) you’ll have to be stubborn to immerse yourself in French here. Québecois openness to the world is a double-edged sword. My Japanese employers recently complained that we can be cloyingly accommodating, always opting for sushi and sake when they’re coming to lunch with us.

Your basic idea is sound though, somewhere people speak French but not quite so foreign as France. We have Starbucks inside of Starbucks just like anywhere else in North America. I think Québec City is your best bet. Unlike Montréal, people there for the most part live and work in French.

Working here: I’m not sure what kind of programs exist that would allow you to work here legally. If you enroll in university, that’ll solve everything visa-wise but the attitude after you graduate is a bit of a cold shower. I’ve been there with American students at McGill and if polygamy were legal I’d have countless American wives. I’m a bit old-fashioned for it, but marrying for visas/citizenship is done here, a lot. Then there’s always the strip joints, as mentioned, a good cash business.

Montreal Pagan Resource Center

See what I mean about being accomodating?

LaurAnge, when I said it was easy to avoid speaking French in Montréal, I was thinking of my own experience when I was first in Montréal. I would speak French, the person I was speaking to would smile (in a “aw, isn’t that cute” sort of way), and promptly switch to English, to accomodate this poor Anglo. In my experience, since so many Montrealers are bilingual, they’re very quick to accomodate, and to use the language that is easier in a particular situation.

And, the Montréalers are very quick to notice the anglo accent. For example, one time I wanted to call home and reverse the charges. I dialed in the number, and the following conversation occurred:

One word. That’s all it took. How much of an accent can there be on “oui”? But she caught it, and switched.

On the other hand, when I was in Quebec City, I’d get the same smile, but they tended to keep using French. Maybe it’s because Quebec City is more sovereigntist or something, or just that there isn’t such a large Anglo population there. But in any event, I used my French a lot more in Québec City than in Montréal. It was much more “sink or swim.”

Did you say “wee” or use the correct Quebec version “mm-waa”?


By the way, Dragon, if you get to Montreal and see a bus with “HORS-SERVICE” written on it, don’t assume it’s full of prostitutes. Just my friendly advice.

I just want to add a bit of support for Sherbrooke here, seeing as its my hometown and all. U.de S. is a good school, and I know a few people studyng there in the languages, and they claim that its very good. Sherbrooke itself is quite francophone, but, I think one advantage for you, Dragonblink would be that there are just enough anglophones in the area to be able to revert to speaking english if you’re having too much trouble in french. The Eastern Townships as a whole are fairly anglophone, with Sherbrooke as the francophone center. And Lennoxville, located just outside of Sherbrooke, is a VERY anglophone community, in case you feel like speaking english. It’s the home of an english elementary, high school, CEGEP and University (Bishop’s), and if you end up there, find time to go to the Lion and have an Amber :slight_smile:

Housing in the area is MUCH more affordable and available than in Montreal (which i understand is currently at a vacancy rate of less than 0.5%). In Sherbrooke, a 2 bedroom apartment, in very good condition, goes for about 400$cdn a month. My cousin is going to McGill next September, and will be sharing a 2bdrm with 2 other people, splitting the cost of the 800+$ rent. It’s a beautiful city, with a great rural area surrounding it, and plenty of things to do. And its only about 1.5 hours away from Montreal, so you can still very easily go up there for shopping or concerts or whatever. Although you did say you prefered big city life - Sherbrooke has a population of about 120 000 (IIRC), so it’s not huge, but, like I said, Montreal is fairly close by.

Or, if you REALLY want Quebecois…consider Trois-Rivieres. Very little english spoken there, bur nice cities nonetheless. If you’re looking for schooling, they have UQTR (Universite de Quebec A Trois-Rivieres). I’m just suggesting this city because my SOs family lives there, and I’ve never had any trouble when visiting (although I am bilingual - I still have an anglo-quebecer accent).