Culture Shock for French in Canada: ‘We Smoke Cigarettes, They Smoke Pot’

Culture Shock for French in Canada: ‘We Smoke Cigarettes, They Smoke Pot’

MONTREAL — “They make rents go up and steal our women.” They “travel in packs of 10 and complain all the time.” “There are too many French people on the Plateau.”

These are some of the lyrics of a song written by Fred Schneider, a 38-year-old advertising copywriter from France, who was belting them out on a recent evening at a thronging bar in Montreal.

The largely Quebecois crowd roared with laughter as the song poked fun at an influx of snobbish, chain-smoking, “know-it-all” French who are “occupying” the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. The area is so replete with French residents, French bakeries and Parisian accents that it is sometimes referred to sardonically by Montrealers as “Nouvelle-France,” France’s former North American colony.

Mr. Schneider, whose self-mocking performances sometimes include singing while dancing with a baguette, is among the droves of French people who have flocked to Montreal in recent years. They are drawn by a quest to find the American dream in the language of Molière and motivated, in part, by economic doldrums back home.

Some Montrealers call them “FFF’s” — French from France.

But as is often the case with old relatives, relations can be complicated. Quebecers and the French sometimes sound like two peoples divided by a common language.

Louis Myard, a politics student at the University of Montreal, whose family moved from Paris to Montreal several years ago, mused that “a Mexican and a Chinese person had more in common than a Frenchman and a Quebecer.”

“We play soccer, Quebecers play hockey,” he said. “We say “diner,” (dinner) they say “souper” (supper); we prefer wine, they prefer beer; we smoke cigarettes, they smoke pot.”

Mr. Myard, 22, said romance in feminist Quebec also posed challenges for young men reared in “machismo” France.

“I have been glared at for opening the door for a Quebecois woman and once called a Quebecois girl I liked, ‘my little baby,’ ” he recalled. “She got very annoyed and said, ‘I am not your baby!’ ”

Salomé Zimmerlin, a part-time French model who came here to study economics at McGill University, said she was initially taken aback by Quebecers using the informal pronoun “tu” rather than the more formal “vous” even when addressing strangers, though she quickly embraced the informality.

Also surprising to her were Quebec expressions such as “ma blonde” — “my girlfriend” — which means “my blonde” to a French ear.

But Ms. Zimmerlin, 23, who started her own unisex fashion brand, “Kafka,” said any culture shock had been more than offset by the attraction of a society she said was far less rigid than hierarchical France.

She said her generation had been galvanized by President Macron, but were frustrated by his inability to deliver on his promises.

“Here I can find a good job, buy a house, am close to nature and have quality of life, and I can still live in French,” she said, adding: “I am angry at France for failing me.”

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