We needed a half-moon.
Since getting engaged last year, my fiancé, Marcin, and I have been busy with such fun projects as wrapping up a 16-month house renovation, managing two stressful jobs, managing two sets of future in-laws (one Southern, one Polish) and planning a destination wedding 800 miles from our home in New York. (Savannah, Ga., if you’re curious.)
We were exhausted. What’s more, we had begun to lose sight of why we were even getting married in the first place. We were bickering far too much. We had become clichés, obsessing about guest lists and budgets and monogrammed napkins. I had gotten to the point where I could not fathom why looking at stationery fonts could be less exciting for him than a night out with the guys.
That’s when it hit me: We needed a half-moon. Admittedly, this is a word I made up. I’m certain, however, that years from now the bridal industry will consider this concept completely essential to the wedding process. We needed a minivacation halfway to our wedding date. Self-indulgent? Perhaps. Completely necessary? Oh, yes.
So we found ourselves in Montreal.
Montreal is unlike almost any other destination, even though its hundreds of years of mixed cultures invites comparisons to many cities. It’s Paris — but closer. It’s Toronto — only more European. It’s New York — just more relaxed. After spending some time there, however, the thing that strikes me isn’t the city’s “Frenchness” or its laid-back vibe. It’s the unique language Montrealers have created for themselves in an effort to not be like all the places from which their ancestors came, to carve out something entirely different. Well, that and the absurdly good-looking locals.
You probably won’t wander too far without encountering a few of these Montrealisms, so consider this a quick guide to living like the locals do, albeit with fewer genetic gifts. Seriously. These people are really, really good-looking.
Let’s say you, like my fiancé and I did, pop into a steak house in Vieux (“Old”) Port and want to order a large amount of food without either dropping a ton of money or looking like terribly unsophisticated tourists. Luckily, you’ll know of a brilliant Montreal culinary tradition called the table d’hôte, meaning? “host’s table.” It could easily translate to “my wallet thanks you.” It’s essentially a prix fixe menu that amounts to a substantially discounted multiple-course meal, and nearly all restaurants in Montreal feature one. It also has the added benefit of sounding much more sophisticated than “extra-value menu.”
Something you’ll find at many of the city’s restaurants is poutine. You might have heard of this specialty of the region, one of the only places on the planet where a mix of french fries, cheese curds and delicious brown gravy is considered a delicacy rather than a recipe for a heart attack. Embrace it: Hot spots like Au Pied de Cochon and La Banquise will leave you craving poutine even if you aren’t brosse — drunk, that is.
It isn’t all food and drinks in Montreal. There’s also incredible art, partying and shopping. You might find yourself in the diverse and eclectic shopping district in Plateau Mont-Royal, in one of the massive underground city’s many malls or along the downtown area’s colorful and crowded high streets. Just don’t forget your loonies. It’s not what it sounds like, of course; it’s cash to Canadians.
A few other terms that might help you navigate this nearly 400-year-old city include:
Été: Summer. It typically lasts from July 1 to 5.
Raison d’être: Montreal Canadiens.
Arcade Fire: Popular indie rock band from Montreal that surprised the music industry when they snagged the Grammy for Album of the Year in February.
Arcade Fire: A fire in an arcade. Best to be avoided.
Of course, being the hospitable, friendly people that they are, the Montrealers you meet will likely just recognize your accent and speak right back to you in your language. In that way, Montreal will make you feel a lot like you’re home. Except it’s much prettier.