Ottawa vs Montréal: A Day in the Life

We recently hopped over to Montréal for a short back-to-school shopping trip and I couldn’t help noticing again how different Montréal is to a lot of other Canadian cities. It’s a fun city to visit and spend a bit of time in. I’m not sure I could live there full-time, though. Even though Ottawa is less than 2 hours away, they’re very different cities. Though those of you who go back and forth a lot, probably have a better insight on this than I do, here are some of the differences that always strike me, the occasional visitor:

  1. People in Montréal dress better; with more style, flair and imagination.
  2. People in Montréal smoke a hell of a lot more. I inhaled more second-hand smoke there in a day than I have in Ottawa over the last year.
  3. The food in Montréal is amazing. We barely had time for shopping between meals and snacks. So many great eateries. So many eatables.  So little time.
  4. People in Montréal eat all day long. From 11:00 am until way into the night, the restaurants, bistros, and cafes are packed. In Ottawa they all close up for most of the afternoon and many of them shut down mid-evening.
  5. Montréal people walk up and down escalators. They don’t just stand there sluggishly enjoying the ride. In fact, they seem more active in general. More people take stairs. People don’t gather in clumps waiting to go through the one door that someone has already opened when there are several other doors available for use if only you had the energy to walk over and open it. And, people walk really fast in Montréal.
  6.  There aren’t as many obese people in Montréal. (Or maybe their stylish clothes help to disguise their figure flaws?).
  7.  Men, in Montréal look at women with appreciation — all women, young or old.  It’s always disconcerting at first to be looked at and smiled at so intently – and to be flirted with by waiters and store clerks and even panhandlers. In Ottawa and every other Canadian city I’ve been in over the last 20 years, I’m pretty much invisible.
  8. Traffic signs and lights are only suggestions in Montréal.
  9. Ottawa is cleaner. Montréal seems kind of grubby in general. I don’t know what it is. Maybe because the buildings don’t look well maintained. Maybe because there’s lots of garbage around.  Maybe because the people are so dazzlingly good-looking that it makes the environment pale by comparison. I do know that all those sexy “laps dancing”, “nudes dancers”, and “pleasuring toys” shops don’t help the general ambience much.
  10. Everybody in Montréal seems constantly to be involved in intense conversations involving a lot of arm-waving and hand-flapping. In Ottawa you can see people sitting together in restaurants or walking together down the street without talking at all.

26 responses to “Ottawa vs Montréal: A Day in the Life

  1. I’m glad you had a good time. And I find it interesting to see your take on Montreal.

    I’m not sure how stylish we are but you’re right about the traffic signs and lights…

  2. did you mimic a French accent when you were there?

    i loooove montreal. so fun, stylish. i feel a little frumpy when i go there and always want to revamp my wardrobe.

  3. I’ve only been to Victoria and I loved it (I’m a West Coast girl), and I would love to go to Montreal one day. I have a very good friend who split his time growing up between Montreal and Paris and from what I understand, Montreal is almost like a mini Paris. Ooh La-La!

  4. Jazz – Definitely stylish. Both men and women from all walks of life dress with aplomb. From the hair — which is for the most part very natural, to the shoes which are very unnatural, but still seem suitable for walking long distances and up and down stairs.

    Dr. Monkey – It IS fun. All of Canada is fun, in fact. One day we should do a Canada/US comparison — somehow.

    Meanie – Funny you should ask. I have enough French that I can understand every day conversation and can speak enough (and with a superbe accent) to pass. I like to do that in Montreal and even a the Byward market sometimes. If I’m addressed in French first, I’ll respond in French. One very eager salesman lost me when he went into some very detailed explanation as to the exquisite superiority of his line of women’s shoes or something. I just looked suitably impressed and said Oui or Non once in a while.

    Mo – Really? I’d always heard Quebec City was more Parisian. But Montreal does have a bit of a Eurpean flavour. I guess Montreal is as Parisian as Victoria is some smaller English city. Come for a visit some time and we’ll do Montreal.

    Bob – Definitely. And it’s so great to have it so close now. I didn’t even learn to appreciate Montreal until I lived in Halifax. For Haligonians, Montreal is the next closest big city and destination of choice for a weekend getaway. In Ottawa, we’re lucky to be so close to Montreal and not too far away from Toronto. And, of course, they’re lucky to be so close to Ottawa!!

    Aggie – Was it you who mentioned this point once on your blog? I know someone did and I remember nodding my head in an “oh ya” fashion. And they do it in an absolutely respectful way. I always felt like a tramp when I was younger and Ontarian sleezebag males made kissy noises and shouted out stupid anatomical things as I walked by. After I turned 25 or so, those guys lost interest and then I slowly disappeared. Certain native Montreal males though can look at a woman with a smile and a nod and perhaps a word or two and make her feel like she is still worth acknowledging. It’s kind of nice. I don’t want to be hit on all the time, and they don’t do that, but it’s nice to be appreciated as a female person. While there are advantages to being invisible, I hate it when waiters just look through you in an exasperated way like they’re expecting you to leave a nice, shiny quarter as a tip because you’re over 30.

  5. Toronto is a great place to visit, but it sucks to live there. Trust me on this: I’ve lived there four times, and couldn’t get out fast enough.

    Vegetarians, keep an open mind when I say “Montréal smoked meat — yummmmm!”

    As for the Canada/US thing, my favourite line contrasting and comparing the two countries comes from Rick Mercer (who else?). Coincidentally, I heard it while attending a Just for Laughs gala hosted by Mercer, in Montréal. “Look at a map. We’re bigger and we’re on top. If this was prison, the States would be our bitch.”

  6. So what are your thoughts on Vancouver? I covet Vancouver. Janie and I talk all the time about how we can manage to move up there one day. It’s so nice and clean and people are so friendly. I love Canada!

  7. Bob – I lived in Toronto for many years. It’s a fine place for a young single person getting started in his/her career. It has many cool neighbourhoods and there’s always lots happening. I don’t think I could live there again, though — but, never say never — and it would depend on what part of Toronto.

    Debra – Well, maybe you could put it on your “to do” list? I’d welcome you with open arms

    Linsey – Canada is great. Parts of Vancouver are clean and nice, but other parts are totally out of control with poverty and homelessness drugs and prostitution. The weather is warmer there than most parts of Canada, but it also rains a lot. It’s probably the most expensive city in which to live in this country, as well. The provincial government is more progressive in some ways than other provinces – environmental policies, health care/alternative health care. A lot of old hippies went there to die and that’s reflected in many of the city’s and adjoining island’s communities.

    NN – Hmmm. I don’t think there’s anything like New York, but I reckon Toronto would be closer than Montreal. Montreal retains more of a European flavour.

    Woodsy – Well, hop on over for a weekend!

    Cedar – Even before you posted in French, I knew you didn’t really mean that.

  8. I lived in Montréal for the first 20 years of my life, graduated from McGill and then Ottawa for 2, before falling in love with an American (of all things!) and moving to Boston. If I had to choose between my two Canadian home cities, it would be Montréal all the way! Love the French culture & language, food, ambience, and lively people! Ottawa was pleasant, but no comparison!

  9. LOL! the arm waving is a french thing. i do it all the time. you dont want to be in a room with all my family. if you arent prepared youll get smacked in the face during a simple conversation about baking.

    i could never live there. i am much happier in Ottawa.

  10. OYH – Thanks for finding me. How does Boston compare to Montreal or Ottawa?

    Jobthingy – Yes, the arm waving thing is also very European. They do everything with just a little more verve.

  11. Boston has a very rich cultural life – so similar to Montreal in that way. It’s a very livable city, so similar to both Montreal & Ottawa. What I love most about Boston — as a medical/science writer — is the astonishingly high-level medical and research resources here. I have been privileged to co-author health books with docs from Harvard Medical School “translating” complex health info for use by ordinary folks like us!

  12. Forgot one BAD thing about Boston — those doughy American bagels! Love those Montreal bagels. Also can’t get smoked meat or decent pickles here. Pastrami just doesn’t do it. In fact, come to think of it, the food is WAY better in Montreal!

  13. I had never been to Montreal in my life, and now I’ve been three times in the last year. I LOVE it. I’m from Toronto, but would take Montreal over Toronto anyday. It just seems way more cosmopolitan. I do like Ottawa, but we are rather stuffy Loyalists. If I moved to Montreal, it would have to be downtown though. The Lion’s mother and brother live out in the ‘burbs. A burb is a burb is a burb. Doesn’t matter which city.

    I am very intrigued by the sex shops right next to the grand churches. Sin and repent, all within a couple feet of each other. It’s great!

  14. OYH – I used to have a big crush on Boston when I was much younger. I can’t remember why — probably something I was reading. I managed to visit a few times and it IS a lovely city. And, no doubt the food is WAY better in Montreal than most places. I would have thought Boston could import NY goods? They’re pretty good at smoked meat and bagels. But then again, smoked meat isn’t very healthy, is it???

    UP – Goes without saying — whatever city you live in, you want to be in the city, not the burbs. The Plateau is THE place to live, in my books.

  15. Number 7 is so true! It freaked me out a bit at first.

    Also, people just seem to be more eager to make eye contact in Montreal. It’s refreshing. The people of Ottawa (and the rest of Ontario it seems) aren’t big on eye contact with strangers… like when passing someone on a sidewalk, or even talking to cashiers or waiters etc. I find it strange.

  16. sorry to quote you nearlynormalized but.. by
    “One has to remember to “keep the puck on the ice” oh, I forgot that is Toronto…”

    .. did you mean keep your stick on the ice? loll

  17. To the person who compared Ottawa to Montreal; you should go back to Gatineau, or Sanguinet Street and stay there; you don’t belong in Ontario..

    Ottawa is a gorgeous little city; yet to be developed but stunted by the overgrowth of Quebec civil servants who “refuse” to leave!