J’adore Québec City

The annual Québec Winter Carnival is going on right now in Quebec City. I have never attended, but hearing about it stirred up memories of my trip to the French Canadian city two summers ago. It’s below freezing there now, but in July the weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and warm without being sweltering. Most of the days that I was there, the sky was a nearly-cloudless blue.ImageWhen my two friends and I were deciding where to travel, we considered splitting our trip between Quebec City and Montreal, another city I would like to visit, but we decided to spend all four days in Quebec City. This ended up being a good decision, as we had time to really explore the city and become familiar with the main streets. It ended up becoming a joke because we started recognizing places and people, like the street performer we saw two or three times at different spots.  To our luck, we had also unknowingly booked our trip during the annual summer music festival, so we were able to fully take advantage of the outdoor concerts all over the city.

The Quebec region is special because it is in Canada, but its official language is French. In Quebec City, about 95% of residents speak French as their first language. Many people speak English, but I was surprised to realize that most do not speak it bilingually. Even if they’re fluent in English, you can tell that French comes more easily to them. It was incredible to me that Quebec has been able to preserve its French language tradition while remaining part of Canada. I had often thought of Canada as the United States’ rather similar neighbor to the north, at least culturally. I knew that Canada’s official languages were English and French, but I suppose I hadn’t grasped the day-to-day influence of French there, even outside of Quebec.

During family visits to relatives in Canada throughout my childhood, my cousins and aunts and uncles all spoke English, so my impressions of the country, which is huge and diverse, were formed by these pockets of experience rather than knowledge of actual demographics. When you look at a map of the country, Quebec’s longstanding unique culture becomes less surprising, because the Quebec region is actually very large.

Quebec City is the perfect place for an Anglophone to practice French because people you encounter will automatically speak French to you, but you can fall back on English if you need to or if you’re traveling with English-speakers. I also found that when I spoke in French, people didn’t respond in English even though I don’t speak French like a Quebec or French native. In Paris, francophone Anglophones are not infrequently spoken to in English once the shopkeeper or server hears the hint of an American or other accent. This can be annoying if you actually speak French, especially when the other person doesn’t even speak English well but insists on continuing. In Quebec City, in all but one encounter people responded to me in French without blinking an œil.

At one shop, an employee even asked us if we were from Ontario, which was surprising but delightful. I don’t even know why she thought we might come from there as opposed to elsewhere in Canada or the U.S.—the only thing I can think of is that it’s next to Quebec so maybe they get  lot of visitors from there—but we were a bit excited to get mistaken for Canadians. (For any non-North American who is wondering, I think it’s safe to say that an American or Canadian wouldn’t be able to tell whether someone is from the U.S. or Canada unless that person had a strong regional accent. Or you asked them to write the word ‘color.’)ImageImageImageAn interesting thing about Quebec City is that even though it was the middle of summer and a huge music festival, the city didn’t feel crowded. We had a number of “private tours” of historic sites. I say this in quotation marks because the only reason they were private is that no one else was on the tour. Although the city was lively with visitors, at times it felt like we were the only tourists.ImageImageOne of the highlights of our trip was seeing a free Cirque du Soleil show under a highway. What about that sentence is not extraordinary? First of all, Cirque du Soleil tickets are known to be expensive, but since Quebec is where the circus got their start, they perform free outdoor shows in the summer as a thank you. Secondly, it is under a highway! Seriously. The lights and speakers, not to mention the acrobats, are suspended from the underside of a highway.39.quebeccity.2014g39.quebeccity.2014hWriting about Quebec City hardly scratched the surface—I didn’t even recount the elk burgers, maple cookies, and bubble tea in a can. Or how the soundtrack to our tour of the Citadel of Quebec was Canadian singer Sarah MacLachlan (she was performing outdoors somewhere in the city, and her voice carried to the fort). Suffice it to say I would love to go back in the summer and bike along the vast St. Lawrence River again.39.quebeccity.2014i

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6 thoughts on “J’adore Québec City

  1. I’d like to visit Québec. I have family in Toronto & there’s a Formula 1 race in Montréal, all good reasons to visit 🙂 FWIW, I think I only ever get people replying to me in English in Paris.

  2. This post is definitely a good way to get me to start leaving comments on your blog!

    I really like Québec City as well. If it wasn’t for the horribly cold winters, I could really see myself living there.

    The first time I went was when I was 19 and on a government sponsored programme to learn French in Québec for 5 weeks. In the small town I was sent to, Trois-Pistoles, there were many residents that did not even speak English at all. I visited Québec City for a weekend while I was on the programme and I remember being relieved that I hadn’t been sent there because I heard so much English spoken there (well, compared to my small town). I remember being mesmerised by the cute streets and quaint village feel to it.

    The second time I went with my husband and mother-in-law about 2 years ago. We went during the music festival and honestly, it was the best music festival I’ve ever been to. And free too! I thought that I would be all blasé about it having spent so many years living in Europe, but no, it was just as good as ever!

    During high school I was a big fan of Sarah MacLachlan. I remember listening to her CD over and over again. I even bought a 2nd CD when the first one was scratched and I couldn’t hear a song!

    I went to a post office in Boston once. I got talking to a lady in there and she asked me if I was from Canada! I was so surprised. I have no idea how she knew.

    Next time you go to Québec City you should go to the île d’Orléans. You’ll feel as if you were transplanted back in time! There are so many cabanes a sucre there and they are so delicious.

    Where abouts in Canada do your relatives live?

    • Yes! Victory post. Thanks for commenting.

      That’s cool that you spent 5 weeks in the Quebec region. What a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the language.

      Wait, you also went during the music festival two years ago? If you went in 2012, we were there at the same time.

      Okay, île d’Orléans is added to my list. I’d like to feel transplanted to another time. I also love delicious things.

      At a restaurant in Quebec City, the server said she could tell we were American from our credit cards, which don’t have a chip. As for the woman at the Boston post office, I don’t know…

      They’re from Toronto and near Vancouver.

      Okay, you just made me go and listen to “Ice Cream.”

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