Montreal Sucks and Everyone Knows It
The land of no opportunities; a city the world forgot.
Everyone from this once glorious, waste of a cosmopolitan metropolis likes to boast about how there's so much culture here and so many interesting things to do –– but it's all a lie. The only seeming reason why there are unending festivals all year is because people are miserably bored and all they can afford to do is party on weekends to drown their sorrows in booze and drugs. Meanwhile, they're coping with the fact that if they moved to Toronto, they'd make twice as much money and enjoy the same overall cultural joys. Montreal used to be the centre of Canada long ago, but compared to its Western neighbour (which has slowly been luring away multi-national corporation HQs since the 1990s), it has seen little growth in the past fifty years –– save for the golden heydays of 1960 - 1974, when the city was a shining North American jewel and a top destination for worldly travellers.
The city is home to a rich, booming arts scene. I guess when all other prospects for industry are dismal, you might as well slap a fresh coat of paint over the deepening surface cracks and pretend that everything is rosey. Cheap rent will make any city attractive to people who want to dive into their art without having to work on the side. Bedbugs are just something you'll have to live with. Even on paper, this city is a disaster. Of the 22 metropolises in North America with a centralized population of over 2 million, Montreal is the poorest and has half of the Canadian average entrepeneurship per capita. This is primarily because city and province regulations, as well as its taxing system, seem to be intentionally designed to scare away businesses and investors. Montreal's top income earners pay 48.22% personal tax. Yes, Toronto pays almost as much (at 47.22%), but in Montreal that number just went up by 1.75% and kicks in at only $100,000 annual income. This means that almost every skilled professional falls in the top tax tier. It also means that they're easily deterred from living here.
"I grew up being a socialist and I have problems with it because I grew up in Canada [and] I’ve spent a lot of time in Scandinavia, where I believe countries legislate out creativity. They cut off the tall trees. Everyone’s a C-minus. I came to America from Canada because Canada is stultifyingly boring and incredibly hypocritical. Thanks, Canada."
Vice co-founder and ex-Montrealer Shane Smith, who left Montreal in 1998 for Brooklyn, taking Vice with him and never looking back.
Seriously: the infrastructure here is decrepit and is only getting worse. Spending to keep people safe seems to be low on the city's priority list, with Montreal barely being able to maintain Canada's busiest domestic bridge. You could be walking to class minding your own business when:
These scenes are generally followed by a flock of idiots who swarm the abyss trying to get a closer look. Also present: local blogs and news stations thinking this will be the story that warrants their existence. Astonishingly, the above image was taken in the middle of a university campus (Concordia) at one end of the city's main shopping strip (Ste-Catherine St.). The incident was mere weeks apart from another, where a man (also minding his own business) stumbled into a scene that could have come straight out of Looney Tunes: a ton of metal –– literally a sheet of metal weighing a ton –– fell on him. Just another day in Montreal. You could also be driving on your way home to the suburbs when this happens:
Whoops; the roads have a bit of an appetite. They're probably just upset because they don't seem to have been repaved in a while. Construction here likes to cut corners in order for exorbitant public-work contracts to come sooner. It's not borderline criminal; it is actually criminal behaviour. There are corrupt politicians who give away contracts to advance their careers and save a buck; Montreal's two previous mayors were canned after blatantly admitting to kick-back allegations.
Say what you will about Toronto's crackhead mayor Rob Ford, but to be honest, you know a city is on the up-and-up when a complete clown can run a booming megapolis with gusto. Meanwhile, the mob-infested construction industry here is responsible for naming Canada the country with the most corrupt industries in the world. It's all your damn fault, Montreal. You should probably stage a protest about it. You really love to stick it to the man.
Honestly, there are so many protests here that people stuck in traffic have stopped caring. The protesters fail to understand that nobody knows what they're protesting. Is it tuition, is it Plan-Nord, is it the Charter of Values, who knows any more? This brings us to the unavoidable topic of the Charter of Values. Claiming it wants to be a secular state, this province actually plans on firing all public sector employees who wish to wear a religious symbol. Meanwhile, it promote projects like this:
The issue here isn't that the government is spending $210,000 to restore a church; this is a gorgeous historic building that should be preserved, and this project will also create jobs. Rather, the issue at hand is that the above sign translates to "Our religious heritage is sacred to us." So really, how secular do you want to be, Québec? The province is actually restoring the church so that new converted Catholics can burn down their synagogues and start attending mass.
Have you tried finding a family doctor in this city? Expect a minimum two-year wait. Even going to the hospital can be a struggle if you live in the wrong neighbourhood for your language of preference. It goes both ways on that one (French and English can be dis-serviced) and they don't let you visit a regular doctor outside of your borough. I don't mind that all my medical services take place in French now –– I speak French well enough –– but the fact that I live equally close to an English-speaking hospital and have been refused service there is extremely upsetting.
Don't start talking about the police here; they'll arrest you for sitting under a tree and they like to threaten to tie homeless men to poles in extreme cold weather. If you're having some post-party McDicks's, they might even punch you in the face. I once had a police officer start writing me a ticket for J-walking, but when I switched back to speaking French, he said, "Oh, I thought you were only English. Just don't do it in front of an officer again." He was literally going to fine me until he found out that I could speak French. This brings us to the language issues in this messed-up province.
Stifling Language Issues and Profiling
#Pastagate was a thing. They are so strict about the use of French here that when an Italian lounge used "Pasta" in lieu of "pâtes alimentales," they faced a fine. This story propelled language issues into the national spotlight. Establishments in areas where you'd be hard-pressed to find a francophone customer have to hire French-speaking employees because if the language police come in, the business will be heavily fined. Language police are a thing here. How fascist is it that the government puts such an extreme emphasis on policing what language you choose to use? And in their eyes, it's for the greater good of the state.
Of any major city, this is where I've experienced the most continuous racism. In Toronto, and even in New York, people don't try to guess what neighbourhood you live in like they do in Montreal. Maybe that's because there are minorities living everywhere in those cities. Any city in the world you'll have people ask, "Where are you from?" hoping to learn about your background; that's just a universal condition that comes with being coloured. In Montreal, however, they like to know which neighbourhood you live in. If you look remotely coloured, there are times where people will act genuinely surprised if you don't say that you're from Saint-Michel or Montreal-Nord. This has never happened to me in New York. Nobody anywhere in NYC has ever suggested that I should live in a specific neighbourhood; people are free to live wherever they want. Here in Montreal, a third of the population is said to be a visible minority, but you could never tell from walking the downtown streets. It's literally like the city has ghettoized everyone to the outer boroughs in order to maintain a pristine condition for white people and tourists.
The sad truth is that despite the diversity of cultures here (mostly attributed to the debatably cheap and debatably prominent educational system at the university level), the city does not offer enough to sustain interest once one's studies are complete. In this light, the tuition riots seemed to have been barely about tuition at all. Instead, they were a lashing-out by local youth who knew that getting a job after their degree meant years of unpaid internships and no secure employment in sight. Not only do the majority of graduates from outside of Montreal end up leaving the city, but those born and raised in Montreal see little choice but to pack it in and go down the 401, or risk suffering unstable, low-paying jobs while being taxed to death –– taxes that go to pay for this guy's yacht.
Big City, Small Town Mentality
And then, you have that which les Montréalais hold in the highest honour: les Canadiens. The team that has been nothing but mediocre for years is still an extreme source of pride in a sport that is probably fourth most popular of the Big Four. Sure, they are better than the Maple Leafs, but they're not top notch. This year, however, they're having a decent season so maybe we can hope for some kind of crowning comeback. If 1993 was any barometer, it will cost the city money it doesn't have. Let's ignore the fact that Montreal's football team comes and goes like a slideshow, or that we couldn't keep a major-league baseball team firmly embedded in the hearts and minds of citizens (we're talking about the Montreal Expos –– if the name gives you any indication as to when they were conceived). We like to forget that the Allouettes don't even use the stadium anymore because the roof has been broken for years and fails to actually open. But we do have a team with animalistic, two-faced fans who will beat you up in a bar when your favourite team is victorious. Almost any day of the week, you'll see tourists and locals alike wearing Bruins or Leafs memorabilia being verbally harassed with language that they certainly wouldn't use in front of their mothers. Actually, never mind: their Québécois mothers can probably hold their own in a swear-off. At least Youppi is adorable.
I was on the metro the other day politely discussing school with friends when two elderly women began to make comments about the "stupid English that have infested [their] city" and how they "wish Québec would return to being exclusively for the French." They were shocked when four out of the five of us responded in French and told them to keep their opinions to themselves or at least lower their volume so we didn't need to hear it. It would be fine if incidents like this were localized, but in this city, they happen every day.
Speaking of the metro, I actually enjoy that it's blistering hot in the winter months. Too bad this means that during the summer all you can smell is armpit, as there isn't enough anti-antiperspirant in the world to tame the sweat after spending five minutes underground. I suppose the metro system makes sense, except for the fact that people don't seem to grasp the idea of letting people get off the train before you board. Nearly every day, I almost get tackled getting off the metro at Berri-UQAM. I was once pushed back onto the train and forced to ride to the next stop because one not-so-gentle man rushed the doors as soon as they opened. The doors aren't going to close on you, so calm down. How is it that everyone politely lines up for the bus but tries to turn the subway platform into a mosh pit?
Delusions of Grandeur
The metro and its very pleasant train system connects the sprawling neighbourhoods to one another, which is undoubtedly needed as traffic in this city is a nightmare at best. What's funny is how all boroughs think that they are better than the next, as in any city. But in actuality, they're not any better. The girls in LaSalle think they're somehow classier than the girls from St-Laurent, who think they're better than the girls from Saint Leo, who think they're a more colorful bunch than the chicks from the West-Island. They all "go hard" with equal amounts of no class at all. I won't get started on the exceptionally tacky, unfathomably horny bunch that flood in from off-island.
It's no wonder that Montreal is considered one of the porn capitals of the world. There's talent hiding in every corner of every bar and there's more than enough people with little to no other job opportunities. When in doubt, you might as well open up a stripclub on the corner because there will be no shortage of dancers, and no shortage of customers looking to warm up or ask for the back room treatment.
I secretly like the winter here, which is only because you're somewhat close to ski hills and if you can get out of the city, it's fine. Don't sugar coat it, though –– winter blows huge chunks. The cold wind can make it feel like someone is throwing razor blades at your face while giving you a lobotomy. It's never a question of, "Will I fall on the way to work this morning?" but rather, "How many times will I fall on my way to work today?"
I suppose there are some diamonds in the rough. Keep partying strong Montreal, and keep convincing yourself that the laid-back, high-energy vibe of the city is actually productive and good for the city as a whole. But if I get invited to one more after-party on the basis of "Arcade Fire is hosting" and then have to endure three hours of the the most hipster-pretentious conversations imaginable, I might be provoked to violence. So there it is. You can whine about it if you want but we're all stuck here, just trying making the best of the city we call home.
[The views expressed in this piece do not reflect the views of the entire IX Daily editorial staff , they may not even reflect the opinions of the author, but you know that they're all true anyway.]
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