Comparison of life in Montréal, Québec; Vancouver, BC; and Oslo, Norway (apologies to Ernie French)

  Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Years when I lived there 1993-1998 1999-2004 2004-
Population almost 2 million about 1 million about 500 thousand
Population of entire country about 30 million about 30 million 4.5 million
Status Largest city in Québec, second-largest in Canada Largest city in BC, third-largest in Canada Capital of Norway
Dominant languages English, French English, Cantonese Norwegian (Bokmål), Norwegian (Nynorsk)
Feeling Multicultural urban center Multicultural urban center Multicultural urban center
Demographic Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Age of people you see in the street All ages late 20s and up Strictly between 22 and 29
Number of universities 4 2 1
How often you see pregnant women at IKEA Dunno, never been Didn't see any All the time!
Visibly homeless people? Yes, not so many in winter Yes!! year round maybe one or two
Politics Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Ridiculous foreign policy stance Québec should separate from Canada; Montréal should separate from Québec BC is not part of Canada Norway should not join the EU
Ridiculous belief One day we will separate, and when that day comes, we will keep on partying as before Who needs nightlife when there's mountains and beaches I can afford an apartment and a car
Many foreigners? Yes, especially if you consider Anglophones foreigners Yes! Lots of Asians Yes, lots of German tourists in summer
If a foreigner in your store can't speak the local language... Which local language? If they don't speak any Cantonese, try out your rudimentary Mandarin Dust off your high school English. Be appropriately apologetic when you can't remember a basic word like "incontrovertibly" or "mantelpiece".
Locals like white foreigners? Yes, if they speak French. Though not if they actually are French. Yes, as long as they buy something Yes. Would like them more if they didn't constantly take advantage of our excellent English.
Locals like nonwhite foreigners? Depends. It helps if they speak French. No, they drive up the price of real estate. Only insofar as they are willing to do menial jobs for half the market rate.
Free speech Yes, as long as it's in French. Yes, as long as it doesn't offend anybody. Yes, but it's highly taxed. Just kidding.
Elections Every 15 years or so, Québec almost votes to separate from Canada. Montréalers are too busy partying to go vote, so separatists blame the loss on them. Municipal, provincial, federal. Federal? What's that eh? Pass the doobie. Hopefully soon, so they lower the liquor tax
Corruption Qui, moi!? yes (every BC premier in recent history), but don't forget to be appropriately scandalized every time a new scandal breaks Given the taxes people pay, someone better be skimming something off the top
If you are poor, can you ever win in court against a rich guy? Yes Yes It's Europe. People aren't constantly taking each other to court.
Racist nationalists Some Racism? That's not nice. Some
TV/Radio Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
TV English, French, American, one aboriginal channel. You need cable which costs money. Same, less French stuff. Digital cable TV recently introduced. Cable is included in rent. You get a few Norwegian, 2 Swedish, 1 Danish, and several English-language channels. Digital is also available if you pay for it.
# of public channels CBC, SRC, CPAC, maybe local community access channel? Maybe an American one? ditto Most of them are?
Most popular sport on TV hockey hockey ski jumping
Radio English and French. Lots of commercial stations, maybe 4 public ones, several campus radio stations. Public stations have minimum quotas of Canadian content. At least one radio show featuring shouts-out to prison inmates. English, French, at least one Chinese. Lots of commercial stations, maybe 4 public ones, campus radio if you live close to a campus. Public stations have minimum quotas of Canadian content. Mostly crap. However, you can catch some BBC broadcasts on one of the public stations. Also, Radio France Inter seems to have its own station.
Digital radio? Not when I lived there Maybe if you order digital TV Yes, broadcast over the air like analog radio. Haven't tried it yet.
German heavy metal bands on the radio? No Maybe late at night on campus radio Yup
Food Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Food Cheap, plentiful, greasy Expensive, except for cheap sushi and fast-food Chinese. Groceries are also expensive, making eating out justifiable. Exotic Asian supermarkets featuring items like shrinkwrapped pig's uteri. There's not much to do in this town besides eating out so people know their food. Restaurants are really expensive. Supermarkets are small and expensive but the food is decent quality. Fruits and veggies are a luxury.
Sucks if you're not into Lebanese fast food joints Asian cuisine bread, cheese, or fish
Food fad pizza slice price wars "organic" everything balsamic vinegar
Spicy food Yes: great cheap Thai places Oh god yes Um...no
Blue collar daily food poutine (french fries with melted cheese curds and gravy) cheap sushi hotdog from 7-11
Surprisingly good local food smoked meat poutine random Asian fast food place down the street dizzying array of Norwegian candy bars
Terrible local food hey, if it cost less than 1$ what do you want? breakfast at Denny's varmpølse (hotdog from 7-11 or Narvesen) wrapped in bacon
Questionable food trends pizza slices obviously sold at a loss "organic" everything Disposeable barbequeing devices that smell like burning plastic. Especially in the park in the summer when there are 5000 of them going at once.
Foods I ate a lot of at first but then got tired of ridiculously cheap pizza slices Chinese fast food brunost (sweet brown goat cheese, tastes kind of like chocolate)
Foods I ate a lot of and could eat all the time for the rest of my life falafel tuna sashimi pickled herring in mustard sauce
Food you always hear about but people barely ever actually eat 69 cent hot-dog steamé Shark's fin soup lutefisk (gelatinous fish that has been treated with lye)
What you don't have to pay for at a Chinese restaurant tea and fortune cookies tea and maybe a soup or some orange slices water
Fat people Yes, but not so many as in the U.S. Yes, but they rarely venture out onto the street Almost none
Booze Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Pint of beer at a pub 2-3 USD 3-5 USD 7+ USD
Booze sold in grocery stores? Beer, bad wine. Rest sold in government liquor stores. No. Must go to government liquor store. If that is closed, must go to overpriced licensed Beer & Wine store. Many brands of identical tasting pilsner sold in 0.5L aluminum cans with beautifully designed graphics
Government regulates booze consumption? Yes, but it's pretty lax. You can drink in the park provided you also have "food" (case of beer and bag of chips is OK) Yes! Liquor licenses handed out very sparingly. (Vancouver had Prohibition long before the US did.) Yes!!! You can't buy beer after 8PM (6PM on Saturdays, no sales on Sundays). (Norway had Prohibition before anyone else on the planet.)
Drinking on the street If you insist, but other places are more comfortable Yes, by shopping cart people all day. Yes, while moving from one party to the next
Drinking on public transit Yes, but only on St.-Jean-Baptiste day. What public transit? No
Drinking in parks Yes, it's called a picnic No Yes, by groups of marginalized-looking middle aged folks
Alcoholism yes, it's called having a social life yes, but mostly aboriginal people yes, about half the population
Drinking culture Go out drinking every night while your paycheque lasts Not really No drinking during the week, massive binge drinking all weekend
Fake English pubs No, mostly fake Irish pubs ditto Yes! They're called "brown" pubs (coz they're brown, get it?)
Local alcohol product Fin du Monde (strong beer) homebrewed beer Beer smuggled from Sweden
Smoking weed Yes Yes! All the time! Well maybe not at work. No
Talking about smoking weed Yes, to find out who has some Only incidentally. You wouldn't want to offend some foreigner who doesn't smoke weed. No
Work / Play Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Typical amount of vacation time, per year 2 weeks 2 weeks at least 5 weeks
Working on weekends? Yes Sometimes No
When going out at night, you leave the house at round about midnight eight or nine -- early enough to be home before midnight not before midnight
Shopping Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
While waiting for customer to find correct change: hold out hand impatiently Smile, urge customer to take his time hold out hand impatiently
Upon receiving correct change from customer: Take the money, hand out receipt, bag merchandise, move on to next customer Thank customer thoroughly, hand out receipt, bag merchandise Ask customer if he wants a receipt. Give out a bag if one has been paid for.
When asking for a product in a store: Say "please" if you're polite Always, always, always say "please" There is no word for "please"
Customer service? yes (within reason) yes! (apologize to customer even if he's the one who screwed up) no (shrug / look at customer with helpless bewilderment / refer customer to someone who is on vacation)
Girls Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Going up to girls on the street and trying to pick them up Sure, but other places are less awkward Absolutely not Only while drunk
Fashion is important? Yes. Unless recently arrived from English Canada. Yes, but only if she's Asian Yes! Except everybody dresses the same.
sweatpants? No, unless recently arrived from English Canada Yup: baby blue, turquoise, pink. Occasionally terry-cloth. No!!
really tight pants? sometimes no, it's hard to bike or rock climb in tight pants yes!! no such thing as too tight!
Apparent age vs. actual age About the same About the same Apparent age is 5-10 years less than actual age
Stripper bars Yes, lots and lots of them Yes, a handful There's supposed to be one somewhere
Housing Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Need to supply references in order to rent apartment? No Yes No, three months' rent deposit will do
Landlord will fix things when they break? Maybe, if you're lucky No. It's your apartment, you fix it. Yes, immediately
Who is responsible for keeping the building clean? Landlord Landlord You have to wash the stairs on your floor once a week. You can also hire a professional stair washer to do it for you.
Smell of apartment buildings Unmistakeable mushroomy smell, same in every building in the city. Very faint damp smell, marijuana smell Clean plaster/wood smell
Typical apartment building Former elegant bourgeois family home, has seen better days. Wood frame with grey or brown stone out front. Level surfaces somewhat tilted on closer inspection. Steep wooden staircase with wrought-iron railing leading to main floor. Early 1900's? Large 3-level apartment building with 4th level penthouse. Wood frame with chintzy "stucco" or wooden outer surface. All straight edges somewhat wavy on closer inspection. All outer surfaces covered with a thin layer of moss/mould. 1960's. Old-school European apartment building, 5 levels, brick with stucco finish. Neighbouring buildings share messy inner courtyard. Late 1800's?
Favourite weird apartment building feature Hinged, spring-loaded fire escape stairs outside building, automatically swing back up after you walk down them. Can also be used as a porch. Probably don't work for small children, owing to minimum weight required to make them swing down. Toilet in laundry room, useful when you've run out of toilet paper Main entrance to courtyard is paved lengthwise with massive ancient wooden boards
Favourite standard apartment building feature Carved wooden door frames that have been painted over by several generations of cheap landlords, but still manage to look good Lane out back where ratty furniture can be found / thrown out / replaced Stained-glass windows in staircase
Transportation Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Best way to get around town Metro Car Walking
Taxi base cost 60 cents? $1.10? $20
Drivers obey traffic lights etc. Rarely Always Usually
Use right lane except to pass? Sure, whatever Over my dead body! Yes, obviously
Typical car rusty Honda Accord serviceable Toyota 4-Runner New station wagon. Norwegians love station wagons.
Local word for car "char" (literally: tank) "vehicle" (it's not a car, it's a truck!) "bil"
Who rides mopeds: nobody, mopeds are gay aging hipsters riding painstakingly restored Vespas young women riding practical Hondas
Motorcycles? Yes. Enjoy them while it's not snowing Not so great in the rain Yes. Many different kinds of motorcycles, motorbikes, mopeds
Commuting by bicycle is cool because: it costs nothing it's my religion! car drivers must burn in hell! everybody else does it
Trendy bicycle beat-up ten-speed fully geeked-out touring bike expensive mountain bike with full suspension
Trendy bicycle accessory seat $500 rechargeable lighting system fat cable lock
Biking in winter it can be done yes, involves fluorescent yellow rain gear yes, involves studded tires
Drivers respect cyclists? No, drivers respect nothing No, drivers are stupid and incompent and stoned No, drivers are aggressive
On spotting a pedestrian: Accelerate, in case the pedestrian gets it into his mind to attempt crossing Come to a complete stop, in case the pedestrian would like to cross Wait for pedestrian to start crossing, then accelerate rapidly, cutting him off
Street Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Eye contact with people walking towards you? Yes! Absolutely not Only if you're checking them out
Street tables Yes, separated from sidewalk Sometimes, crammed together on the sidewalk Yes!
People selling stuff on the street Yes, in touristy areas Yes, drug addicts selling stolen crap downtown Yes, on the touristy shopping street
squeegee punks Yes Yes, imported from Québec No
Weeds growing on sidewalk Only in marginal neighbourhoods No Yes! Everywhere!
Lanes/alleys Yes, but nothing to do there Yes! Full of perfectly functioning stuff that people got bored of and threw out No
Guys with no shirts on Not so much No Yes!
Society Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Weird local English word "dep" (abbreviation of "dépanneur", convenience store) "parkade" (parking garage) "administrate" (administer)
Violent crime blamed on: biker gangs Hindu gangs Somali immigrants
Fear of the police? Yes, they killed a guy once No Yes, the fines are astronomical
Low-income people Locals: relax. Foreigners: work their asses off Locals: sell stuff they found in the lane. Foreigners: build up vast retail empires from nothing Locals: are invisible. Foreigners: work their asses off, send money home
People with visibly too much money: park their Ferraris outside fashionable restaurants drive their souped-up BMWs to school own new SUVs
Guy haircut rat tail "messy" look via careful application of hair product mid-length hair gelled and combed forward with a ridge raised in the middle. every single guy has this haircut.
Talking in public places Loud and animated Medium-loud Quiet
Would you ever consider living up North? "god no, you could freeze up there" "lived there as a kid, I'm done with that now" "sure, went to college there and it was beautiful"
Cell phones yes yes. double yes if Asian and female. yes!! One for home, one for work, and one for on the road
Ugly people? Some, mainly on Ste.-Catherine E. Lots of really ugly unhealthy looking people: in supermarkets, on buses, everywhere Almost no really ugly people, except on Karl Johann
Employment Montréal, Québec Vancouver, BC Oslo, Norway
Day job of random girl you're talking to stripper environmental consultant social worker
Day job of random guy you're talking to bartender stunt man graphic designer
Jobs hard to find? Yes, but you can live off welfare Not if you're self-employed Yes, and living off welfare will cramp your style
Students survive by working part-time and in the summers working part-time and in the summers and living with their parents taking out massive interest-free government loans
Sketchy jobs people do to make money Pharmaceutical company guinea pig Pot grower/dealer Art thief
Caveat: information about places where I used to live may be inaccurate, because I no longer live there. Information about the place where I now live may be inaccurate, because I haven't lived there long enough. Don't believe stuff you read on the net. Unless you're doing research. Then it's OK.