I can spot one of us in record time. A few seconds are enough to pick out our tense features, jerky movements, machine-gun delivery, or impatience with our progeny. In Montréal’s languor, I can almost see the stress we leave in our wake like vapor trails. However, those who’ve all but forgotten the existence of their homeland, since they’ve been “Montrealed” for so long, probably fly under my radar. And yet: from their years in France inevitably remains a slight emotional distance, a lingering chronic dissatisfaction, a touch of performance anxiety. We come from a densely populated country where we need to fight for a place to sit in the metro or a decent job. “In Paris, you need to stand in line, even for the playground slides,” remembers mother of three Amicie Gardy without a trace of nostalgia; she’s been in Montréal for three years now.
Montréal: a big yet not overcrowded metropolis, dynamic without hysteria, creative but unpretentious. The dream. Between 2009 and 2013, 68.5 per cent of French -people admitted to Québec chose to live there. The French Consulate General estimates their number at 100,000, twice as many as there were 10 years ago.
But can we really call this a French community? Of course, you have what Laure, in Montréal for six years now, calls “dominating expat communalism,” which she observes with her own eyes in Laurier Park every summer once the first warm days of June roll around. And we haven’t even mentioned the streets of Outremont. But she adds: “When French Montrealers meet, they’re quick to discuss their seniority in the metropolis, and how much better they understand Québec than those who’ve just recently shown up. They’re always annoyed by French migrants who haven’t been there as long as they have; they judge them, look down on them.” There are two reasons for that. The first relates to the complex nature of the French spirit, a mix of arrogance and self-hatred. The second is that the French migrant is a mutant. They undergo transformation, year after year, forgetting who they were when they got here, with complete disregard for those who follow in their footsteps.
A few seconds are enough to pick out our tense features.