I Moved From Ontario To Montreal Without French & These Are The Things I Did Not See Coming

At the age of 18, I packed my bags and moved from Pickering, Ontario, to Montreal to attend McGill University.

I had no idea what a culture-shock poor little me was in for, and as I reflect back on the experience almost ten years after finishing my undergrad, there are certain things I wish I had known before heading out on my own to La Belle Province.

From learning how to handle my wine (the drinking culture is very strong in the city!) to low-key feeling like I was wandering around Europe, here are some of the things that I truly did not see coming:

Bring Your Own Wine

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

I'll start with the tidbit that blew my poor lil' 18-year-old mind — you can bring your own wine to a lot of restaurants with no extra fee. Lemme say that one more time, but louder: YOU CAN BRING YOUR OWN WINE TO RESTAURANTS FOR FREE!

As a broke student, it was all kinds of exciting to be able to stop by the dep (more on this later) and pick up a cheap one-litre bottle of Wallaroo Trail (iykyk) and head out for a fancy-ish dinner without breaking the bank.


Before moving, I thought my French was pretty OK. Like most Ontarians, I took French from Grade 4 to 9 and then continued my lessons until my first year at McGill.

During my first-ever trip to the Tim Horton's at the corner of Sherbrooke, when the cashier said "bonjour hi," I foolishly responded with "bonjour."

If you cannot speak fluent (and I mean fluent) French, do not say bonjour. You're wasting everyone's time and the cashier does not want to hear you struggle through your cute little "est-ce-que je peux avoir... um... un cafe... avec... sugar." Just swallow your pride and say "hi" so everyone can get through their day.

The Dep

Some of my fondest memories of Montreal involve the dep, which is short for dépanneur. The dep is essentially a convenience store, except they sell wine (!!!) and there's one on pretty much every other block.

It basically stocks everything you need for a night-in without the hassle of going all the way to the grocery store when you're feeling extra lazy. Booze, chips, pads — you know, all of life's necessities.

It's So Freaking Cold

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

I grew up in the GTA so I thought I understood what it means to be cold. I was wrong.

The chill in Montreal acts like it has a personal grudge against you and is trying to pierce your soul. I distinctly recall shivering away in my dorm room in Upper Res and emailing my mom to tell her I needed some industrial-grade snow gear for Christmas.

I don't know why exactly it's so cold, but it's unlike anything I've experienced anywhere else in the world. Don't even get me started on the wind chill. And the snow. And the black ice.

Cinq à Sept

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

Did I mention that this city loves alcohol? 5 à 7 is Montreal's version of happy hour, and it was pretty common for bars to have discounted drinks on certain days between set times.

After a hard day of classes and slogging through the snow, nothing beats discount beverages with your besties before going home to do your readings. Maybe other cities across Canada have happy hours as prevalent as Montreal's, but I doubt they're as good.

The Old Port

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

I had no idea that visiting the Old Port feels like stepping into a European city. From cobblestones that'll break your ankles if you're in heels, to the most delicious pastries in the world, le Vieux-Port blew my teenage mind.

Years later when I did eventually visit Paris, I found the atmosphere and bon vivant attitude to be very much the same as that of Montreal. Shout out to the Olive et Gourmando meal pictured above for changing my entire understanding of sandwiches, truly just *chef's kiss.*

Big University Rivalry

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

There are quite a few post-secondary schools in the city, and they all seem to hate each other. I don't think this rivalry exists in Toronto between UofT, York, and Ryerson, but saying you're from McGill or Concordia when in the opposing school's territory would definitely end in you being heckled.

The war cheer lyric of "I'd never wipe my ass with a Concordia degree" is something that will live on rent-free in my brain for the rest of my life.


I don't know how I managed to sleep on this one for so long, but y'all, smoked meat is so damn good.

Schwartz's is an institution in the city and there are regularly long line-ups outside of the store. Simple yet delicious sandwiches piled high with meat and finished with mustard is truly a thing of beauty. And the pickles! I'm salivating just thinking of it.

Java U

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

In my hometown of Pickering, there were two Second Cup locations that my friends and I used to frequent. If you wanted to get fancy, you had to drive to Ajax to go to the Starbucks in the Chapters building.

Little did I know that a coffee chain called Java U would blow these two spots way into last place for me. The coffee is delicious, the food is amazing, the Wi-Fi is always reliable, and you can always find a plug for your laptop, which is key when you're a student.

The Vibes

Sarah Rohoman | Narcity

At the end of my undergrad, I packed my bags up and headed home to Pickering. Shortly after that, I moved to London, Ontario for my graduate degree and then eventually moved to Toronto, but nowhere I've lived has ever matched up to the lively vibes of Montreal.

I've been back to visit a few times and desperately tried to hit up all my favourites spots during a weekend, but it's just not the same as living there. It was an absolutely random and wild four years of my life, but I wouldn't trade it for anything (even a Schwartz sandwich!).

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

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