Can You Have a Good Time in a Country that Speaks a Different Language?

Eileen Sateriale

© Copyright 2017 by Eileen Sateriale


Street scene in Quebec.

Sateriale Family Vacation, August 2001, Quebec City, Canada

Several years earlier our family had visited English-speaking Canada and now we were curious about French speaking Canada. We had our girls, ages twelve and fifteen help us plan the trip. I had taken French in school many years ago and my high class took a trip to Quebec City. Too many years had passed since the last time I’d been and was anxious to return.

The four of us left our home in Maryland and went through New Jersey to New York. We checked into small hotel in upstate New York near the Erie Canal. We could have made it a one-day trip but my husband decided that making it a two-day trip allowed for sight seeing.

The next day we arrived in Quebec City. Getting to the hotel was an event. The roads were not as well marked as those in the United States and with map reading and the help convenience store employees and managers we eventually found our way. However, once we got to the hotel, our tedious adventure was quickly forgotten.

The hotel, Manoir Victoria was elegant and spacious. It was a hotel from the first half of the twentieth century with bellhops and very attentive service. Different from the find it yourself econ o-class hotels. Our bellhop led us to our room with all our baggage stacked on cart. He told us that our car would be stored in the parking garage and that we would have to contact the staff and they would retrieve it. He told us that there were several tours of the city that left from the lobby of the hotel and he answered our questions. From the window we could see the windy, cobble stone streets. To us they looked like a scene from the French countryside.

We couldn't get enough of the walled city. We ate dinner as a foursome and I helped Ken and the girls through the French menu but after dinner, I had Maura, the fifteen-year-old, and Ken went off with Carla, who was twelve. Maura loved the boutiques and all the merchandising. I told her she could have one souvenir but she hadn’t made up her mind as to what she wanted. We went an outdoor festival, right in the park of the old city and man did some tricks with three dogs. The song in the background was "Who Let the Dogs Out?" After hearing that song, I now knew the significance of it. The little dog jumped on the big dog's back and everyone cheered. The dogs stood up on all fours. All the spectators thought it was pretty cute. When the show was done, Maura and I decided to walk back to the hotel and look for Dad and Carla.

We didn't find Dad and Carla so we ventured down to the old city. There were singers singing hymns on the steps of an old church and a harp player playing his songs nearby. The singers were dressed in medieval costumes. The harp player had a folding table set up so that anyone interested could buy his CD. We kept walking and saw some weavers and jugglers. They were fascinating. We were getting tired from the festivities so we decided to walk up the hill to the hotel.

On the way we saw a mural on Quebec City painted at the turn of the millennium. It had all the seasons and the cultural activities on it. Being a hockey fan, I liked the hockey player in the foreground. Hockey is so Canada.

We saw some teepees and some people dressed in Old World costumes. They were dressed for the Quebec heritage days. The only thing in the United States close to it was the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans without the drunkenness. I took a few pictures of some interesting characters. The sun was setting so I promised Maura we would come back tomorrow. On the way back we saw the Chateau Frontenac which one of my daughter's friends had stayed in last year.

The next morning it was raining so we decided to take a bus tour. The tour left form the lobby of the hotel like the bellhop told us. The knowledgeable guide told us about all the history of the area. We saw the Plains of Abraham and the St. Lawrence River. There were a lot of skirmishes with the British but after years of fighting the French became victorious. From the Plains, we saw the famous boardwalk. The bus driver let us out for a half hour to traverse the boardwalk. We took pictures and admired the St. Lawrence River.

The next day, we took a one-hour tour of Parliament. The Quebec legislature is unicameral meaning that they have a House of Representatives but not a Senate. They abolished the Senate after gaining independence from England in the 1960's. Some people asked about Quebec seceding from the rest of Canada and our tour guide told was that she didn't know. The legislature would decide when the time was right. She did mention that woman's suffrage did not come to Quebec until 1940, about twenty years after the United States.

I remembered when I took the tour of Parliament with my high school class in 1972. At that time the tour guide mentioned that the province of Quebec was thinking of seceding from the rest of Canada. I think that secession keeps the province in the limelight. I suppose when I bring my grandchildren on the tour, they’ll be saying the same thing!

After the tour of Parliament, we walked to the Grande Allee, a city street lined with restaurants like the Champs Elysse in Paris. There were many expensive restaurants but the Burger King and Subway were the most crowded. We settled on ice cream at a stand between two buildings. It felt very continental eating ice cream under the umbrellas while the cars sped by.

Later that day there were more heritage celebrations. It was hosted by the Quebec Government and completely free. The theme was "Je me souveins" meaning "I remember." This the time of year when all Quebecois are reminded of their heritage.

The church in the center of town, Notre Dame Basilica of Quebec in Old Quebec, had a showing of "Act of Faith" a light show that recapped 500 years of history from the Indian settlements to the 21st century. "Act of Faith" retraces the history of the Basilica and tells the story of the faith of the pilgrims and the church builders. The "Act of Faith" show was put on during tourist season from May through October. After the showing we were allowed to tour the building and look at the ornate architecture.

The shops were neatly maintained and the people working in them showed an enormous amount of pride in their businesses. Most knew English but with a few, including the man who ran the laundromat, we had to use broken French and sign language. The non-English speaking laundry man convinced us that he could do a very professional job with our clothes. I admit that I was very pleased that our dirty clothes were washed while we toured the city. We sent our fifteen-year-old daughter into a drug store to buy shampoo. She had a year of high school Latin and realized the pitfalls of going into a foreign country not knowing the language. However, she did manage to buy what she needed. My girls love shopping and they went into a small boutique and bought tee-shirts that had “Quebec” on them.

There were wonderful restaurants in Quebec. We went to several that had authentic French cooking. There was a small crepe restaurant that allowed us to pick our own ingredients. The girls had fun designing and eating their own crepes. The last night the four of us went into the hotel restaurant. There were singers to entertain the diners. They sang in French and English. Ken and I had Chateaubriand for two. The girls ordered off the menu since the items were listed in French and English.

The next day we had to leave. It felt funny getting into our car after three days of walking. We had breakfast in the countryside and meandered back to our home in the states. On the way back we stopped at the duty free shop on the border. This gave us a chance to exchange our money and we got some good deals on expensive perfume, candy and Canadian whiskey. These items were the souvenirs of our lovely trip.

Our trip was made in the pre-September 11 days. I believe security is tighter is this day and age. I would go back there in a minute in spite of the hassles. I think Quebec City is a wonderful place to spend a vacation. We all learned a lot being there during “Heritage Days.”

Contact Eileen
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Eileen's Storylist and biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher