22 Nov 2013

Adonis

"Oh, we're getting a porn shop" was my first thought. And can you blame me? The store-front of the new condo block around the corner had greyed out windows, with nothing but a mildly phallic-looking torch logo and the bold letters ADONIS written on them.

But my neighborhood has not gone downmarket. On the contrary, opening day revealed that we've actually gone up-market, with downtown Montréal's first Marché Adonis - an outlet of the Mediterranean-Lebanese grocery chain popular in suburbia. And it's brought a retail revolution.

While far from a socialist no-have economy, I always found grocery shopping in Montréal a bit lacking. Compared to Switzerland, were every neighborhood Migros comes with ceramic tiles, halogen spotlights and an organic sushi bar, stores in Québec were frequently dim and run-down, with long waits at the cash and frequent interruptions in their supply chains, leading to products running out (I cannot remember a basic item such as yogurt not being in stock at Migros, ever). Seasonality is largely an unknown concept, and selling everything pre-packed is the default. Despite all of this, grocery stores are not really cheaper than their Swiss counterparts, at least for the recurring items on my shopping list.

The industrious owners of Adonis changed all of this. Their store, which has quickly won the majority of my food spend while saving me a ton, welcomes customers with a mouth-watering deli counter, from which tantalizing scents waft through the adjacent bistro area. Shoppers continue past a large selection of fresh fruit and veggies, including mediterranean favorites (fresh sage, prunes, even chestnuts) and middle-eastern treasures. Beyond the healthy stuff, the olives, nuts and dates counter awaits, with a mustachioed trader waiting to dish out samples like in a Turkish bazar. 

Stuffed like a vine leaf, you make your way past a very respectable selection of local and imported cheeses to the meat department. There, red labels marking products as "halal" or "pork" speak to both the store's target demographic, and its owners' open minds. Taking a cue from them, I've started combining Adonis' merguez with Helvetic rösti, and the multicultural receipe works well.

No meal is complete, of course, without deserts. And this is where the new store's proximity becomes a curse, for the ladies behind the bakery counter seem to peddle an endless and ever-changing selection of baklava, which the sweet tooth in yours truly simply cannot get enough of. 

Marché Adonis has definitely brought a fresh taste to the neighborhood, and a savory mediterranean scent to my pantry. My beloved Marché Atwater has seen less of me, and it is certainly no coincidence that the formerly dominant IGA next door has just embarked on a massive store refresh. But even their loyalty program won't make me return there, for I came to realize that my initial assessment was indeed spot-on: I've completely succumbed to Adonis' food porn!

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3 Nov 2013

Expat

A German, an American and a Swiss walk into a French bar in Hong Kong.

What sounds like the beginning of a corny joke is in fact a rather frequent occurence in the life of expats, these rootless roaming warriors of the globe, who live their lives far away from the green green grass of home. It's a lifestyle with lots of perks, but it does not come without downsides. Apart from the obvious occasional bout of home sickness, expats frequently struggle to properly immerse themselves in their current host culture, and to make friends among the local population, lest they get attached to someone they have to abandon again soon.

It was partly out of fear of staying in a glitzy, but transient expat bubble that I tried to avoid fellow foreigners when I first arrived in Montréal. Instead, my efforts centered on building a network of Québecois friends, who over the years provided me with a great introduction to life in the belle province and enabled many of the adventures you have read about here.

Perhaps it was the sense of detachment and superficial commitment experienced during my six months in Chile that helped me open up towards the expat community. Shortly after my return to Montréal, a friend introduced me to an online platform specifically geared towards global nomads. InterNations not only has a wealth of information, bulletin boards and resources on most major cities, it also facilitates regular community meet-ups for networking, and plenty of social activities.

Before I knew it, I had started attending these monthly gatherings on a regular basis, and have seen my connections multiply across a panoply of nationalities. To my own surprise, my almost five years in the city made me one of the more experienced expat residents, and enabled me to help out many of my new acquaintances with their questions on settling in. On several occasions, I directed fellow InterNations members to these pages for reference, from how to get a driver's license to obtaining your immigration physical.

Nonetheless, it caught me by surprise when one of the community members suggested I list this humble diary as a featured blog in InterNations' Montréal section. But why not? Communities such as this one are all about sharing knowledge and learning from each other. And this is why you will now notice a small "featured blog" banner on the right-hand side of this page. A cordial Bonjour-Welcome to all new readers!

I am happy to have joined the InterNations gang, and should probably have done so a lot earlier. After all, I had long been an active participant in a certain other, specialized online community which has impacted my life in more ways than I can think. Including getting me to join a German and an American in a French bar in Hong Kong.

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