22 November 2015

Montréal's Mallorca

The Balearic island of Mallorca has often been jokingly called "Germany's southernmost state", so inundated is it with Teutonic holidaymakers seeking fun in the sun. Between low-cost airlines and package holidays, it tends to attract the somewhat less sophisticated tourist, more interested in beach chairs and cold beers than art and culture.

As I found out this week, Montréal also has its Mallorca. It is not in Spain, of course. But it, too, enjoys warm climes, sandy beaches, cheap flights from the motherland and all the conveniences of home. A conference brought me to Southern Florida's Fort Lauderdale, and thus into the heart of Floribec

That Canadians enjoy escaping their long cold winters for a few days of sun is not news. But until this week, I had not quite appreciated just how much the Québecois are concentrated on a small stretch of ocean-lining suburbia north of Miami.

It didn't take long after arriving to spot the first fleur de lys flags outside motels, restaurants and convenience stores. And a quick stop at a Walmart brought the first sighting: "Lucien!" called a female voice from the cereals aisle, "t'en veux-tu des Fruit Loops?" A grey-haired man in white socks and an oversized Hawaii shirt shuffled over. "Ouais", he responded, "sont-ils en sale icitte?" When leaving the store, I noticed the minivan with the Québec license plates in the parking lot.

That night, as I sat down at a mid-priced chain steakhouse, I immediately noticed the two elderly men in the booth behind me twaddling in the thickest of Québecois accents. Somewhat maliciously, I continued to eavesdrop as the waitress approached them, curious to hear how they would struggle in Hanglish to order their food. Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard them nonchalantly asking for their steak in French - and the waitress responding in the very same tongue!

Yes, Floribec has its own ecosystem, which extends beyond restaurants and accommodation to include a monthly magazine and even three branches of the Caisse Désjardins, which I suspect to specialize in cashing Canadian pension cheques and arranging condo mortgages. While there are no clear numbers, the size of the resident French-Canadian population must be large enough to support this community year-round. It is not for nothing that Florida's two hockey teams, Tampa and Miami, play in the same NHL Division as the three Eastern Canadian teams of Montréal, Ottawa and Toronto: A few years ago, a study found that the Florida teams make more than 50% of their revenues from ticket sales from Canadians, keen to see their home teams play while they are on holiday down south.

During the school breaks, droves of families with their kids head for Florida's beaches, but the off-season mainly has retirees choosing the sunshine state's tropical weather over the cold of the motherland. Some keep a second car down south to navigate the uninspired suburbia of Floribec, while others drive all the way from Canada in their van or roulotte

Much like in Mallorca, which I have also only visited on business trips, the charms of Floribec have eluded me. There was, however, one positive effect of my stay in Montréal's Mallorca that I cannot deny: Looking at my fellow passengers as I settled in on my return flight from Fort Lauderdale, I basked in a rare sensation of youth and sophistication. What the Québecois have known for a long time is true, then: La Floride, là, ça te fait du bien!

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