Staying in Montreal, I run into a lot of interesting things, but it's not always clear whether they're local customs, Canadian customs, or just some random thing I haven't run into before. However, I'm pretty sure moose pate is something I'm not likely to eat outside of Quebec.
I did not seek out moose pate. It was just there, in the barn. I also did not seek out a barn. They were both side-effects of attending a wedding in verdant eastern Quebec. I was there with my Canadian ladyfriend, who shared a bloodline with the bride and a language with everyone. Most of my time was spent sitting on a chair, on the lawn, under a tree, listening to people speak French.
I am acquiring the French language, but slowly. I can decipher most signs and labels, but spoken conversation is a different animal entirely. Specifically: a monkey.
Here's the thing: I can't usually make out entire sentences, but I can pick out words here and there. I try to at least figure out the topic of conversation, but startlingly often it sounds like the topic of conversation is monkeys.
The French word for monkey is "singe," which is pronounced something like "sahnj" or "sainj," depending on the accent. And for some reason, I keep hearing the word jumping out at me from spoken French. So, over the course of the festivities, I aroused some amusement by occasionally breaking in and asking what they said that sounded like "monkey." At one point it was "Vincent," pronounced something like "van-SAHN," another time it was "descendre," pronounced approximately "deh-SAHND," and the third time they were actually talking about a monkey.
At any rate, my other contribution to the mirth of the party was addressing the dog -- a smallish, sausage-shaped old mutt -- formally.
French, like a great many languages, has different words depending on whether you're speaking with someone formally or informally. For instance, a respectful prostitute whom you've never met might ask "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, c'est soir?" Whereas a prostitute with whom you are familiar and friendly would ask "Veux-tu coucher avec mois, c'est soir?" instead. Actually, she'd probably just say "Veux-tu baiser, chouchou?" but you get the idea.
So I was attempting to make friends with the dog -- not prostitute friends, just regular friends -- and at one point I said "Venez ici, pitou!" which means "Come here, puppy!" Except I didn't realize that the formal imperative is different from the informal imperative.
It doesn't really translate directly into English, but imagine some huge dude with a thick French accent saying "Come thou here, Mister Puppy!" and you'll get approximately the equivalent amount of hilarity. At any rate, I still don't know the informal imperative, so I just referred to the dog as "Monsieur Pitou" for the rest of my stay.
In addition to moose pate and cross-cultural humiliation, I was served something called "pain sandwich," which sounds like something a depression-era mobster would threaten you with, but it actually means "sandwich loaf." I'm not going to blame Quebec for this one, it has all the hallmarks of mid-century American cuisine, but I'd never run into it before.
A pain sandwich is created by slicing some Wonder Bread equivalent lengthwise, then spreading each layer with a different substance. I think this one had chicken salad, egg salad, ham salad and Cheez Whiz. Then you coat the whole thing thickly with cream cheese, because sure why not? I am told it is sometimes garnished with olives and pimentos and the like, but this was a modest, unpresuming culinary horror.
Finally, you slice the whole thing as if it were a cake, because it is a cake. A cake made of foods that are approximately three percent healthier than cake. And, yeah, sure, it was good, in kind of a "grandma was poor but knew how to throw an awesome birthday party" sort of way.
I was also offered Budweiser many times, in a tone that implied that this would make me feel right at home. I politely refused -- well I think it was polite, but clearly I have some details to work out in that department -- and helped myself to the microbrew.
Most of the food, I should point out, was very good and not that unusual. There were baguettes and some nice meats and cheeses and my Canadian ladyfriend provided delicious salads using her magic powers of making healthy food indescribably savory. I don't typically look forward to eating kale, but she is clearly some kind of kale whisperer.
All in all, it was a lovely fete, although I have to say it is TIRING to spend the better part of a weekend trying to understand and speak an unfamiliar language. On the ride home I was so exhausted from speaking French that for a while I tried to limit myself to words of Anglo-Saxon extraction. "Chicken," I said. "Sheep."