One of the common misconceptions about visiting Québec City is that you need to speak French; and if you do not speak French, everyone will be rude to you. This, thankfully, is complete fiction. Québec City is proud of its French heritage, as it should be, and while there have been strenuous relationships between the French and the English in the past, those days have all but disappeared. Today, English visitors and tourists are welcomed with open arms. Of course, as with any destination you visit, there are cultural things to consider.
Learn A Few French Words
Learn a couple French words before you arrive - you do not need to take a French course, or learn a lot of phrases. Many locals working in the old city will speak English, but learning a few French words is always helpful. Here are a couple everyone should know:
- Hello - Bonjour
- Thank You - Merci
- I speak a little French - Je parle un peu français
- How much? – Combien?
- Do you speak English? - Parlez-vous anglais?
English is Widely Spoken in Tourist Areas
While most of the locals working in the tourism industry in neighbourhoods like Vieux-Québec, Petit-Champlain, Place Royale and Vieux-Port will speak English; locals in other neighbourhoods may not speak English as well (or at all). Do not panic. Think of it as visiting another country where you do not speak the language: use the words suggested above, smile, and speak kindly. If you are making an effort to communicate, they will make an effort as well.
Locals Truly Do Their Best to Help
As an anglophone who has moved to Québec City -and still struggles to learn French- I can personally attest to the kindness of the locals and the ease of life in this historic French-speaking city. When I go out, I always use the above words, smile, and dish out extra charm; and I have never had a bad encounter. In fact, there have been several instances when I have struggled to practice speaking French and a local has excitedly told me they can speak English.
Never allow a possible language barrier to keep you from exploring a new city or country, including a charming and historic city like Québec City. Neighbourhoods that are popular with tourists will always have locals that can speak English. And if you’re outside a popular neighbourhood and struggling with the language, crack open the Google translate app on your phone and get ready to bond over each other’s language challenges.