Quebec City is one of the oldest parts of Canada, dating far before the country itself. The atmosphere is a lot calmer than busy Montreal, but there is still life to be found when walking around, and you can definitely feel the connection between the two cities. Our host here was a very calm man in his late 40’s. As soon as we stepped into the train station, we heard a gentle “Hello, you must be Liz and Dan”. Apart from a few stolen hours of aimlessly walking around the city, most of our time was spent with our host, and I cannot think of the place without also thinking of him.
Within the first few hours of meeting your couchsurfing host, its a little awkward while you try to work each other out. This is very rarely down to the host and is a completely internal feeling. As a guest, you feel the need to be liked instantly so you go into overdrive with being polite. There’s no money exchange in couchsurfing and we’re often so laden with bags (and we’re not very good at forward planning), that we usually don’t arrive with a small gift either. We’ve figured that it would be more awkward to turn up with a scented candle from the shop next door than nothing, so we choose nothing. We try to rely on being charming until we can work out how to contribute, but all Dan and I can manage is a possibly endearing kind of awkwardness. So we made small talk with our host, and tried to work out how we should behave around him. I’ve used this word before, but gentle is the best way I can describe him. His voice was calm, but not monotone and he had a been-there-done-that look about him. He was a single man whose housemates worked a lot and he didn’t like coming home to silence, so he filled his house as many nights as he could. During the winter, he usually only had one request a week which is slow by his standards. During the summer, he seemed to make it his aim to have as many nationalities under his one roof as possible, and our stay was no exception.
After getting back from the Quebec Waterfall, we sat down to eat with our host and three other travellers. The first person was a 25 year old guy from India. He was animated, uncensored and on the louder side. When asking about him, he was quick to tell us that his full name consisted of 22 characters and he shared his birthday with the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing (with hand gestures). The second guest was a 30 year old man from The Netherlands. He thwarted our plans to make food for everyone by having already prepared dinner by the time we arrived, and was completely relaxed in his manner of talking about himself and in cooking in an unknown kitchen. He was similar to our host when talking about his life in the sense that he shared with ease and not one of my questions seemed to make him feel uncomfortable. When people ask me about my life, I always assume that whatever will come out of my mouth next will be boring, so I either hurry my speech or I just don’t even finish my sentences. I’m in awe of people like the Dutch man and our host for being able to express themselves so candidly! The third guest was a man in his 30’s and was from Argentina. His English was a little less fluent than the other two, so he was quiet at the beginning of the evening. As the night went on, and with a little coaxing from our host, the Argentinian did eventually come out of his shell. He turned out to have one of the warmest temperaments of anyone I’ve ever met in passing, and I hope that our paths will cross in South America.
The next evening, our host took us to see a show. Our camera is piss poor at taking photos at night, but here are some of the attempts at capturing what was going on.
That night we were joined by the last guest that we would meet in Quebec City. He was a Mexican and had a similar way about him as the Argentinian, in the sense that they were both very open and friendly. He was a big family guy, who was only staying for another night before returning to his grandmothers 90th birthday.
Just as we thought the night was over and we were returning home, our started the car and asked us all how tired we were with a glint in his eye. The obvious answer to this was no, so we were taken to a restaurant which was on top of a tall building and rotated slowly around so that, in 90 minutes, we could have a view of the whole city. While we were sat down, I tried to take the opportunity to coax out of our host why he took on so many couchsurfers, because I was still dumbfounded by his generosity. He happily told us that he had taken couchsurfers to the waterfall, the show and this restaurant between fifty and one hundred times this year alone, and he’s been a couchsurfing host for over seven years. I couldn’t comprehend what he could get out of this deal, and how the whole thing didn’t just make his life feel like groundhog day. He stood by his original answer of enjoying each visit and spending time with people from around the world. I’ll never completely understand how he does it, but I’m grateful for our time with him!
One question I’ve asked as many times as possible over the last few days is what people think of the French-English rivalry that seems to be huge in some parts of Quebec. I’d never realised there was such a prevalent amount of tension between the two cultures until we got here. In 1995, Canada hosted a referendum that asked the population of Quebec if they wanted to become independent from Canada, meaning that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick would be like Alaska is to the USA. Quebec voted no to the independence, but by an incredibly narrow margin. We now know what narrow margins feel like in the UK, having only just decided to leave Europe. It leaves half a country feeling very angry and unheard. One woman on a train told me about how her school was right on the boarder of an English community and a French community and how most of her lunchtimes in school were spent hiding from the fights and attacks from both communities. Another gentleman told me of how he was left feeling frustrated when he couldn’t ask a Canadian airline for orange juice in French. A guy in subway told us that he thought all French-Canadian people were assholes to anyone who was not French-Canadian. I do not feel nearly qualified to form an opinion on this issue, just like when people ask us about Brexit, they just listen to what we have to say and very gingerly offer their thoughts on it. Just like with us, I wonder what would happen if they were to be offered another referendum.