Camping and Canadians…

I haven’t camped at very many state parks – or at all really – but I did think that the camp sites at the Cumberland Bay State Park were huge. It helped that the spot to my left was open and the lake was right in front of me.

An RV with an awning was parked to my right. One of the occupants came over to introduce himself after I smiled and nodded at him. His name was Serge and he was there with his wife Ghislan. It turned out that they were from Montreal and they drove down there every summer. They stayed for two weeks at a time, which was the maximum amount of time you could stay at that State Park, then go back home to Montreal for a week before returning again. They did this four times for the entire summer. I was a little surprised that they would come to the exact same spot if they had the freedom to move or go anywhere they pleased, but they appeared to like it a lot. I could see why – it was quiet and calm compared to Montreal.

Serge and Ghilsan were both French Quebecois. Serge’s English was pretty good while Ghilsan was a little slower – although not as slow as when I tried to talk to them in French. When I spoke to them, I had the same feeling as I had while I was in Beijing the year before. People made such an attempt to talk in English even if it wasn’t their native language, to the extent that they would whip out their phones and use the Chinese to English translation to communicate and make themselves understood. I felt guilty about not making enough of an effort to speak in French. I did try but they spoke too fast and I was only able to understand every other word. Likewise my French appeared to be very different from Quebecois French especially with the pronunciations of certain words. So we settled for communicating in a mix of English and French, each of us speaking very slowly. They seemed pleased that I even made the effort so I was glad I tried. Their accented English and the very French expressions sounded really delightful. :) I especially smiled when he told me about a nephew who
had ridden from Vancouver to Labrador on his B.M. double-vey. :)

I talked to them for a little bit before I went on my ride, and spent an hour with them around the fire they had built later at night. We toasted marshmallows and talked about our respective lives. I asked them how they had met and Serge told me that Ghislan lived in Joliet – a little north of Montreal – and they lived above a restaurant that he was at. “I saw her standing in the window and I knew she was the one.” They had been 17 then and were married in three years and still together almost 40 years later.

They were very curious to hear all about my family and details about my life. In their turn, they told me about their own lives and their children and grandchildren. It struck me that the reticence around volunteering personal information and inquiring about others’ lives was a quality that was very American and people of other nationalities do not have such inhibitions. In fact, I rather think that it is their way of being friendly and expressing goodwill.

This thought stayed in my mind the next morning when I was on my way out and saying my goodbyes. They introduced me to their friend Andre who was camped in another lot and had dropped by to say hello. Andre had worked as a photographer for a leading Canadian newspaper in another life and was also retired now. When he heard that I was going to Montreal that day, he gave me his card and told me to camp in his backyard next to the pool. “There’s nobody at home, but you can just push the main gate open and go in!”

While I have met many kind, helpful people on the roads in America, I could not readily imagine anyone being kindhearted enough to trust a complete stranger with their property while they weren’t even around. I politely declined his offer, saying that I was going to stay at a hostel close to Vieux Montreal. I did take his card though, and gave him mine. As I rode out of the campground, I thought that if most people in Quebec would be as kindhearted and generous as these worthy folks, I should possibly consider changing my route to ride through more of the region instead of heading directly back into the US from Montreal.