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Does English Montreal Get Drunker Than French Montreal? An Investigation

A new study says ‘yes’ so I asked members of the bar scene about it.

by Patrick Lejtenyi
Sep 11 2017, 7:35pm

Consider, for a moment, two stereotypes: one, the soggy-lipped, droopy-eyed, blackout drunk English beer drinker, spoiling for a fight with whoever's nearby. Next, the lithe, well-dressed, slightly tipsy French wine drinker, quick with a bon mot and a condescending sneer.

They're classics alright, and like all stereotypes largely unfair. But within them may be a grain of truth, if a recent poll commissioned by booze-industry-funded non-profit Educ'alcool is to be believed.

The results of the poll, contained in a larger report on Montrealers' drinking habits that was released last month, makes the not-so-startling conclusion that Anglophone Montrealers drink heavier and act more irresponsibly than their Francophone and Allophone (i.e. those whose first language is neither English nor French) co-citizens.

Educ'alcool's director general Hubert Sacy tells VICE that when it comes to drinking booze, "there are three Montreals," broken down along linguistic lines, Anglo, Franco and Allo. The broad results of the survey, he says, "Anglos are more heavy drinkers, French speakers drink more moderately and Allophones drink the least of all."

According to the poll, 46 percent of Anglophones admitted to binge drinking—that is, consuming at least five drinks on one occasion—in the past year, compared to 39 percent of Francophones and 27 percent of Allophones. But Francophones are more likely to drink at home: 83 percent admitted to doing so, compared to 73 percent of Anglos and 62 percent of Allos. Anglos were also the most likely to drive drunk, with 15 percent having admitted to doing so, compared to just 4 percent of Francophones and 2 percent of Allophones.

But how does that translate to the city's famed nightlife? Does the city's out-of-home drinking culture also break down along linguistic lines, and are those stereotypes about who drinks how—and how much—valid?

For answers, VICE turned to professionals: three bar staff and a long-time Montreal boulevardier with a near 40-year history of drinking in Montreal bars. None of them say the report's conclusions carries over into the nightlife scene.

To Chris "Zeke" Hand, a board member of whisky appreciation non-profit Whisky Montreal and who has been on the city's bar scene since the late 1970s, the separation along language differences is the wrong line of pursuit. He says the population should be separated between non-drinkers and drinkers—people, he says, who go out several times a week, work in the industry, who are, for lack of a better term, "professional drinkers. I know plenty of Francophones who drink an awful lot, I know a bunch of Anglophones who drink a lot, so I would say there is the drinking crowd and the non-drinking crowd."

Hand doesn't feel knowledgeable enough about non-drinkers to comment on their habits, but says he doesn't see a big difference between Anglo and Francophone drinkers.

Sitting at the bar at Brutopia, the downtown pub he manages, Jeff Picard says, "Historically speaking, I do enjoy serving Francophones. There is a certain joie de vivre and easy-goingness that stands out or is a little more chill sometimes than your Anglophone drinkers."

(The interview is often interrupted by nearby patrons, each with their own barstool theories and opinions. It's a hot-button topic, evidently.)

"I also know that when I was younger, when I had a bunch of young Francophone girls out drinking, I felt that they were gonna be just fun," Picard adds. Plus, Francophones tend to tip better, he adds.

The impression of heavy-drinking Anglophones is probably distorted by the presence of the thousands of out-of-province and -country tourists and students who flood into Montreal every summer and fall.

"The universities skew your perception of Anglophones," writes one bartender via Facebook Messenger who requested anonymity in order to avoid insulting his customers. "It's not a large community and it is horrifically diluted by young idiots from RoC (Rest of Canada). You could easily be lead to believe that Anglophones are worse as a result."

But, he says, "Nobody handles their drink on better. If you drink too much you are going to do something stupid. At that point, it's just a matter of how discreet you can be. This tends to be determined by age more than linguistic background."

"A drunk is a drunk, pretty much," concurs Manu Ruiz, the manager of Le Royal, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar on the Plateau Mont-Royal. "To me, it's a human being and usually they'll react how they'll react depending on how drunk they are, if they ate before, if they're having a good time. It goes with your state of mind, if you're relaxed or stressed out or whatever."

For the record, Educ'alcool's Sacy says Quebecers rank fairly low on overall alcohol consumption, compared to other provinces. In 2015-16, he says, Quebec drinkers consumer 10.35 litres of pure alcohol per person. That's below the Canadian average of 10.66 litres. The biggest boozers in the country live in Newfoundland and Labrador, where drinkers kick back 12.08 litres per person, followed by Albertans (12.05L) and Saskatchewanians (11.84L).

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