He made the move in the spring of 1979. Senior writer Michael Farber's idea was that sportswriters are like migrant workers: They go where the jobs are. The work was at the Montreal Gazette, the English-language newspaper in the predominantly French-speaking city in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec.
He was American, a native of Bayonne, N.J., birthplace of Sandra Dee and Chuck Wepner. He was a graduate of Rutgers and had worked for The Record of Bergen County, N.J., and The Sun-Bulletin of Binghamton, N.Y., and he had been a public relations official for the World Championship Tennis tour. His knowledge of Canada was the typical American's knowledge, that the country was "big and cold and that the white H in the middle of the Montreal Canadiens' logo certainly stood for Habitants." (It stands for hockey, as in Club de Hockey Canadien.)
The rest was new. He couldn't utter a complete sentence in French.
"I guess I figured I'd stay for four years or something and then move along," Farber says. "One thing led to another. I did all kinds of sports for the Gazette, went everywhere, and for a while I was writing a city column on the news pages. I came from the U.S. and wound up as the city columnist."
December 19, 1994
Fifteen years have passed, and he is still in Montreal. He joined SI last January to cover hockey and other subjects—he wrote stories this week on World Cup skiing (page 20) and concussions in the NFL (page 38)—but decided to stay in his adopted city. The weather can be a problem, "nine months of winter and three months of bad skiing," he says, but Montreal is home. His wife, Danielle Tètrault, is a native of that city, and their two children, Jèrèmy, 7, and Gabrielle, 5, are growing up in a bilingual culture.
"I've learned to speak a functional French and Danielle speaks English, but when we're at home, I speak only English and she speaks only French," he says. "It's something a lot of people do here to help their kids become bilingual. It really works. Both of my kids speak English with English speakers and French with French speakers. When Jèrèmy was little, his first word was cat. His second word was dentelle, which is the French word for lace. His third word was hockey. That word is the same in both languages."
Farber's favorite story about an expatriate in Quebec involves an English-speaking defenseman from the States who was traded to the Nordiques. Farber interviewed the player and asked how things were going. The player said he was adjusting all right but feared that he had moved to "a bloodthirsty country."
"Bloodthirsty?" Farber asked. "Why do you say that?"
"I go past all these stores," the defenseman said, "and they have big signs in the windows advertising pain and poisson."
Pain, of course, means bread in French. Poisson is fish. Farber, of course, began to laugh.