there’s a problem with language. The majority are French speaking but
English has crept in and in order to keep their language pure, the French
controlled government has decreed that French is the ‘official’
language and ALL signs must be in that language. We therefore have
boulangeries not bakeries. There are no gas stations, just station
d’essence and our subway is called Le Metro, like in France. You don’t
cross a bridge, you cross a ‘pont’. A drugstore is un pharmacie (makes
sense) and we can’t go to Eaton’s store but we can go Chez Eton.
I don’t put a letter in the
mailbox but I do put it in La Boite au Lettres. A hansom cab is une
caleche, a refrigerator is le frigo . Once you get onto it, it can be fun.
However, living in Quebec, as I do,
can be complicated. For example, a sign may be in English if the letters
are smaller than those in French and they can be entirely English if they
are in a store and not seen from the outside. Yes, it’s something to
complain about and we do complain. I speak French but it’s not pure.
Then again, I’ve discovered that the language as spoken in France is not
pure either. Language is a major issue here in Quebec where the government
sees French as ‘official’.
Canada sees French and English as
both official languages. But, to my way of thinking, the languages are
getting so melded that we’re heading for something in between. I
understand the reasons for this occurrence. First of all Quebec is
surrounded by English speaking countries. To do business in the world
today, especially with our proximity to the United States, we must speak
English and listen to US media, and we do. The young people jump on trendy
words and they stick. Another reason is that our cultures are mixed.
Quebec became French and then under British rule after the Battle of
Quebec in 1759. Even though the language rights were guaranteed, English
was now heard more often. The same thing happened when the Normans
conquered Britain. Language changed. In the courts of law we use Latin and
There is a
lot of French because our Civil law is taken from The Napoleonic Code (in
Quebec). It’s complicated but the real issue is that with media bringing
the world together verbally, the languages of both the French and the
English are changing. I could go on but it’s not a fun subject unless
you actually use examples. Here is a brief list to give you the idea.
or not both French and English use words like, rendezvous, and weekend.
Both groups say something is ‘cute’. But the French say ‘footing’
for jogging and ‘le foot’ or ‘fut’ for football. (They mean
soccer). Tennis shoes are ‘les tennis’. Basketball shoes are ‘les
baskets’. By the way tennis comes from the French ‘tenez’ since the
ball was ‘held’ for the serve.
row of seats is ‘top niveau’ and the French talk of ‘test match’.
A corner is a corner kick in soccer, a grand ‘schlem’ is a ‘grand
slam’ and ‘un goal’ is a goal-keeper, not a point scored.
believe in France someone can be ‘blackbouller’ (blackballed) and
while they understand what a WC is (even though it’s English for
‘water closet’), rural Frenchmen call it ‘un becosse’ (from back
house) Other sports, like racing, use words in French like ‘leader de la
course’ ‘sweep stake, ‘le jumping’ or ‘le handicap’.
a catcher is ‘recevoir’ (receiver and a pitcher is ‘lanceur’ (a
thrower). An umpire is ‘arbit’ from arbitrator, I assume. A birdie is
a birdie in golf in any language but it’s still something I rarely get.
People buy ‘twin sets’ for
‘le look’ and go to ‘le self’ (self service) when on ‘un
holiday’. The French borrow openly and often with pride but remember,
there are hundreds of French words in the English language that we take as
our own. Consider ‘menu’ or ‘bacon’, ‘entrée’, ‘dessert’,
‘regime’, ‘route’ or ‘boulevard’.
While they often say
’mid-wife’, we use words like ‘accord’ ‘acrobat’,
‘argent’, ‘caramel’, ‘confession’ and ‘coquette’. We all
know what ‘déjà vu’ is or ‘double entente’. It is not a ‘faux
pas’ for a ‘femme fatale ‘ with ‘savoir faire’ to live in a
‘pied a terre’ with her ‘fiancé’ like other rich people or
‘beau monde’, to eat ‘a la mode’s, ‘comme ci comme ca’ with
‘la crème de la crème’.
‘tete a tetes’ in both language. ‘Parking’ is used here and in
France. So is ‘le rush or le gros rush’ meaning rush hour. We have
‘le garden party’, sip ‘les drinks’on ‘le patio’ and know
‘le score’. We both employ ‘ relaxation’ ‘le front desk, ‘vis
a vis’, ‘le leadership, ‘le building’, ‘le standing’ and ‘le
even ‘le mixed grill’ on French menus. ‘Coup d’etat’ is
universal and we all know what a ‘malaise’ is or ‘a la mode’.
to English or English to French is not the issue. The languages borrow
from each other and since Russian leaders of old used French in court,
I’d venture that many French words are in the Russian language. I know
one Russian word often used in France. Ask a Russian what ‘bistro’
means. And you thought it was French.
written articles about language that took a different turn. There I was
talking about rural French spoken by unschooled French or the other way
around. Here we call that ‘joual’ which comes from the French word
‘cheval’. They certainly pronounce things strangely down on the ‘ferme’.
But they understand each other even when they slur very good French words
and ‘I love you’ becomes ‘shtaime’ from je t’aime.
I must say
this for the war to keep language pure. There is more English in France
than what is allowed ‘officially’ here in Quebec. I don’t know if
there’s any way to stop language change, or as my neighbours say, ‘qui
sait’? (Who knows?)
for now. I’m off to’ le self’ to buy ‘un pullover’. It’s ‘la
mode’ and often done by ‘la crème de la crème’.
chance, bonjour, good day, bye, see ya’, adios, au revoire, ciao, ta ta,
and have a nice day. It all works for me as long as we understand each
you can’t say ‘stop’ in Quebec but you can in France and a
‘raisin’ is a grape in France. It makes sense to me…after all a
raisin is a dried grape. Do you find it odd that it’s not correct to
refer to women as ‘dames’ but she is ‘une dame’ en francais? And
don’t worry when people call waiters ‘garcon’. He may be old enough
to be your father but it’s an old French tradition (even if falling out
of favor) since original waiters in France were boys or ‘garcons’.
One of my
favorite sounds is a French-Canadian helper on a truck trying to guide the
driver into a driveway. He’ll gesticulate wildly and repeat, “bagup,
bagup, bagup…” Oh well, it’s close. It’s funnier when he says,
“Done spoke me dat. I gone broke your nose.” But then again, you
should hear my French.
much more but ‘je suis pressee” I’m pressed for time. See you at
‘le café or cafeteria’ flunch (for lunch), we can have ‘un
hambourgeois’ a la carte and crème glacee a la mode, n’est-ce pas ?
One strange thing about restaurants is that in Montreal many are called,
“King of…” as in King of Pizza or King of Ribs. In French, its Roi
de Piza or Roi des Ribs. But I think they went too far when they called
one Le Roi de Falafel.
San Francisco, I noticed many French words or names. They creep into
usage. Why not? We’re all cosmopolitan. I saw a gallery called Tongue in
Chic. I liked that. A perfume store featured Desir Absolu, Emotion
Celeste, Delice Infiniti. It was next to a store called Couture Fine
Clothing. I suppose there’s no great issue here. I even saw a store in
Florence, Italy simply called, “The End”.
changes as people enter the community from foreign lands. Think of all the
foreign words you know without ever studying a language. Get with the
program. Don’t be a ‘klutz’ it’s all only a ‘kibbitz’.
Arnie, Arnold or ‘Arnaud’ Greenberg or Vermont? Take your choice or is
it prenez votre choix?
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)