Monday, June 22, 2009

Uniquely Quebec, Part 3

I came to Montreal after spending eight years in the States.  I lived in Washington, DC working first for the Egyptian Embassy and later for the British Embassy.  While there, the desire to learn French never left me.  I took courses at the Alliance Française on Wyoming Avenue but after two years realized I wouldn't be able to speak it if I kept speaking in English.

I even joined a French choir that sang at  Sunday service in  Georgetown, but my vocabulary was stunted.  That was when I decided it was time to uproot and put an end to my happy Washington life.

Montreal was a shock.  It must have been because I came in November.  That was a bad decision.  Novembers in Montreal are bleak, and so are the first months of the year.  I may love the French language, but I loathe winters.  I still do.  quebec3

The French Canadians I met helped me take my mind off my misery;  a misery made more pronounced because I refused to dress adequately for the winter.  Bending over boots, putting on layers and covering up my ears were rituals I could not get used to.  But the more I closed my mind to winter, the more I opened my heart to French Canadians.  A lovable bunch of warm, fun-loving people, if you ask me.

They like to mind their own business, but they won't hesitate to get up close and personal if they sense the absence of a stiff, upper lip.  They're a delight to talk to; their homemade expressions reflect a spirit that is accommodating, curious, and loaded with humor.  

The way to a French Canadian's heart - I think - are to encourage them to practice their English with you while you throw about some Quebecisms here and there to surprise them.

So I'll wrap up these series on "French Canadiana."  If you ever find yourself in our part of the woods, use any of the expressions below for a cup of good measure!



Ne pas être dans son assiette (literally, not in his plate).  Not in a good mood
bébé lala acting like a child
Il a une grosse bédaine he's got a big tummy; he's obese
casque:  avoir du casque (a casque is a cap).  It means audacity, not embarrassed at all
débandé - être débandé to be disappointed, disillusioned
faire son frais to be pretentious, arrogant
c'est fort en ketchup! incredible! unbelievable!
manger de la marde to be in difficult times, in misery
plein comme un oeuf to have lots of money, to be very wealthy
c'est une pinotte (from the English "peanuts")  It's nothing, no big deal
smatte - être bien smatte smart, intelligent

My next series will be those in our cupboards that tease our taste buds.  Stay tuned!



  1. In fact, `être ben smatte' means that you THINK that you're smart, not necessarily that you are... most of the times it is said with a sacarstic tone; it's usually not a compliment....

    Keep up the good work, I just found your blog and I enjoy it very much so far!

    Je reviendrai régulièrement voir ce qui s'y ajoute au fil du temps...

    Michel (Montréal)

  2. Thank you, Michel. And thanks for correcting that.