Everyone has that one language they’ve been trying to learn on and off for the past few years but never seem to get anywhere. For me, it’s Français. I’ve spent a summer at the Nations Unies in Geneva, visited France a handful of times, but I still lack the confidence to survive one entire Tinder date without throwing in a dash of some other language. Please tell me that other people measure their language skills in terms of Tinder dates, I know I’m not alone.
So what do I do? Like any logical human being, I Shut Up and Go to the airport and jump on the next flight to Montréal.
After suffering an embarrassing ordeal with the Canadian immigration officers due to forgetting my passport on the plane, I’m free to roam the streets of French Canada. Hooray!
I wrote to my friend Alex as soon as I left the airport, letting him know we needed to meet for some Bleue beer asap. We hadn’t seen each other in forever and it was my first time on his native turf. Also, I low-key wanted to use him to speak French – that’s what amis francophones are for, am I right? Luckily, he was available the next day and we found a nice spot to sit in Jardins Gamelin. Listening to the live Latin music performance nearby and watching a lady across from us smoke crack out of a Gatorade bottle, I was completely thrown off guard when Alex turned to his phone and yelled TABARNAK!
Umm… Alex, why are we gettin’ all religious right now?
For those of you who are not Catholic, a tabernacle is the holy box in a church where we store the body and blood of Christ. After a few seconds of confusion, Alex explained to me that he was not yelling enthusiastically about Sunday service and apparently Tabarnak was the f-bomb of the Québécois. Like… Quoi?
It turns out that Québec French, sometimes referred to as Joual, was heavily influenced by the Catholic history of the province. Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Church was extremely powerful and controlled almost all spheres of society from education to health. Eventually, the Québécois started to resist the overbearing Catholic rule and one of the ways they accomplished this was through language. I’m not kidding, basically everything you can find within a Church became a swear word.
Calisse – That’s a chalice, you know, the one you drink the wine from. BAD WORD.
Ciboire – This is where priests store the body of Christ. BAD WORD.
Baptême – Baptism… like when you’re born and your original sin is washed away. BAD WORD.
Sacramant – Literally means “Sacrament,” still not a word you can say. BAD WORD.
Ostie – the BODY OF CHRIST! Nope, don’t even talk about it. BAD WORD.
These swearing terms are all called “Sacres.” (Like “Sacred”). WHAT!?!?! Hold my chalice.
There are a lot more sacres than I could ever list here, but basically, pay extra attention to your spiritual vocabulary when you’re in Montréal. You might just get yelled at by an old lady for having a dirty mouth. Not like I’m talking from experience…
Moving aside from the swear words in Québec French, does anyone else think it’s kinda remarkable how such a small French-speaking province has maintained its colonial tongue even though it’s surrounded by the two Anglophone giants of Canada and the USA? This would not have been possible without the famous language laws of the 1970s.
French is the official language of courts, work, education, and basically everything. Sure, signs in tourist areas can include English, but they must also include French (and French must be either first or in larger print).
Something interesting I also noticed is that whenever I’d walk into a store or restaurant in the city, workers would greet me with “Bonjour-Hi.” This is because Montréal is basically a bilingual area; however, the French greeting must ALWAYS be given priority. If they say “Hi-Bonjour,” they might get in trouble with the language police. Yes, the language police are real, and yes, there are cases in which businesses have gotten in trouble from crimes of this nature. (See: Pastagate)
If you speak French from France, you might also notice that Québécois sounds a heck of a lot different in general. A lot of words are contracted or just plain ol’ different. I mean, the word “et” somehow becomes “pis.” Additionally, there are nasal sounds here that you’ll never find in France. I can keep going on and on, but instead, let me just recommend you sign up for a language class with this awesome Québécoise globetrotter, Alissa. When you come to Montréal, you absolutely must meet up with her for some poutine and she’ll talk with you for at least an hour (possibly even two) about the intricacies of the Joual language and how it ties into the history of Québec. A lot of the information I’ve thrown at you in this article comes from what I learned from her and she makes sure her class is an experience for world travelers, not just a boring cookie-cutter history lesson.
So ANYWAYS, did my French improve? In some ways, it definitely did. However, I still need a lot more practice. If you’re a handsome francophone who is a proud subscriber of Tinder Plus, you know where to find me. Buy me poutine and talk to me in French and you’ll have my heart.
Now, let’s turn to vous. Is there a language that you’ve been trying to learn for the past few years but have been struggling to make progress with? Let us know your frustrations in the comments below!