If you learned French in high school or from watching Moulin Rouge (for the last time, I won’t coucher avec toi ce soir!), you may be mildly traumatized by what you hear when you set foot in the province of Quebec for the first time. Yep! In Québécois French, we ask men to “give birth” sometimes, and we say we like brushes on a friday night, but neither have we re-invented the way humans reproduce, nor have we gone completely mad (yet). It’s just all lost in translation. Our French here is… colourful! So I’ve compiled this list of the most popular expressions to help you avoid potentially embarrassing confusions.
QUEBEC FRENCH: A CHINESE INFUSED FRENCH DIALECT!
Words have their proper descriptions in the dictionary, but in Québécois French, like in Chinese, it’s all about tone. One word can mean something, the opposite of this thing, or something completely different. It all depends on the way we pronounce it. Confusing, eh? Not at all! All you need to do is listen attentively and you’ll get it!
It has to do with something or someone unpleasant or mean. You knew that! But with certain pronunciations and in combination with other adjectives, it can become a way to say “very.” For instance, when someone says méchant pétard! – the word pétard is not referring to an explosive or a joint, but to a person you find beautiful.
Totally insane. Crazy. Awesome. Or even being mentally ill, or seriously dangerous (méchant malade!). Sometimes, we also use it to talk about somebody who is ill, but this is the definition we use the least.
Depending on pronunciation, it can mean “disgusting” or “delicious/genius”. We feel intensely.
Capoter et capoté
We did not invent this verb to talk about condoms, or car-related accidents (let’s specify that capote stands for condom and capot means car hood). It’s about feelings. In fact, to capoter is a wonderful and joyful feeling. As in, “I won a million dollars! Je capote c*lisse!” Also, a thing that is described as capoté, is something that is totally crazy, in either a positive or negative way.
Au/du Québec vs. À/de Québec
Au Québec: the territory, as in “I’m going to (au) Quebec, to eat apples from (du) Quebec.”
À Québec: refers to the city, as in “I’m going to (à) Quebec to eat poutine at Ashton’s.”
Finally, I’ like to state here for the record that we only call it Quebec City in English.
One fine sunny* January morning, you will step outside and take a nice long breath to kick off the new day… But within seconds, all your nose hairs will be frozen (note that this may indeed be the first time you realize you have hairs inside your nose) and your exhale will instantly turn to little ice pellets on your scarf. That’s not your usual cold (froid) morning. That’s when it’s frette. The moment is often marked also by a deeply felt and loudly muttered unholy word that nobody will dare frown upon.
*In winter, radiant sunshine + blue skies = f*#@! frette
Not be confused with LE frette, une frette simply stands for “cold beer.” This is in turn the opposite from a bière tablette (tablette meaning shelf), which as you may imagine, means beer at room temperature. Of course, this last unhappy occurrence can be quickly rectified by placing the warm beer out in the frette.
Here’s an enigma that you’ll thank me for solving.
Envoye on décolle! Embarque dans l’char, c’est moi qui chauffe.
Envoye: pronounced “aweille,” in its purest Louis XV style and with a bit of impatience. It means “c’mon!” or “let’s go!”
Décoller : meaning to take-off. It also refers to the act of leaving a place —but not by plane! For this very act of leaving a place, we also say sacrer son camp!
Embarquer: to get on a certain means of transportation, which can be anything and is rarely a boat. On the other end of the spectrum, when we get off, nous débarquons.
Char: a car (by definition it’s a car from back in the days, when engines didn’t exist). But picturing it being pulled by four horses adds a bit of a kick, doesn’t it?
Chauffer: no, even if it’s so cold out we can feel our nose hair freeze, we don’t light a bonfire inside our cars. Chauffer means “to drive”.
To put it in a French you may be more familiar with: Allez, en route! Monte dans la voiture, c’est moi qui conduis. As easy as that!
Our tongues are a bit slippery… We have a tendency to group words together:
Pas du tout! Not at all.
Pousse, mais pousse égal
Avoir de la misère à…
You say when you are having a hard time with something or someone.
Prendre une brosse!
The legendary Montreal nightlife… This expression is all about getting drunk. Something you’d never do, right?
Accouche qu’on baptise !
Gentlemen, if we seem to ask you to give birth, it’s not because we missed a biology class or two. It’s because you’ve been talking nonsense and your words seem to have no reason for being. So the same expression may be used for women, pregnant or not.
Prends ton gaz égal
Dormir au gaz
You’ll hear this if you are being too calm or absent-minded. Like when somebody falls asleep at the wheel and we tell them to wake up.
The seemingly double use of the pronoun tu when asking a question is the first thing foreigners are drawn to. But it’s actually not a double pronoun. It comes from the suffix -ti that the French used in the past.
Having read all this, are you even more confused than before? That’s ok. It’s the perfect time to stop me, because I could go on for pages!
You’d like to learn more about Québécois French? Then, you’ve got to check out Solange Te Parle’s video.