French Accents

While we’re talking about accents, here’s a revelation that I had last week in Montreal: when native French-language speakers speak, they’re not trying to “sound French,” that’s just the way they speak. This is a key difference between my speaking French (which perhaps suffers from my trying to “sound French”) and theirs. Somehow this hadn’t occured to me before. Probably another instance of Americentrism.

Another thing I realized: the French bonjour combines the word for “good,” bon with the word for “day,” jour and thus must mean, roughly, “good day.” This is why cashiers in Montreal say “bon soir” in the evening: they’re saying “have a good night.”

As you can see, I’m not one for understanding things that are no doubt so immediately obvious as to be unremarkable to others.

My “Montreal as a mostly non-French speaker” weekend with Oliver was buffered by the presence, at important junctures, of the almost bilingual Brother Steve. My big failure was asking, at Ikea, for the “manager’s special” in the restaurant, which was spelled out in French right there on the menu board. Somehow I came out sounding like “erspeckel du deeratrur” and was greeted with blank looks from the cook. I was saved by the English-speaking directeur.

My one success was saying, in French, “is it possible to open the door for the baby” to the subway toll collector when I wanted him to unlock the special door that allows for strollers. I often find myself lapsing into very obtuse ways of asking for things in stores: “is it possible to obtain a device with which I can prevent the water of my small child here from making his clothes wet?” and the like.

Speaking of the subway: Montreal gets failing marks on rolling access to the trains. We didn’t see one elevator in a station the entire weekend; for us this meant a lot of “out of the stroller, onto the escalator, in the stroller” gymnastics; I imagine for people in wheelchairs it simply means not taking the subway. This is in contrast to, say, Bilbao, which had elevators at every stop, or Barcelona, which had them at many.


tom's picture
tom on November 30, 2003 - 17:04 Permalink

My girlfriend attended UQAC for a year of immersion after undergrad and she said she met people there from France (and southern Qu