Fun with French — a language learner’s laughter

I just got home after staying in Quebec for a week, and I encountered some words and phrases I found very funny. Here are some of my travel notes.

Life is a Cabaret — And so is a tray!

This tray is a cabaret!
This tray is a cabaret!

When I ordered two coffees at a Starbucks, they asked me if I wanted a cabaret — « voudriez un cabaret? » Like “Come to the cabaret?” I thought. No, it turns out a cabaret is a little tray– that molded cardboard thing you can put four cups in. Who knew?

Just Want to Do It

"Bienvenue - VOUILLEZ ATTENDRE _ICI_, S'il vous plaît! Please wait here." - a sign at the front of a restaurant we went to in Montréal
“Bienvenue – VOUILLEZ ATTENDRE _ICI_, S’il vous plaît! Please wait here.” – a sign at the front of a restaurant we went to in Montréal

There is a polite way of telling someone to do something in French; you tell someone to want to do it. For example, « veuillez attendre ici » means, literally, “want to wait here.” Of course, a more equivalent translation is “please wait here,” but I think the literal grammar is very funny.  The closest analogy I can think of in English is a sentence like, “You will want to be on time tomorrow.” This is something a boss might say to an employee, the implication being “if you want to keep your job.”

Daddy Has Reason

Jane Wyatt & Robert Young - Papa A Raison
Jane Wyatt & Robert Young – Papa A Raison

We were talking with the friends we were staying with about US TV shows in Canada and Canadian TV shows in the US. (For example, did you know that Rookie Blue is a Canadian show?) Well, the conversation got around to classic US TV shows translated into French, and one of our friends said his mother looked like Jane Wyatt in “Papa a RaisonDaddy Has Reason?” I had to laugh at his quick translation, and thank God I knew French, because I realized he was talking about Father Knows Best. See, in French, avoir raison (literally to have reason) means to be right. It makes sense that the French would translate knows best to a raison. It just sounds funny in English to translate it back. I suppose they could have translated Father Knows Best to Pere Sait Meilleur, but I guess it doesn’t sound as good or have quite the same flavor as Papa A Raison. Anyway, I got a great laugh out of that. Daddy has reason!

Rhyming Neighborhoods

One There Thinks

Richard, Louis, Daniel, & Andy at Le Saint-Amour
Richard, Louis, Daniel, & Andy at Le Saint-Amour restaurant

Our waiter at this beautiful restaurant in Quebec City cracked me up when he gracefully approached out table after we had eaten our main course, and said « Maintenant on arrive tout doucement à la croisée des chemins — fromage ou dessert? » It was funny in itself that he said, “Now we have gently arrived at a crossroads: Cheese or dessert.” What I got even more of a kick out of is what he said after we asked some questions of him and each other: he took his leave graciously by stepping back with a sweeping hand gesture to us, smiling and saying « On y pense » (literally, one there thinks). I had never heard this expression before, but I knew enough about French to know that the word y means more than just there; it can also mean on it. Thus, he was ever-so-suavely saying, “one thinks on it.” I just love the way people contrive language to tell you to do something without telling you to do it (like veuillez). Our waiter really was a sweet and funny guy — not the American stereotype of the stuffy, prissy French waiter.  I could imagine an English waiter saying, “I’ll leave you gentlemen to think upon it at your leisure,” but how much more elegant is it to convey the same meaning in three syllables? On y pense. Love it!

Who Woulda Drunk It?

qui lait cru!?! fromagerie - who would've thought!?! cheese store
qui lait cru!?! fromagerie – who would’ve thought!?! cheese store

When we went with our friends to a huge farmer’s market Marché Jean-Talon,  we walked by a fromagerie (cheese store) called Qui Lait Cru!?! One of our friends told me the name of the store was a jeu de mots (play on words) of the phrase qui l’eu cru!?!, which means who would’ve thought!?! What is different is the word lait means milk. Pretty funny! Well, allow me to suggest an equally funny translation for them in English: Who Woulda Drunk It!?! See, it rhymes with who woulda thunk it, an even quirkier way of saying who would’ve thought, and drunk it refers to the milk. In other words, who would have drunk the milk when we could make such delicious cheese out of it? You’re welcome, qui lait cru. I take PayPal. 😉






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