The Other French Accent

As a native of the province of Quebec, Canada, I have the advantage in France of being perfectly bilingual. I have no difficulty ordering food, asking for directions, understanding city officials, and having long conversations with the locals in Perpignan. However, just like the American and the other Canadian students working on the Perpignan Project, I do tend to stand out once people realize where I am from. The clearest example occurred when I asked for instructions on how to use the hotel's laundry room.

I started by asking about the washing machine in French, clearly pronouncing every word since I have a tendency to slur words in every language I speak. The hotel clerk could clearly see I was one of the many foreign students staying in the hotel so he automatically assumed I could only speak English. He spoke to me in English all the way to the laundry room, but I was determined to steer the conversation to French. Eventually he realized I was entirely bilingual and he appeared pleasantly surprised. In fact, he seemed slightly amused.

He told me he liked my accent and said people like him, the Ch'ti, tend to chew their words like me. I was semi-offended since I was trying to enunciate my words. Unfortunately he just so happened to be right. People from Quebec do tend to remove a couple of letters from their words and in some cases they downright juggle them. If a Frenchman wants to say, "I am a here" he would say "Je suis ici." A person from Quebec would colloquially say, "Chus icitte." Same meaning, I swear.

Then I realized the man had said said he was a Ch'ti, so he was right, we do have a similar speech pattern. The Ch'tis are people who live in Northern France and they're called that because they tend to put the letters "ch" in front of their words. For instance, instead of saying "les siens" (his) they will say "les chiens" (which unfortunately sounds like "the dogs"). I learned about them from a 2008 French comedy called "Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis" which is about a man from the south of France who is forced to go work in Northern France. It was a massive hit in France, and an equally big hit in Quebec, where the TV ads weren't shy of mentioning that people from Quebec sound a little like the Ch'tis.

So as it turns out, in France I may pass as Frenchman, but only a Northern one.

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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.