By Jim Withers
It’s a fool’s errand to try to out-French the French. I tried once, but didn’t get away with it.
I was in a pâtisserie in Strasbourg and, ignoring the “chausson aux cranberries” sign in the display window, ordered a “chausson aux canneberges.” Unfortunately, as often happens when I’m speaking French, and occasionally when I’m speaking English, my mouth didn’t completely follow directions from my brain and I mangled my pronunciation of “canneberges.”
The young woman behind the counter didn’t hesitate to pounce:
“Camembert? C’est un fromage, Monsieur!”
Defeated, I let her have it her way and ordered the damn chausson aux cranberries. When in Strasbourg, do as the Strasbourgeois do. It’s their language, so who am I to tell them what they should call something? They’ve got Baudelaire, Molière and Voltaire. Who do we have, Elvis Gratton and Têtes à claques?
Still, when you live in Quebec, it’s a bit of a shock to come to France and see all the anglicisms – stop signs that say “stop” (not “arrêt”), parking lot signs that say “parkings” (not “stationnement”) and dry-cleaning shop signs that say “pressing” (not “nettoyage à sec”). In newspaper coverage of local hockey games, they actually use terms like “puck”, “power play” and “un shoot à bout.”
(To its credit, l'Académie française gave its blessings to "courriel" (a Québécois creation) as le mot juste for email, despite the fact that the French continue to use the less-elegant "e-mail." Courriel is a portmanteau combining "courrier" and "électronique.")