Skip to content

Note about this photo at the bottom of the blog!

 

Before I left Quebec this visit, I found myself reminiscing about my first experiences in la belle province.

 

Growing up I always felt that I had unfinished business in the province of my birth and eventually it drew me back.

 

Previously, you’ve read about my experiences learning the French language, well, this is where it all started. (The previous blog was entitled Zut Alors!)

 

Bronze statue of student on Sherbrooke Street in Montréal across from McGill University

 

For my third year of undergraduate study, I received a fellowship to study at a French University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, a couple of hours south of Montréal and north of the U.S. border.

 

I figured it was time to throw myself right into a French milieu where LIVE people would be speaking French to me, all the time.

 

The real deal.

 

No fooling around.

 

After all the hours of mind-numbing language lab practice in an artificially controlled environment, I was ready for the real thing.

 

Also on Sherbrooke Street, I loved seeing this sculpture called “The Sun” outside the Montreal Museum of Art composed of over 1,300 rays of blown glass.

 

Lache pas la patate! 

Quebec French for “Don’t Give Up!” 

(Literal translation, “Don’t let go of the potato!”)

 

On arriving in Sherbrooke, I and another anglophone student decided to go and sit at the outside gathering place on campus, called the Agora, and see what would happen.

 

I thought we might just sit there alone all night but as it was getting dark some very friendly French guys noticed us and looked as if they were building up the courage to approach.

 

After a short discussion, they sent over their plucky friend Serge, who by the way was the only of the group that spoke no English at all.

 

Assuming we were also francophones, Serge began to engage us in rapid-fire…

 

Uh.

 

Wait a minute,

 

is that Greek?

 

Well, it was certainly Greek to me!

 

Imagine what was going on inside my head.

 

I had spent ten years, since Grade 7, studying, French vocabulary, feminine and masculine nouns, punishing verb tenses, and centuries of stuffy French history.

 

But I was like a mechanic with a toolbox full of tools that I could identify and name but without a clue how to use them.

 

Suddenly, coming into glaring focus, was this lovely guy speaking to us in a language that did not remotely sound like any French I had heard before, certainly not anything like that monotone voice on those hours of excruciating tapes in the language lab.

 

However, I realized that voice had spoken relatively slowly and was from France. Whereas Serge was speaking, Quebec French, a language that still used 16th-century pronunciations from the motherland,  and had a twang all its own.

 

When we explained slowly in very stilted formal French to Serge that we spoke only a little of his mother tongue, he looked as panicked as we felt and quickly motioned for the others to join us.

 

I don’t remember too much of what happened after that, (I think beer may have been involved) except that one of the guys sat next to me and we had a painstaking conversation in Canada’s second official language.

 

I was so grateful to him for his patience and to all the other students that year who put up with me.

 

I also remember that year as being one of the very best of my life.

 

What about you?

Have you experienced the differences between French

from France and Quebec French?

Would love to hear your stories.

Please Comment Below so that we can all read them!

 

NOTE: Featured Photo at the top of Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)* I gasped when I turned onto Crescent Street in Montreal on this visit and saw this enormous mural of the famous singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, a native of Montreal.  (For those of you who might not know Cohen, he wrote the song, Hallelujah, performed by many and considered one of the most famous songs of all time.)

Cohen was the height of cool when I was at school in Quebec. I really like how his hand is over his heart implying that he always remembered where he came from.

 

 

 

NOTE: This photograph I found on display on the wall of a hotel café in Old Montréal.

It showcases the face of Pierre Elliot Trudeau  (father of the current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) who took the country by storm in 1968 when he swept to power in what was called “Trudeaumania. ”  Many of us, including me went gaga over him.

No one had ever seen a “swinger” like Pierre Trudeau as PM, handsome French, and irreverent, a new leader for a new time. PET. as we called him served (15 and half years) during the time I was in Sherbrooke.

I sure wish I had this t-shirt!

 

*Je me souviens | I remember

Note: In 1978, Je me souviens replaced the tourism-oriented motto

La belle province (“the beautiful province”) on Quebec’s vehicle registration plates.

It was a controversial move subject to interpretation but taken as a prompt to the need to

protect and promote Quebec’s heritage, and its special place within Canada and North America.

 

Disclosure Policy: I write all the content on my site unless otherwise specified. And I respect the privacy of my subscribers and do not share their information with any other party or organization.

Brought to you by www.womanofacertainageinparis.com

11 Comments

  1. Gretchen Greene O'Brien on September 12, 2021 at 10:56 am

    I had one year of French – grade 9 – and it wasn’t enough. All my fellow students had years of French and were miles ahead of me. Talk about feeling like a fish out of water! And it didn’t help that the French teacher was a tyrant!
    By the way, I loved seeing the Chihuly glass installation – he was a genius!

    • Diana Bishop on September 12, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      You are right Gretchen. One either has to learn a language as a child or spend many years studying it to be fluent.

      And yes isn’t that sculpture amazing! I am surprised that it is intact right there on the street. So beautiful! Best to you, Diana

  2. Jacquelyn Goudeau on September 12, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    I had to chuckle @ your language experience. I know about 25 words of french I use when I go to paris from California. They look@ how i dress & voila- believe me to be one of them- often.
    I am west african brazillian native american french scot & irish! Big joke.All blood is Red. French is a culture.
    But Love being in paris- so it always works
    Wanted to move there BUT THE STRIKES & so many rules made me realize- je prefer to just visit& enjoy!
    Merci, Mme,
    Jacquelyn Omonique Goudeau

    • Diana Bishop on September 12, 2021 at 5:33 pm

      Jacquelyn,

      How wonderful to hear from you and your experience. My passion for France and Paris would certainly make me a candidate to live there but like you, I also the downside to everyday life and feel better to visit…but for long visits!
      The best of both worlds!

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am delighted that you read my blog! Best, Diana

  3. Carol Cobb on September 12, 2021 at 1:56 pm

    Is the glass sculpture, “THE SUN, by Dale Chihuly?

    • Diana Bishop on September 12, 2021 at 5:30 pm

      Yes it is!

  4. Lagatta de Montréal on September 12, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    My pet Leonard Cohen poster isn’t that one, but the one at the corner of St-Laurent and Napoléon, close to Cohen’s modest house on Vallières the street just south of Parc du Portugal. Unless I’m going to the art museum, I rarely venture as far west as Crescent. When Cohen was a young man, that area had many cafés run by Central European immigrants, mostly Hungarian and Czech. By my time that area had gone glitzy, and we bohos looked down on it and lived farther east, near St-Laurent and St-Denis.

    http://www.jacqueslanciault.com/2017/11/07/art-public-leonard-cohen-kevin-ledo/

    The closest I usually get to Crescent is the Simon’s store at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Metcalfe, just south of your student statue just south of McGill.

    I don’t think there is a Simons yet in Toronto; their only Ontario store for the moment is at Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa.

    Many of us have observed Cohen in his neighbourhood in little Portugal, on the “Main”, but of course were too polite to say hello.

    • Diana Bishop on September 12, 2021 at 5:30 pm

      Great memory Maria.
      The Main was really the dividing line between French and English neighbourhoods when my parents lived in Montréal. I am not a huge fan of Crescent street now…too trendy but I sure loved that mural of Cohen. I too had lots of friends who knew him and always hoped he would lecture at Sherbooke but he was growing in fame and was going to LA by that time. Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for the comment, Diana

  5. Catherine Willis-O'Connor on September 12, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks Diana
    Growing up in Montreal as an anglophone was interesting to say the least. Language was not my strongest point so I would try to catch phrases and repeat them thinking I was cool. Like le pull-ouvert (sweater) Pepsi May-west (typical ski lunch) bienvenue (which I thought was ‘your welcome’)
    Needless to say my French Canadian friends chuckled when I spoke.

    • Diana Bishop on September 12, 2021 at 5:26 pm

      Hi Twink…I so get it. Diana

  6. Laura R Campbell on September 15, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    As an au pair in Paris back in 1978, I would frequently visit the Canadian Culture Centre to keep up on Canadian news and to meet fellow Canadians. One of the events I attended was a showing of old Quebec films depictingQuebec culture and life in the 30’s or 40’s? (I’m guessing by the dress and cars). To my delight and surprise, there were subtitles for the Paris audience! My knowledge of French was strictly high school French, and I thought it was just me that couldn’t understand the strong twang of Quebecois accents, even though I had spent many weeks on exchanges in Quebec. For the first time, I felt one with the Parisiennes in Paris!

Leave a Reply

Stay in touch

Add your name here and we’ll keep you updated when we post something new.