A few years ago, my husband Lynn and I traveled up to Canada in our motorhome. We planned to visit the cities of Montreal and Quebec, where our relative ancestors had lived. We found the Canadians very friendly and accommodating, but as we got further east of Quebec City, we discovered that fewer and fewer of them spoke any English. However, I was not worried because I had three semesters of college French and two years of high school Spanish under my belt. What I was not prepared for was how my rusty memory mis-translated phrases into French.
After a guided tour of a small winery, we wanted to vent into French-speaking Canada on our own, so we asked for suggestions to a restaurant for lunch that was frequented by "locals" rather than tourists. We were directed to a charming restaurant off the beaten track that was reminiscent of a French chateau.
Our waitress spoke no English, but how difficult could it be to order a simple lunch? In response to her request for our beverage order, I made my first faux pas by ordering "leche" (milk) for Lynn and "the chaud avec limon" (hot tea with lemon) for myself. The poor young girl was obviously confused by my order, so I pulled out my trusty French-English dictionary. It turns out that I should have used "lait" for milk instead of the Spanish "leche" and although lemonade translates to the French "limonade", lemon by itself actually translates to "citron". So much for trying out my linguistic abilities.
We noticed that most of the patrons in the café ordered the daily special ("le plat du jour") which we also ordered. We thought it would give us a little taste of adventure, as well as a taste of local cooking. In addition, I felt confident that I could actually make myself understood. The special turned out to be two huge slices of ham loaf with a delicious creamy mustard sauce, served with two dried vegetables that were not familiar to us. After much confusion and dictionary searching in response to my query, the waitress went into the kitchen and returned with samples of the two vegetables prior to preparation. We were finally able to determine that they were parsnips and rutabaga. The whole meal was tasty and satisfying, due in part to our little escapade into unfamiliar territory.
On another day we visited the pretty little church where my husband's earliest ancestor was supposedly buried. When we entered the church, we were greeted by four older matrons who served as docents to visitors. We were charmed to see each of them dressed in their Sunday-best clothes from the proper hats on their careful coiffures all the way to their spotless white gloves and stylish shoes.
Unfortunately, they spoke not a single word of English. So I dropped out my painfully prepared translation, which said we were looking for the grave of my husband's ancients and bravely spoken in what I thought was reliably good French. They looked at us with blank expressions, then looked at each other and asked "Que?", Which is "What?" So my confidence level in speaking fluent French was shot down a little lower.
After much confusion and skillfully pointing at individual words in my faithful dictionary, we were finally able to understand the location of the oldest part of their cemetery. It was a shame that the oldest headstones had weathered very severely over the years to be read. Apparently they were made of sandstone that did not stand up to the elements. But we were confident that we had indeed found the right cemetery.
After we saw the cemetery, two of the lovely mature ladies insisted on giving us a tour of the old church. It was quite obvious that they were exceptionally proud of the architecture and history. Our ancestors had emigrated from here in Canada down to a small section of land in central Illinois, where we now noticed surprising similarities in both the structure structure and ornamentation of our church. We had not previously recognized the correlation between the two town churches.
Our visit to the smaller, less-traveled towns was one of the highlights of our trip, in spite of the difficulties in communicating. But as long as we have our trusty French-English dictionary, we are good to go. A little French faux pas now and then is not going to dampen our enthusiasm for traveling in Eastern Canada … just as long as the locals continue to have patience with us.
Source de Beth LaMie