Archive for October, 2013

Chris asks what the phrase arrondissement du cent means on a receipt he received at the grocery store (à l’épicerie).

The penny (sou noir or cenne noire) isn’t used in Canada anymore, so the price you pay is now rounded up or down to the nearest increment of five cents if you’re paying cash. Cash registers still display the price before being rounded-off.

If the cash register displays 6,52 $ (six et cinquante-deux), round the price down and pay 6,50 $ (six et cinquante). If it displays 6,53 $ (six et cinquante-trois), round the price up and pay 6,55 $ (six et cinquante-cinq).

A receipt may show both the original price and the rounded-off price. If it shows the rounded-off price, it may be preceded by something like montant arrondi or, like on the receipt that Chris received, arrondissement du cent.

The verb arrondir means “to round off.” Rounding up is arrondir à la hausse. Rounding down is arrondir à la baisse.

You’ll often hear cashiers call the receipt une facture. For example, a cashier may ask if you want the receipt by saying:

Voulez-vous la facture?
Do you want the receipt?

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Here’s some more everyday French overheard in Montréal for you to learn.

1. Elle cherche la chicane.

She wants to a pick a fight.

I overheard a woman say this to her friend. Une chicane is a fight or argument, so chercher la chicane is to go looking for a fight, or to pick a fight with someone.

A quarrelsome person cherche toujours la chicane.

2. C’est à quelle heure, l’autobus?

What time does the bus come?

A lady arriving at a bus stop asked this of a young girl who had already been waiting for a while.

3. Vous avez une très belle chemise!

That’s a really nice shirt!

Here’s a phrase you can use as a conversation starter with someone.

An employee in a shop said this to me when I was wearing my favourite shirt.

4. Un commis à la quincaillerie, merci!

A clerk in hardware, please!

Speaking of employees, this was announced over the loudspeaker by a Canadian Tire employee who was looking for un commis (clerk) in the hardware department.

Commis is pronounced commi. And don’t pronounce those Ls in quincaillerie. The caille part of quincaillerie rhymes with the French word faille.

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A guy in his late teens or early 20s standing in front of a shopping centre asked me if he could use my phone. He was waiting for a friend to pick him up, but it was taking his friend a long time to arrive.

The guy called his friend from my phone, but there was no answer. So he also sent his friend a text message from my phone:

Yo c pablo jsui la men c long fuck

Can you decipher the message?

Yo, c’est Pablo. J’suis là, man. C’est long, fuck.
Yo, it’s Pablo. I’m here, man. What’s taking so long, fuck.

Maybe you’ll remember that je suis is pronounced informally as chu or chui. On OffQc, I’ve used the spellings j’sus (chu) and j’suis (chui), but you’ll come across other spellings too.

C’est long! It’s taking a long time! What’s taking so long? Maybe you’re waiting for the bus and it’s taking a long time: c’est long! Or, like Pablo, maybe you’ve been waiting a really long time for a friend to arrive and you’re losing patience: c’est long, fuck!

Don’t pronounce the g in long. This word rhymes with mon.

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Last year while in Italy, I was hit by a van. The van drove over my left foot, crushing all the toes and the ankle. My foot looks pretty mangled.

Three months after the accident (and three surgeries later), my surgeon told me during a check-up that I could start walking again. Before that moment, he had instructed me to not put my foot to the ground.

When he told me to start walking again, I thought he was crazy. There was no way I could put pressure on the foot with all the pain I was in. And, yet, here was my surgeon telling me that I could start walking again.

I went home after that check-up and tried to walk. I couldn’t take one single step. Not only that, I couldn’t even bear to put my foot down for more than a few seconds. I kept trying every day. But, one month after that last check-up, I could manage only one very painful and hesitating step.

When I went back for another check-up, the surgeon scoffed when I told him I was unable to walk. For him, I should have been walking around like nothing had happened by that point. He even laughed at me.

Then he took a look at the foot and realised something was indeed wrong. He diagnosed CRPS. I was unable to walk not because I was being a wimp but because of a medical condition.

A year has passed since the accident. I still struggle with the foot every day. I walk with a limp and it’s painful. But I can take many steps now. I’m pretty sure that I even walk more in one day than some people without physical problems.

I say this not to brag but to say that it’s possible to work through difficult situations if you do it slowly. I had to stop listening to my surgeon in order to make progress. He wanted me to be up on my feet and walking around faster than my body would allow. His attitude undermined my confidence and made me feel pretty bad about myself.

Even I’m guilty of that attitude, though. It’s easy for me to say that you should listen to a few hours of French a day, or get out there and talk to people. But if you haven’t made this a habit yet, getting started can be very difficult.

At the end of January, I was able to take one step. By the end of February, I could take about ten. In March, I made better progress. I started taking hundreds of steps with the help of my crutches. This summer, I even managed to start walking a kilometre at a time.

I still have bad days, days when I can barely get out of bed. Some days I even come back home in the evening and wish that I had lost my foot in the accident because the pain is so intense. But — I can walk. I had to do it on my own terms, not on my surgeon’s. If I had listened to my surgeon, I’d have convinced myself that I was useless.

You can change your habits, but do it slowly. If you want to make listening to French every day a new habit, start so slowly that the amount seems ridiculous. For one month, I only took one step a day before my body would start screaming for me to stop.

The truth is that maybe even taking one step was too much for me. Maybe I should have just started by standing on the foot for a few seconds instead.

Start with listening to French for one minute a day. Just one minute. It’s such a small amount that it seems silly not to do it. After one week, double it to two minutes. If you keep doubling the amount like this, you’ll be at one hour a day after almost two months.

You can do this with any new habit that you want to form. Start with an amount so small that it barely feels like you’re doing anything. Increase the amount very slowly over the weeks that follow. If you try to do it all at once right from the start, you risk becoming overwhelmed and dropping it altogether.

I’ve learned to listen to my body, not the doctors. I know the difference now between just feeling lazy and being physically unable to do something. It’s good to push yourself when you’re feeling lazy, but when your body (or mind) needs a break or wants you to go more slowly, listen to it.

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Election signs in Montréal

Election signs in Montréal

1. ch’t’à boutte

While doing a search on Google, I stumbled across the phrase ch’t’à boutte.

Ch’t’à boutte is a colloquial way of saying, “that’s it, I’ve had it!” You can’t take it anymore because you’re at the boutte, the end.

Ch’t’à boutte!
I’ve had it!
I’m fed up!

In this example, je suis à is pronounced as ch’t’à. The ch sound comes from a contraction of je suis to j’s, which sounds like ch. The t sound in there helps to join the ch sound to the à.

It’s not just in this example that you might hear ch’t’à. For example, ch’t’à Montréal means je suis à Montréal.

Boutte means bout. Pronouncing bout as boutte is a feature of informal speech. The expression être à boutte is an informal one, so you can pronounce bout as boutte here. When you’re using bout in its general sense of “end” (e.g., le bout du monde), I recommend you stick with the standard pronunciation bou.

2. brigadier scolaire

A crossing guard helped children to cross the street at an intersection. She was wearing a uniform with brigadier scolaire (crossing guard) printed on her back.

I think all of the crossing guard uniforms in Montréal say brigadier scolaire on them, which is the masculine form. It would have been better if her uniform said brigadière scolaire because she’s a woman.

C'est l'automne, il vente fort chez nous

C’est l’automne, il vente fort chez nous

3. il vente fort

The verb venter means “to be windy.” Il vente fort means “it’s really windy” or “the wind is blowing really hard.” I spotted an ad in a newspaper for a furniture store that reads: C’est l’automne, il vente fort chez nous.

Literally, this means: It’s autumn, and the wind is blowing really hard in our store. But it’s actually a play on words because vente also means “sale.”

In Québec, vente is often used interchangeably with solde in the sense of “sale” (i.e., when prices are reduced). In shop windows, sometimes you’ll see a sign that reads VENTE, and other times you’ll see SOLDES. They both mean that prices have been reduced in the shop.

Speaking of ventes, many people hold a vente de garage in the warmer months to sell their excess junk lying around the house. The vente de garage isn’t always held in the garage, though. The items for sale are often put on display in front of the house on the lawn or in the driveway.

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