How English Only Riders Can Get By With French Snowmobiling…

Fractured French Snowmobiling

Photo © by Craig Nicholson


Related: Pros & Cons of Quebec Sledding


I call it fractured French snowmobiling. Many snowmobilers ask me what language challenges to anticipate while snowmobiling Canada’s numerous Francophone regions on a Quebec snowmobile tour. Suddenly being immersed in an unfamiliar tongue may be a little uncomfortable at first.

But the hospitality, charm and desire to help that characterize the Québecois, Acadian and other Francophone communities soon put one at ease while sledding. Tourism operators usually have at least a smattering of English. Meanwhile, many others have heard enough from touring snowmobilers to comprehend most basic needs. After all, gas is gaz. And every snowmobiler needs the same things on their Quebec snowmobile tour.

Generally, the further one travels into the hinterlands, the scarcer English becomes. But not the welcoming smiles. If you are flexible and patient, and have a sense of humour and adventure, you will do just fine.

Some visitors wonder if they will need an interpreter. On several Quebec snowmobile tours, a bilingual buddy named Jean has accompanied me. But his proficiency was not the perfect solution I had envisioned…

What Fractured French Snowmobiling Language is This!

Jean tells an amusing anecdote that pretty much sums up our interlocutory experiences. His English-speaking companions got in the habit of deferring to Jean for translation while ordering at every Québec restaurant on their tour. On the last day, they sat down to eat again. When the waitress inquired: “What would you like?” his buddies automatically turned to Jean for the language conversion. “What part of that English question didn’t you understand,” chuckled Jean, “We’re back in Ontario now, guys!”

Translation isn’t necessarily the solution. Frequently, I will ask Jean to get the answer to a question. He will converse back and forth interminably with a group of locals, amid much gesticulation and facial animation, then turn to me and say: “Yes.” By that time, I don’t even remember the question anymore!

Interchangeable Fractured French Snowmobiling Lingo

Or sometimes, while speaking with fluently bilingual Francophones, their conversation will interchangeably slip in and out of English and French seamlessly. So much so that I’m convinced a new language is being invented.

So gathering my courage, I’ll try to follow suit.  I’ll string a few French words together with no context of verbs, tense or adjectives. Then I’ll throw in English wherever my French is deficient. My whole concoction will be phrased with a bogus French accent reminiscent of a B movie actor in a WWII resistance film.

Invariably, I will receive a prompt and courteous answer. But I never know for certain a) if I understand it properly. B) if it is the answer to the question I have asked. Or c) that either any of us had any idea what we are talking about. Or d) why Jean is laughing so hard.

French is English and English is French in Fractured French Snowmobiling!

Lunching in a restaurant one day, I wanted to ask for a trail map in French. I queried Jean for the proper word. Thinking studiously for a moment, he solemnly replied: “Map.”

A few minutes later, I asked him to order a hamburger for me. He asked for a “hamburger.” “Wait a minute”, I inquired, “how come you can order successfully using English words, and I can’t?”

Jean explained that certain ubiquitous terms had become generic. But each must be pronounced properly. “Like ‘hot chicken’ or ‘grilled cheese’, ” he continued, pronouncing each, once in English, then again with a Frenchified inflection.

“That sounds like a Chinese accent to me!” I rebutted. Jean replied with a Gaelic shrug and a French phrase that may have signified “Whatever works”. But it could just as easily have meant “Make mine rare”. Now I can always eat Chinese food — even if it isn’t what I really ordered!

I’ve toured comfortably throughout the Francophone regions of Québec, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba on my various snow machines. Whenever riders inquire about my language adventures, I assure them that they too will rise to the occasion, just like my friend Jean.

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The tips and advice in this blog are the opinions of the author, may not work in every situation and are intended only for the convenience and interest of the reader, who has the personal responsibility to confirm the validity, accuracy and relevancy of this information prior to putting it to their own use.

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