Lost In Franglais

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Posting Board on Elgin Street

I occasionally miss not speaking English fluently. Trust me, life was a lot of fun when I could only understand half of what people were saying. My mind was working fast, perpetually trying to make sense of things. Could that be that?

I had a lot of misconceptions back then. I already mentioned a few times that I had stayed away from “beavertails” for a couple of years. I was picturing meat and furry pieces of the cute animal being served with maple syrup to a bunch of hungry Canadians, instead of just fried dough and maple syrup (or other sweet toppings). Well, how was I supposed to know? “Beavertails” sounds barbaric, doesn’t it?

I remember when I first started looking for jobs. Feng had bought the Saturday newspapers, and I was reading all the ads in the career section, circling with a red pen the ones that looked interesting. Suddenly, I saw “bookkeepers wanted“. The salary was awesome, the location very convenient and there were quite a few vacancy. Full of hope, I circled the ad and started to work on my resume in order to apply as soon as possible. I hadn’t finished yet when Feng came back from work and saw the ad I circled. He burst out laughing, saying bookkeeping was maybe not the best career choice for me. “Why not?” I asked, slightly hurt. “Well, for a start you hate math. And you probably need a bookkeeping certificate for that job anyway, which you don’t have“.

I was totally puzzled. What had maths to do with bookkeeping? Wasn’t the job about keeping books, like a bookseller? I loved reading, I loved books, and I had already pictures myself sitting in a big room full of bestsellers, keeping an eye on them at all time, since I would be an official book keeper. What could seriously go wrong with that?

Turned out that a bookkeeper was like an accountant. Hence the joke about my maths skills. Oh well… how was I supposed to know?

But then, I was very easily confused in my first few years in Canada, lost in a French-English (franglais) world. At the restaurants, with “entrées“, for instance. In French, an “entrée” is a starter, not the main course. I learned that after being served steak and fries as an “entrée“, and trying to mentally figure out how was I supposed to eat the main course after that. Luckily, that was my main course.

In all the fast foods, I had also noticed a weird sign: “no loitering“. “Who does that?“, I thought. “I mean, there are huge garbage bins everywhere, doesn’t everybody throw away any waste left away after eating?“. Turned out the sign wasn’t about “littering“, as I had read, but about “loitering“. Since I had never seen that word before, my mind somehow linked this unknown word with another one I knew. It took me many many visits to the local food court before I actually remembered to check “loitering” in a dictionary. And I still found the sign strange, since loitering is not a crime nor an offense in France (good thing I guess, since I spend half of my high school time “loitering” for hours in cafés with my friends).

At least, I was lucky, I thought. French and English have a lot of words in common. Plus, French do use a lot of English words.

Except this didn’t work either. The first time I stopped an innocent soul in the street to ask directions to the nearest “pressing“, he was totally clueless. How was I supposed to know it wasn’t real English, but French English for “dry-cleaner“? I was confused. “Camping-cars” turned out to be “recreational vehicles“, a “smoking” was a “tuxedo“, “drive-ins” were “drive-through“, “baskets” were “sneakers” or “running shoes“… even “shampooing” was “shampoo“!

And I had thought, like millions of French, that I was speaking English…!

Even though not speaking English fluently was frustrating at times, a lot of things I didn’t understand were left to my imagination, and I love the way my brain worked faster to interpret my surroundings correctly (or not). Same as when we were in Brazil, this winter, and I had to adapt to Portuguese.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I finally speak and write good English. Yet, franglais was fun too…


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I never knew what loitering means…lol.

    You can notice that many Montrealers speak a weird English…English words with French grammar. It’s more common for French speakers to make a mistake. For example, at my wedding, I asked each guests to predict our future on a piece of paper. One of my coworkers wrote “I hope you pass a good time in Denmark” when he was supposed to write “I hope you HAVE a good time in Denmark”.

    There are many mistakes made like that on daily basis and we never notice it. I also get both official languages mixed up time to time…my brain can’t take that many languages :p

  2. Hey there Zhu,

    I can understand your confusion with a lot of these funny words.

    I find some of the words weird for different reasons…. “Pressing” is an oddity, as is “bowling” but for the way it’s pronounced ; like “booo-ling”).
    They seem to love words in “ing” in France…

    At D’s office, English as replaced a lot of terms; “management” “planning” ,”calendar”, ” briefing” and the much dreaded “open space”.

    I’m not crazy about franglais, but if a words is borrowed & well used, then I’ll use it too if needed, just to be understood.

    Bises 🙂
    .-= barbara´s last blog ..Bienvenue Leesa ! =-.

  3. But look at how good you are right now with English! 😀
    .-= the writer´s last blog ..Something rotten in the state of Denmark =-.

  4. I have been asked hundreds of times if I lived in UK because the English words I use are the “real” (LOL) English words, not American. Just yesterday I asked someone “Are you in the queue?” and they stared at me blankly. Its so funny, I think slowly I am getting converted. Wait, let me get petrol for the car. 🙂
    .-= Final_Transit´s last blog ..30 hours in Platskartny: Part 2- Journey =-.

  5. Hey Zhu :D!

    This sounds like another cool post *rubbing my hands together*…

    “I had stayed away from “beavertails” for a couple of years. I was pictured meat and furry pieces of the cute animal being served with maple syrup to a bunch of hungry Canadians,” – LOL LOL LOL really?

    LOL girl, you were going through some serious “lost in translation” period LOL…
    So, you do not like math, eh?

    What? An entrée (in Canada) is the main course? Oh my God…do they know the meaning of that word? In Portugal it is the same as in France (obviously): it is a starter.
    I am glad you told me, because I didn’t remember this (from the time I lived there; but again I was “a gamine” back then)

    Loitering is an offense in Canada? How odd…we loiter a lot here (in cafés, shopping centres, parks etc).

    Girl, I would love to hear you speaking Portuguese (maybe one day I will ;)…who knows?)

    I learned so many new things here today; thanks, cherie :D!

    .-= Max Coutinho´s last blog ..A comment on two issues… =-.

  6. How funny! Love this post. And I had totally forgotten about “pressing!” Guess I just got used to it. Have to admit that I never noticed the use of “drive in” instead of drive through. What does that say about my English skills?

    Before the end of the school year I went out to dinner with colleagues from one of my schools and told them all of the words I could think of that the French have co-opted from English but use incorrectly. I don’t think they were terribly amused by the conversation, which was my point, and of course to teach them the error of their ways. They were strangely unrepentant and seemed to think that my refusal to use the word “shampooing” with the French accent (my pet peeve!!!!) was just strange. Weird Frenchies. 🙂
    .-= Soleil´s last blog ..Dear France =-.

  7. “Except this didn’t work either. The first time I stopped an innocent soul in the street to ask directions to the nearest “pressing“, he was totally clueless. How was I supposed to know it wasn’t real English, but French English for “dry-cleaner“? I was confused. “Camping-cars” turned out to be “recreational vehicles“, a “smoking” was a “tuxedo“, “drive-ins” were “drive-through“, “baskets” were “sneakers” or “running shoes“… even “shampooing” was “shampoo“!
    And I had thought, like millions of French, that I was speaking English…!”

    I’m so glad you mentioned this, I’m actually writing my masters report on that right now. Cool post!

    Also, if loitering in Canada is like loitering in the U.S. (maybe?), then those signs only go up in places where people hanging around has been a problem–things like vandalism, drug dealing, etc, or where they’re sick of teenagers who don’t actually spend money there.
    .-= Eileen´s last blog ..Sauted brussels sprouts =-.

  8. Language is a funny thing.
    You know the official language in my country is Malay? There is a loan word in this language called ‘best’. Except that ‘best’ is not best. It simply means good…

    Both English and Malay have this word ‘guru’, which has its origin in Sanskrit. In Thai, ‘guru’ is rendered as ‘kru’. However, guru in Malay and kru in Thai simply means teacher, but a guru in English is a master. Confused?
    .-= Khengsiong´s last blog ..Toyota Prius is coming to Malaysia =-.

  9. LOL… English do utilize a lot of French words too, esp terms relating to restaurants and cuisine. It’s estimated that approx. a quarter of the English vocab are derived from French origins.

    I last read an article of the craziness of English. Here…

    “There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger, neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

    English muffins were not invented in England or french fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

    Boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So, one moose, 2 meese? One index, two indices? Is cheese the plural of choose?

    If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

    In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

    How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day an cold as hell another?

    When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out and an alarm clock goes off by going on.

    When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

    Now I know why I flunked my English. It’s not my fault; the silly language doesn’t quite know whether it’s coming or going.”

    .-= kyh´s last blog ..Impressions of Putrajaya =-.

  10. @Tulsa Gentleman – Thank you so much! I didn’t get the gift for science, though!

    @Bluefish – Yes, it’s the same in Ottawa, French and English are easily mixed. Like people “take” decisions instead of “making” them.

    @barbara – I’m not crazy about some franglais words, especially at the office. I like “gestion” more than “management” and I hate the way some French just try to be cool by speaking franglais. This is often the case in some fields, such as advertising.

    @the writer – Thank you so much! 🙂

    @Final_Transit – 😆 I used a lot of UK English words when I first came because it is the English most widely taught in Europe. But I switched to US English when I realized people didn’t understand me 😆 Although I do find a lot of older people in Canada use UK English.

    @Max Coutinho – I know, in most Latin countries, loitering is just… somthing fun to do!

    I really did stay away from beavertails. Well, at least one fat food I didn’t love right away! 😆

    I don’t know why North American think “entrée” is the main course. A case of lost in translation I guess…! 😆

    @Soleil – I didn’t think about these words at all when I was in French, I only realize they didn’t mean anything once I moved to Canada. And I tried to explain my friends back in France but no one believes me! If it ends in “ing”, it must be proper English 😆

    @Eileen – Most of the loitering signs I have seen in Canada were in Tim Hortons or other fast food. A couple at the food court at the mall as well… I saw some in phone booth in NY state, I remember I found it weird!

    @Khengsiong – And a “guru” is a “gourou” in French, but it’s a bit derogatory. Usually used for cult leaders 😆

    @Beth – And even within Quebec, there are a lot of differences. I can understand franco-ontariens and Quebecers from Montreal no problem, but the more I go North, the more difficult it gets 😆

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – For a guy, yes, it may be very embarrassing (not to mention strange) 😆 I think I knew about that one, so hopefully I never told anyway I was “pregnant” 😆

    @kyh – Love the article: so true! All these prepositions, up, down, out, in etc. drove me crazy at first. Was I supposed to look at the window, to the window, through the window, by the window…? 😆

    Come to think of food terms… “Maître d'” is a weird one for French, because the proper word is “Maître d’hôtel”. So why did English cut the “hotel” part of it???

  11. I studied French in high school, but I never thought about the French words we use here – probably because it would irk me to no end. Though I have to admit, when I was in Paris years ago, I could read what the trash cans said, but could not for the life of me understand WHY they would be hermetically sealed for protection. All over the city, trash cans had lids bolted on, and I wasn’t able to throw anything away. Whose protection is this for?

    There will always be language barriers, no matter how well we think we know a language. Regional differences are big here. I always trip people up when I ask for an elastic or tonic, then I have to clarify myself and ask for a rubber band or soda. I get into discussions with my husband all the time about my Massachusetts English vs. his California English.
    .-= Kirsten´s last blog ..Cuts Like a Knife =-.

  12. @Agnes – Well, it did sound like a cool job, didn’t it! 😆

    @Kirsten – The trash cans are sealed because of the “plan Vigipirate”, the anti-terrorism plan. France had quite a lot of terrorism in the 90s, with several bombs in the subways and I guess some in trashcans.

    Now, the sealing is kind of stupid because people pile up garbage around the trashcans but…

    @Seraphine – Damn! See, I’m never getting it right! In French, maths is always plural. Why, I don’t know.

    @fly in the web – Ball trap? Now, I’ve never seen that!

    @Seb – The entrée thing is silly, I wish someone would tell the restaurants 😆

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