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Geographical Humour

One of my first jobs in Canada was in an inbound call center. I was a bilingual agent, no doubt hired because I spoke fluent French.

The pay was low and I was working from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. On top of that, I regularly had to deal with customers calling from Quebec’s countryside and we would have some vocabulary and accent(s) issues. In a desperate attempt to understand what they were saying I’d ask them to repeat while the customers invariably though I was English and didn’t actually speak French. “Put your manager on ze line, tabernac’, it iz unbelievable I can’t get service in Français!”

Even my manager didn’t have the heart to explain I was certified 100% French.

But one thing helped to make it through the long days (that is, other than the pack of cigarette I smoked and the cup of burning hot coffee sitting by me on the table): when customers called, I had to ask them for their address. And I soon discovered Canadians had some kind of humour when it came to naming places.

I had heard funny places’ names before. France, for example, has a village named “Condom” where English like to take picture of the sign (and occasionally steal it). Took me three years of learning English to understand why. There’s also a small place named “Montcuq“— literally, “my ass”.

Chinese have another kind of geographical humour. For example, the city of Changchun (??). Changchun means “Eternal Spring”—only thing is, the city is located in Manchuria, China’s Northernmost point, near the Russian border. And spring is all but eternal.

“Lhassa” the capital of Tibet is another one. I’m sure Lhasa means something beautiful in Tibetan, but in plain Mandarin is just translates as “piss and shit”.

But Canada… let’s just put it this way: when a customer called me from Dildo, Newfoundland, I was about to burst out laughing.

Indeed, Canada has some interesting places, most of them located in Newfoundland:

  • Blow Me Down
  • Come By Chance
  • Jerry’s Nose, Luke’s arm & Robert’s arm (famous people around I guess… I’m glad they didn’t detail other part of their anatomy !)
  • Mosquito (the tourist board always find it hard to promote the place…)
  • Nameless Cove (run out of ideas?)
  • Ha Ha Bay (what’s so funny?)
  • Rooms (available?)

In Nova Scotia:

  • Ecum Secum (just say it aloud…)
  • Egypt (wrong country)
  • Lower Economy
  • Shag Harbour (no comment… very famous among teenagers here, I guess)
  • Yankeetown (hi southern neighbors !)

In Ontario:

  • New Credit (Lower Economy’s sister city?)
  • Ochiichagwebabigoining (Ill link anyone who can pronounce that—being drunk doesn’t count)
  • Snug Harbour (Shag Harbor, Snug Harbor… what’s the deal with Canadian harbors??)
  • Swastika (weird… I had to read this history of the town to understand)
  • Tiny (10,000 people, what do they complain about?!)

In Saskatechewan:

  • Adanac (Canada spelled backwards…)
  • Carrot River (do you smell like carrots after you swim there?)
  • Climax (far enough from Dildo)
  • Drinkwater (you mean carrot)
  • Elbow (huh?)
  • Eyebrow (HUH?)
  • Uranium City (I’ve always wanted to go there just to send a “hi from Uranium city” postcard to my friend, a proud Greenpeace member)

In Alberta :

  • Carrot Creek (Carrot River’s sister city?)
  • Entrance (at least I won’t miss this one on the freeway)
  • Milk River (CARROT we said, CARROT!)

Can other countries beat that?!

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