How to Speak French Canadian

Français, s'il vous plaît

Anytime you visit a foreign country, being familiar with the local language is sure to win you friends. Learn a few phrases, regardless of whether you pronounce them correctly, and the locals will appreciate it. More than 80% of Quebecois claim French as their mother tongue, and while many Quebecois are bilingual or know at least a little English, plenty more don’t, especially outside Downtown Montréal and the less touristy areas of the province. Rest assured that you will come across more than a few unilingual Francophones.

As in France, accents and colloquialisms vary widely from region to region. Still, there are several commonly used, uniquely Quebecois words and expressions.

Everyday terms

For starters, Montréal’s impressive subway system is known as le Métro. If you go around asking French Canadians where the closest subway station is, you’ll likely be greeted with a blank stare followed by a "Je m’excuse, mais je ne parle pas l’anglais" ("I’m sorry, but I don’t speak any English"). Similarly, don’t go looking for a "convenience store" when you need some last-minute item. Here, even Anglophones call them dépanneurs, or "deps" for short.

While here you’ll probably spend a lot of time in centre-ville (Downtown) checking out splendid sights like the Palais de Justice (not a palace at all, but a courthouse). Except in order to do so you’re likely going to need some l’argent (money), or better, un peu de cash, which is franglais (a curious yet distinct local hybrid of French and English) for "a bit of money." And where will you be getting that money? Nowhere if you start asking people for the closest ATM. In Québec a bank machine is called a guichet (the gui pronounced like guitar, the chet like "shea").

Dining out

Of course, many things in Québec, like the menus in most restaurants, will be in both French and English, but you’ll impress the waitstaff if you order a steak-frites avec un verre de vin rouge when you want steak with french fries and a glass of red wine. Later, when you ask for la facture or l'addition(your bill), and your waiter inquires if you’ve enjoyed your meal, tell him it was écoeurant (the literal translation is disgusting, or nauseating, but it's akin to saying something is "sick" for great) and you’ll likely see a big amused grin come over his face. It’s the rare tourist who’s in the know when it comes to Quebecois slang and/or colloquialisms, so locals will certainly be impressed if they hear you coming out with the occasional mon char (my car) when talking about your wheels or, ma blonde, or ma copine (girlfriend), when introducing somebody to your female significant other. Conversely, if you’re talking about a boyfriend, mon chum, or mon copain, is how the locals would say it.

Holy swear words

Almost all Quebecois swear words—aka sacres—come courtesy of the Catholic Church, so while the literal translation of words like tabarnac (tabernacle) or câlice (chalice) might seem pretty tame or nonsensical in English, here they’re the equivalent of the dreaded F-word.

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