Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Am Canadian, Not An Alien

Or the Odyssey of My Accent and the Electrical Tape

Since arriving in France, I've had a few people remark on my accent. A few have commented that I have a Québecois accent (not the case). Alternately, yesterday city workers sitting next to me in the cafeteria at the hostel I'm currently staying at said that if I hadn't told them I was Canadian, they wouldn't have known (and it didn't seem like they were trying to joke with me or flatter me).

When people ask me what the difference is between French from Québec or Canada and French from France is, I explain it as being the same difference between British English and North American English. That is, the accent is different and some words may vary, but excluding their respective slangs, the language is the same.

At lunch on Tuesday, I was explaining to my colleagues that to date I had not had "grande misère à me faire comprendre ou de comprendre les autres." They chuckled and explained to me that in France they would be more prone to mal as opposed to misère and that misère (literal translation: misery; figurative translation as used here: difficulty or trouble) was more of a Québecois phrase that was not really used in France. If I did happen to make such "Québecoisms," though, one of them assured me, people would find it endearing.

misère (mease-air): literal trans. misery; fig. difficulty, trouble
avoir de la misère: to have difficulty (or trouble)
It is ironic then that today I had a lot of trouble both being understood and, as a result, finding a place to buy electrical tape. Last night I noticed that the power cable for my computer had somehow been damaged and that in spot the silver wires within the cable were ever so slightly exposed. I figured fixing it with electrical tape would eliminate any hazard the damage presented.

To buy electrical tape in Canada, I would just stop at London Drugs or a similar store, or at worst have to go to the hardware store. Thus far in France, I haven't seen any stores like these. Stores in France seem to be single purpose, e.g. the pharmacy only sells medicine and personal care items; the grocer sells only fresh produce or food items. Despite knowing this, I decided to look in a pharmacy anyway. On my way out, the cashier asked if I had found everything all right. No, I explained, because I was looking for electrical tape (ruban gommé pour fil électrique or ruban électrique) and might she know where a hardware store (quincaillerie) was? All I got was blank stares form her and her coworker; it seemed they didn't even understand what I was looking for or saying even when I explained what I wanted to use it for. They didn't know where to find a hardware store either.

I returned to the hostel and decided to google for a hardware store (and the translation for electrical tape in case I was completely wrong). I asked a woman who worked at the hostel if she knew where I could buy ruban électrique and I got the same blank stare even after I explained what I wanted to do with it. She also seemed to not be able to understand a word I was saying. She suggested I try a computer store nearby.

Instead, I decided to try the closest hit Google found for a hardware store. It wasn't a hardware store; it was a lumber store. Returning in the direction of the hostel, I saw a man in a safety vest so I stopped to ask him if he knew of a hardware store near by. He said there wasn't any in the city and that I would have to go to the city. His colleague walked up and suggested I try looking at Centre Deux. He offered to take me, and as he was a city worker with the waterworks, I accepted.

At Centre Deux I discovered Auchan, the type of modern-age big box general store I needed in this situation, and indeed, it was here that I found the elusive electrical tape.


Anonymous said...

Lorsque je travaillais a Ste-Anne de Beaupre,un francais de Val d'Isere travaillais avec nous pour une saison,et nous ne pouvions pas communiquer,le vocabulaire etait semblable mais il avait des expressions bizarres et ne pouvait pas comprendre les notres!!!Est-tu a St-Etienne maintenant?As tu commence a travailler?

Vanessa said...

Je suis arrivée à St-E lundi. Hier, le 1er octobre, j'ai du me présenter au lycée, mais je n'ai pas commencé. J'y retourne lundi et peut-être là je vais commencer.

Jasmine said...

So... what do they call electrical tape then?

Vanessa said...

When I did find some, the packaging simply read, "isolation électrique."

Vanessa said...

I asked some French friends this story and they said they call electrical tape by the brand.