I tried to stick to French when visiting Montréal this week. I have some French, of the basic summer holiday camping variety, but it’s a far cry from what I define as ‘speaking’ it, which is the way I feel about English, German and Dutch. I tried to do it especially as we were in an otherwise English full immersion setting, to break the default as it were. Almost got away with it for basic interactions (coffee, cab driver, lunch), but there’s always an additional question that then throws me off the track.
Ordering coffee for both of us for instance worked fine right until the lady at the counter as a final question looped back to my espresso by asking me about whether I’d want my espresso court ou allongé, short or lengthened. While I was playing back the tape in my head to interpret what she’d said, she concluded I had reached the limits of my French and switched to English. At such moments it isn’t so much the language that throws me, but a question that I didn’t expect as part of the exchange we’re in. Asking about short or longer espresso is a cultural difference to interpret more than a language difference. I don’t get asked that question back home where espresso is always short. I didn’t know it was part of the common pattern here, so I didn’t anticipate hearing it, and thus it was an unexpected turn in the conversation for me, making me stumble “ehhh short” and indicating it with my fingers.
Our last cab driver, while I was paying him remarked on me doing the exchange in French. He asked me where I was from, and told me his daughter lived in Amsterdam. He was curious how I learned French, so I told him it is standard in secondary school. “So you speak French, English and Dutch?”. And German I said. “And German? Four languages, you guys are so fortunate.” He’s right. We are fortunate, even if it is just a little bit of French. Merci Montréal, one of your cab drivers ensured I left with a smile.
Court ou allongé? At Tommy‘s in Montréal.