ARSEHOLE FARTER etc…

ARSEHOLE FARTER, CRAPPY TIRES AND ILL-MANNERED MANUFACTURERERS OF MOIST TOWELETS: HOW LIVING IN QUEBEC FOR ALMOST FIFTY YEARS GAVE ME A PRETTY WARPED PERSPECTIVE ON BEING CANADIAN.

As most of you know who follow my blog, I’ve been living in Ontario now for just under a year and just loving it. The first few months were a fairly painful adjustment as I got acclimatized to finding work in a very economically devastated yet beautiful region here in Niagara, eventually went on EI, then regrouped and am now headed to Niagara College in about five weeks to start my two year course in the Social Service Worker program with the eye towards spending five years studying to become a full-fledged Clinical Social Worker with a BSW and MSW from most likely the University of Waterloo. We’ll see. One thing at a time.
Meanwhile, I was mulling over some things whilst in one of my many moments of quiet contemplation of Divine Mysteries yesterday after several caffeinated beverages and having turned the TV and the stereo off, leaving ample room for the Spirit to rise up within me and to dwelleth therein.
What came to me was how my journey in Quebec had put me into contact with a whole series of English-French linguisto-culturally convoluted situations which, taken within the context of just one of Canada’s Official Languages and cultures, is perfectly normal, but if viewed from the other Official Language and Culture’s point of view, it takes on totally ridiculous, even hilarious proportions.
Take for example my name. Peter Stuart. Sounds innocuous enough. Peter is a nice Biblical name, I’m the Rock upon which Christ founded His Church and I’ve got the keys to the Kingdom and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against me and all that good stuff. Well guess what, that only holds in French-Canadian if you translate my name as Pierre, which means literally ‘Rock’. So theoretically I’d be ‘Rock’ Stuart. But no. If you pronounce my name ‘Peter’ in French-Canadian ‘Joual’ colloquial French it comes out as ‘Pèté’ or ‘Pèteu.’
The first translation means ‘fart’ and the second means ‘arsehole’! So guess what kind of merciless taunting I used to get for YEARS at French school in Québec? E.g. ‘Hey arsehole! Laid any good farts lately?’ Of course I’m translating liberally from the French, but you get the picture. From the other side of the equation I ended up encountering some pretty weird situations in Québec regarding businesses, which I realized eventually from taking a Community College course in Tour Guiding, had to do with French soldiers way back in the days of New France coming over to Canada and taking on nicknames or their officers would assign them nicknames based on their personality attributes either good or bad.
One business I encountered was a family whose Dad was a lawyer and who lived not far from our house in Sillery. Their family name was Joli-Coeur, which translated into English means ‘beautiful heart.’ So obviously their original ancestor the soldier must’ve been something of a Don Juan or Lothario to have acquired such a nickname. This guy however ended up being embroiled in a whole embezzlement scandal and was eventually permanently disbarred. So I guess he didn’t wear his family name as well as his ancestor did!
That used to remind me of when I taught ESL in Québec and we’d go around the table for a warm-up exercise at the beginning of class on the first day and I’d get my students to introduce themselves and inevitably there’d be a Québec lawyer with faltering English, wanting to do better to get ahead in life, who’d inevitably introduce himself by saying ‘Hello, my name is Jean-François and I am a LIAR!’ Of course at this point I would inevitably attempt with great care to try not and burst out laughing or at least try not to snicker and would be tempted to say something like ‘oh, is that right, jean-François, you’re a liar are you? Are you a good liar? How much does a good liar charge in Québec these days? $300.00/hour? Does that include the brown envelope stuffed with brown $100.00 bills from the construction contractor, or is that not included?’

Of course I would NOT say such things because I wanted to keep my job and didn’t want to make a stink, but it definitely presented itself as being hilarious at times. Another wacky situation was the tire shop on Highway 138 not far from my place called ‘Pneu Ratté.’ Of course ‘Ratté’ must’ve been another one of these French soldier boy situations where the officer gave him a nickname based on his personality. Well this time it wasn’t so complimentary. ‘Ratté’ in English basically means ‘failed’ or ‘poor’ or ‘bad’, except that it is spelled ‘raté.’
So I can just imagine some guy who really understands the language and the culture, such as myself for example, who’s thinking about getting a new set of tires as I’m driving along Highway 138 and I see the sign for the ‘Failed Tire Shop’, or ‘Crappy Tire Shop’ and say to myself ‘Now THERE’S a place I want to do business with!’ Like NOT!
Another place was this company near Quebec City called Sanfacon Industries, which produces plastic utensils, paper placemats and moist towelets for restaurants and sells them throughout North America. Again, another case of the French soldier boy who probably didn’t do a good job here in Canada because ‘Sanfacon’ means ‘ill-mannered.’ So I can just imagine some sort of spoof advertising campaign for these guys that goes something like ‘Do you want some good moist towelletes for when you slobber all over yourself at the restaurant? No worries! You’ve got no manners and neither do we! We’re Ill-Mannered Industries and we supply a full range of moist towelletes for when you slobber all over yourself and plastic utensils for when you don’t have the urge to wash cutlery and save the planet!

Anyways, just a few thoughts as I move forward on this journey of discovery. Never thought a Biblical name would lead to references to passing wind in another Official Language, or that French soldier’s personalities would lead to such hilarious twists and turns in the meaning of words 400 years down the road for an Anglo dude thinking about getting a new set of tires for his vehicle or contemplating the status of disposable restaurant supplies in North America. Like, who woulda thought man?
Have a good one and God bless ya!

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