I was awful at French. I grew up struggling with reading in English and being forced to study a second language seemed like a challenge that was beyond my grasp. This was tough for my parents to accept – especially given that my Mother was raised French-Canadian (Acadian to be exact).
My argument was that she spoke half-French and half-English. If you haven`t heard Acadian Patois, it is difficult to imagine. I once heard my Uncle say something very close to:
Jài allais a la beer store avec mon car et fait un crash
(jhay alay a la beer store avec mon car a fay un crash)
To fully simulate the statement, say it as fast as you possibly can and then imagine saying it 4 times faster than you are capable.
I have teased my mother and Family for a long time about their bastardization of French. The teasing dropped after two college summers in Quebec where I finally learned to speak my own version of French – it`s not the strongest but I lived for 12 weeks in the language and survived with no English (even dreaming in French).
But the teasing continued. It even continued this summer when my dear Grandmother mentioned something about `des sneakers.` I had to tease her about this and I did.
Her reaction was kind and measured. It started with a look that said I was about to learn something (I imagine her as starting by saying `Dear boy…` but know that she didn`t). `Joel, I grew up French. When sneakers first arrived in our town they were brought from the English. There was no word for sneakers – we had not seen them before and had to use the word since we didn`t have one of our own.`
My heart sunk with comprehension. Think of my Uncle`s statement: beer store, car, crash. All things that came to their culture faster than words could take root.
So many conversations flooded my mind and I learned so much about my past. I don`t tease about the language any more and pay greater attention to the English words that creep in – and note that many of them are products or things that are less than 60 years old. The language is being swallowed by more and more English (most of my cousins who grew up in the same village as my Mother don`t speak French at all).
What happens to our food, traditions and recipes as we begin to swallow and be swallowed by other languages?
There are two French food words which I adore and wish we could replace our names with theirs:
Seafood is Fruits de Mer (Fruit of the Ocean).
Potato is Pomme de terre (Apple of the Earth).
There are, of course, many benefits to merging cultures and wonderful new discoveries and combinations borne of integrating our approaches and knowledge around food. Let us ensure we are both preserving our past as well as sharing forward. After all, the Internet is much faster than the coal burning train which brought sneakers, beer stores and cars to Cape Breton.