Quebec : La Francophonie

It all seemed so unfair, Britain was having its hottest summer since records began, as well as a drought, while I was waterlogged; in the wrong place at the wrong time again I thought. I had to think of something, like summertime, to while away the hours as the rain fell through the darkness, on and on. I was protected, but not drying out, much too wet to actually sleep. As dawn broke and the rain eased I started walking again, just to be doing something, I couldn’t get much wetter.

Eventually I found my way back to the hostel, the Auberge de Jeunesse de la Paix, and thankfully they were just opening. This time they recognised my situation and found me a bunk. It was a godsend, a proper youth hostel with a kitchen and washing machines. I spent a few hours sorting out my sodden rucksack, had a hot bath to warm up and a much needed breakfast. The Auberge is a 19th century house in the heart of Old Quebec, still going strong today. This would be the only place I paid for accommodation (it was very cheap) during the whole trip, apart from when I was in New York.

Contemporary photograph of Auberge de Jeunesse de la Paix, from their website.

I was still exhausted after the previous night without sleep, and now the rain had finally stopped, I walked round the town in a daze. The aftermath of the storm was still blowing itself out and it was very gusty out on the exposed boardwalk. Quebec is a charming place, I felt like I was back in provincial France, but a suburban lassitude came over me and I meandered around meaninglessly, feeling rootless and apathetic. After a nap back at the Auberge I felt better and determined to find the nightlife, it was a Saturday after all.

The nightlife turned out to be at the end of the road in a spacious pub bursting with drunken locals and travellers. There was general cacophony, some were singing, and a lot of beer was being drunk. I wondered what they were celebrating, but it turned out this was normal behaviour on a Saturday. Despite being a fluent French speaker I was having trouble communicating with the locals, and they seemed to be laughing at my accent, some of them started calling me La Reine. Oh yeah that’s me Queen of England, and of Canada, I said, so watch out! I welcomed the chance to flounce about and play the fool with a beer mat crown, but I still hadn’t got the joke. My newly found French friends in the pub were speaking Français Québécois, essentially a regional dialect, with ancient rural roots and a slightly modified vocabulary. I did not have too much trouble understanding them since I had been living in the Auvergne in rural France, and got used to the rough local pronunciation there. However to them I sounded like a stuck-up Lord with my “posh” French, carefully enunciated. Think of Quebec French like a strong West Country bumpkin accent, as opposed to Received Pronunciation as spoken by, you guessed it, the Queen. Ah, the penny dropped, I started slurring and chewing my words, copying their diphthongs and everyone laughed, I could speak Québécois! This explained my previous French conversation problems, they all thought I was trying to talk down to them, they didn’t like my accent, I had no idea how strong and ancient the local dialect was. This was all explained with good grace and the party continued.

I was adopted by a group of travelling girls and we went on a little pub crawl, Quebec’s pub culture was quite louche and raucous everywhere we went. I started smokin’ O.P.’s (other people’s cigarettes) – indoors of course – and cosying up to the girls, but nothing came of it except a good time. How I managed to do any reading back at the hostel in my drunken state, I don’t know.