French curse words and jam

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confitureThis is the third in a short series of posts about my family’s history, living in Canada as landed immigrants in the 1950s and 60s. You can read the second tale here, and the third one here. This particular series discusses my mother’s experiences living and working on a southern Alberta farm as a child. This will be the final post of this brief series.

There is a particular curse word in French that is quite vulgar when translated literally into English. However, the French no longer see it as such. It’s as common an insult in French as “idiot” is in English — it’s long taken on lesser connotations. If you aren’t sure what the word is, take a look at the first syllable in the word “connotations.” Maybe now you can imagine its English equivalent.

You’ll also find this word —con (pronounce like “cone” but the a very shortened “n” sound) — in the first syllable of the French word for jam: confiture. Georges, the beloved French farm-hand who worked for my grandfather when my family had its farm in southern Alberta, could not — nay, would not have breakfast without bread. And he would not have bread without his confiture. Mum and her twin brother René knew this. Knew it so well, that one morning, they decided to hide all the confiture.

So when Georges sat down that morning to help himself to breakfast — his bread and confiture — there was none to be found. Thus the question arose, “Où est la confiture?” Georges was asking.

“Oh, tu veux de la CONfiture?” came the response from the twins. “Je ‘n sais pas où est la CONfiture.” This particular emphasis and inflection was, quite sensibly, a great source of consternation for poor Georges. Georges le con. Not kind. And likely no help that my grandparents found that little gag particularly funny.

Georges eventually left Canada and headed back to France, though I think it had more to do with the fact that he really missed France. I don’t think Georges was integrating well in western Canada. I doubt the twins were helping much.

My mother and her brother stuck it out in Canada, though. Matter of fact, all my mum’s family did.

René steadily made his way eastward, stopping in Saskatchewan to join the RCMP, where he developed a deep-seated aversion to Shepherd’s Pie. He eventually found his way to Montréal, got married, had two children who are now in their 30s and worked as an RCMP member in charge of protecting federal politicians when they came over from Ottawa. He was front-and-centre during the FLQ Crisis.

René is a nationalist who guarded Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, among others. Both of them, he says, were very nice, very cool people. Some other federal leaders — I’m sure you can imagine which ones — he doesn’t speak so fondly of. René (and his wife) is retired now and spends most of his time cycling and cross-country skiing in and around Montréal.

Mum stayed in Western Canada, in Alberta. She made her way up to St Albert, a bit of a haven for the French among the blue-collar anglophones in the centre of the province. She worked at a law firm, and eventually met my father, somehow convincing him not to become a priest. (I learned this fact about three days ago. Needless to say, a series on my father is in order.) Mum married dad in 1969, got pregnant in her first year of University and spent the next 25 or so years raising three boys, including myself.

I think she did all right.

Mum speaks with a clear fondness for the farm, but is happy to be a city girl now, where she has access to creature comforts she’s become accustom to. And all the confiture she would ever need.

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