Working with people from Montréal, the last few months have been interesting not only in terms of occupation, but language, too. These days, when I encounter a new French word or phrase, chances are we’re talking Québécois – a form of French that’s specific to Québec. Callaghan is learning along with me. He already knew some Québécois, but a few words have come up that he didn’t know before. Blueberries, for example. They’re called les myrtilles in France, and les bleuets in Québec… totally unlike!
There are also words common to both French and Québécois, but with different meanings, such as les gosses. “Les gosses” means “kids” (children) in France, and “balls” (testicles) in Québec. Do not go to Québec and ask a man Est-ce que vous chercher vos petits gosses? Unless your intention is actually to ask whether he’s looking for his little testicles.
So, this brings me to my story.
When I received my boss’ invitation to a cinq à sept at his place recently, I knew he was referring to a group event scheduled from 5:00-7:00PM because that’s literally what the words mean – “five to seven” – but I was mystified, because the term was unfamiliar to me. Everywhere I’ve been in France, from Normandy to Paris to Bourgogne to Creuse to the Rhône-Alpes to the Alpes-Maritimes, a social gathering involving drinks and light fare from 5:00-7:00PM is called apéritifs, or simply apéros, a slangy abbreviation.
I asked Callaghan, who said he thought that the term “cinq à sept” was used in France back in the ‘60’s. It’s a case of obsolete language across the pond that’s still being used in Québec.
“That’s how it is in Québec,” he said, succinctly summing it up. “They use words that the French stopped using long ago.”
But it was Chantal (our friend who’s visiting from France for two weeks) who clarified the whole thing for us. She was listening as we were talking, and she informed us that the French do use the term “cinq à sept” – but its meaning has changed over the last few decades. It now refers to a sexual tryst, with a strong connotation of the affair being illicit. A typical example of a cinq à sept in France, she said, would be a boss and his secretary having a private meeting of an intimate nature after work hours. A cinq à sept usually involves sneaking around.
That would give a whole new meaning to the invitation in my email had a boss from France sent it, rather than a boss from Québec.
“Oh, this would not happen in France unless you’re his mistress!” said Chantal when she saw it. And we had a good laugh. It was especially funny considering that it was a group invitation.
Anyway, that’s how I learned that in France, an invitation from your boss to a cinq à sept is likely a booty call, whereas in Québec, it’s just an invite to a gathering with a group of people. From 5:00-7:00PM.