10 words used in Quebec that mean something very different in France

Be careful when you ask a French Canadian about his kids

Pardon my French, its just Canadian
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French speakers in Québec in Canada use some words in completely different ways to French people, probably due to being part of an English-speaking country an ocean away from France.

Although Québécois cannot be considered its own language, like Créole, it has words and expressions that you do not hear in France - or you find in a different context.

Often these result from direct imports from English - for instance, Québécois people refer to friends as ‘un chum’ or ‘le gang’.

However, there are also odd translations from English – such as ‘boîte a malle(mail)’ for postbox – and leftovers from an older version of French, such as ‘chauffer’ for driving, which comes from the old name for train drivers in charge of keeping coal engines heated.

Here are 10 other examples:

Une tuque

Also spelled ‘touque’ or ‘toque’, this word from Old French originally meant a hat. In Canada, both in English and French, it means a beanie, or a warm wool head covering for winter. That is called a ‘bonnet’ in France. ‘Toque’ is still used but it refers specifically to a chef’s hat, ‘une toque blanche’. It can also be used as a synecdoche for the word chef itself (‘une toque’ can mean a chef).

Mes gosses

You may hear this word often in France - it’s affectionate slang for children, like ‘kids’ in English - but beware as in French Canadian it is slang for testicles. So if someone wants to show you their 'gosses', find out if they're from Québec before saying yes.

Une blonde

Another example of a synecdoche is Québec’s way of referring to a romantic girlfriend as ‘ma blonde’, regardless of hair colour.

That may be confusing for people in France where ‘une blonde’ is either a derogatory term for a woman who is not very intelligent or a light beer. Meanwhile, some French may call a boyfriend ‘un Jules’, which used to be a common name for men.

Une culotte

In 18th century France, a ‘culotte’ meant the breeches worn by aristocracy. In Québec, the word is a synonym for ‘pants’ or ‘shorts’. In France today, a ‘culotte’ means women’s underwear.

Des tongues

Continuing the underwear theme, if a French person says that they are going to wear ‘tongues’ to work, they are referring to ‘flip-flops’ or sandals.

In Québec, this word means a thong, or tanga, a revealing undergarment.

Une camisole

The word ‘camisole’ is used in Québec to describe upper body clothing with no sleeves and thin straps over the shoulders. It is the original French word from when that type of clothing was invented in the 18th century.

It is now called a ‘débardeur’ in France, while ‘camisole’ is now associated with the ‘camisole de force’ which is a form of clothing used to restrain dangerous patients in psychiatric hospitals.

The word ‘camisole’ is so deeply associated with psychiatric hospitals that ‘mettre en camisole’ is sometimes used as a euphemism for being institutionalised.

It is also why drugs used to sedate a patient in psychiatric hospitals are sometimes called a ‘camisole chimique (chemical)’, as it has the same effects as a ‘camisole de force’.

Un embouteillage

A word you will hear very often in France, ‘embouteillage’ means traffic jam but a Québecois hearing this word will think of the act of bottling something (en-bouteille-age).

To refer to that same situation, people in Québec prefer the English-inspired ‘congestion’, which is also technically correct in France, but more often used to refer to another form of transit: an intestinal congestion.

La vidange

A term that must have caused some arguments in French-Québecois couples: ‘la vidange’ in French means an oil change for your car while it means taking out the rubbish in Québec.


When someone says thank you in English, the usual reply is ‘you’re welcome’. In Québec, that is translated directly as ‘bienvenue’, which means ‘welcome’ both in Canada and France.

However, the French say ‘de rien’ when they are thanked, so hearing ‘welcome’ instead can be confusing.

Une liqueur

In France, ‘liqueur’ has the same meaning as liquor: a strong alcoholic beverage. However, in Québec that means a sweet carbonated drink, also known as ‘pop’ in Canada.

If you tell your children to go buy some ‘liqueur’ in France, you risk getting some worried looks.

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