Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Est-ce que vous avez un pochon?"

While I was in France, I shopped at the local Super U mega-grocery store for some gifts to take back to Korea. My cart now loaded with goodies, I got in line for the cashier. The line moved slowly, but when it was finally my turn, I asked the cashier whether she had a plastic bag for me to put my items in. I phrased my question thus:

"Est-ce que vous avez un pochon?"

As I explained to Dominique and family later that evening, the cashier looked at me as if I had sprouted a second head ("Elle m'a regardé comme si j'avais poussé une deuxième tête!"). Immediately understanding that pochon was the wrong word, I tried to clarify by asking for either "un sachet" or "un sac en plastique."

After the cashier shook herself free of her surprise, she asked me, "Est-ce que vous êtes belge?" Are you Belgian? "On dit ça en Belgique." People say that in Belgium.

"No," I told her lamely, "but people said 'pochon' back in the 1980s." She didn't seem very impressed. I began to wonder whether I had simply made the word up in my head, then convinced myself that it was a legitimate French word.

When I relayed all this to Dominique, he laughed and said, "Pochon, c'est une expression nantaise," i.e., the word pochon is a regionalism used in the Nantes area. So I was reassured that I hadn't hallucinated the word, nor had I learned it and used it incorrectly. I simply hadn't realized the expression wasn't used all over France.

I noted to Dom that, in French-speaking Switzerland (la suisse romande), they say un cornet when asking for a bag. Later on, I realized that the cashier had never given me a bag because France had banned all plastic shopping bags in 2016. In France these days, everything is éco and bio, i.e., green. Think: America's current attempt to ban plastic straws.

Anyway, I came away having learned something new about an old word. In fact, I got corrected a lot this time around, mainly by Dominique. I really need to work on my French, which has gotten rusty (rouillé) from lack of use.


Neil Barker said...

Interesting regionalism. I'm reviving my own long-lost classroom French here in Aylmer, Québec (just over the river from Ottawa, Ontario. The cashiers here use un sac for grocery bag.

It's funny how the classroom French (continental standard French) many English Canadians are taught hits the cold hard reality of français québécois. It reminds me of my time in Korea trying to decipher Kyongsang dialect around Daegu and Busan.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, I had trouble understanding the accent around Daegu. As for the québecois accent... I'll slap a post up about that soon.

Neil Barker said...

Sounds good. I stopped off after work again today and caught the expression:
"Voulez-vous un sac?"