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French 101 for Truckers

QUEBEC CITY, Que. - My job takes me into Quebec on occasion. One thing I've noticed is that, outside of the island of Montreal, you won't find many people who speak English, and this includes the near...


Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs


QUEBEC CITY, Que. – My job takes me into Quebec on occasion. One thing I’ve noticed is that, outside of the island of Montreal, you won’t find many people who speak English, and this includes the near suburbs, like Laval or Boucherville.

I had an interesting encounter with a security guard at the Kingsway yard near Dorval airport a couple of months ago. His English was as good as my French and we made diagrams, rattled off numbers of trailers in two languages, and pointed in opposite directions trying to understand each other.

Even the menu at Tim Horton’s is different. Instead of the chili deal, you can get “roties avec feves au lard, cafe et une beigne” (toast with pork and beans, coffee and a donut).

Francophone drivers who travel outside Quebec are either bilingual or get by with rudimentary English. But the same is not usually true for Anglophone truckers who pick up and deliver in La Belle Province – most English-speaking truck drivers function in only one language.

Learning a bit of French might help you do your job better. It’s not like carrying around baggage. And even a brief glimpse at another culture can be an enriching experience.

The directions on the highways are pretty easy: “nord, sud, ouest and est,” translate as “north, south, west and east.” When you see a sign on the TransCanada that says “Circulation fluide, conduisez prudemment,” that’s good. It means “Traffic moving well, drive carefully.” But if you see a sign that says “2 voies gauche ferme avant,” get ready for a brake check – this says, “two left lanes closed ahead.”

“Salut,” is a universal greeting. If I’m dropping a trailer at a yard in Quebec I usually follow up with something like, “Je parle un peu de francais mais tres mal, pouvez-vous m’aider?” (I speak only a little French and very badly, can you help me?). If the person I am talking to is bilingual, they will usually switch to English at this point to save me from mauling the French language. If not, I resort to drawings and gesticulations. Pointing and asking, “la bas?” (over there) is often helpful.

There are tens of thousands of French-speaking truck drivers and not all are from Quebec. The Maritimes, Northern Ontario and parts of Manitoba have significant Francophone populations.

North American French is a living and evolving language and you can hear lots of it on the CB radio. French truckers use channel 10 in Quebec and channel 12 in the rest of Canada to contact each other, just like English drivers use 19.

Generally it takes more words to say the same thing in French (maybe that’s why they talk so fast).

For instance, “seatbelt” translates as “ceinture de securite du conducteur.” But lots of English terms have wormed their way into ‘Trucker French.’

“Le camionneur” is a truck driver, but “le trailer” and “la remorque” are both used. French drivers might say “dix-quatre” or alternately “10-4” in English or “zero-four.”

And sometimes you hear “J’ai ton back door” on the radio.

“La police” or “smokey” is used interchangeably, but in Northern Quebec, one driver told me, a police cruiser with radar might be called “deux cents avec la sechoire en avant,” literally translated as “a two hundred with a blow drier ahead.”

It’s a bit of a pun, actually. The “deux cents” part derives from the expression, “deux sans genie,” or two fellows without any smarts, and “la sechoire,” or hairdryer, stands for a radar gun.

Of course knowing a bit of French can cause problems as well.

A common mistake is confusing French fries with prostitutes. Poutine is a popular, fattening fast food much loved by truck drivers consisting of fries, gravy and cheese curds. “Une putin,” on the other hand, is a rather crude way of saying call girl. So watch what you order at Harvey’s.

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Many thanks to Lucie Khounvongsa of the Quebec Trucking Association for translating the following:

When will my load be ready?

Quand ma chargement serait-elle prete?

Where can I drop my trailer?

Ou puis-je laisser/deposer ma remorque?

Where can I pick up my load for Ottawa?

Ou est-ce que je peux cueillir mon chargement pour Ottawa?

Is this the bill of lading? Are there any Customs papers?

Est-ce ceci le connaissement? Y a-t-il des papiers de douane?

I have a flat on my trailer. Do you know who I can call to get it fixed?

J’ai une crevaison. Savez-vous qui est-ce que je peux appeler pour la reparer?

Where’s the closest place to get some diesel fuel?

Ou est la station-service la plus pres?

How far is it to Trois Rivieres from here?

A quelle distance d’ici est Trois-Riviere?

Do you know a good truck stop on the way?

Connaissez-vous une bon arret routier pour s’arreter?

Do you know a good place to eat?

Connaissez-vous une bonne place pour manger?

I’m lost. How do I get back on Highway 20 to get to Quebec City?

Je me suis perdu. Comment est-ce que je peux reprendre l’autoroute 20 pour me rendre a Quebec?

Can you help me?

Pouvez-vous m’aider?


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