Multicultural Miscommunication

When you get a quote from a business and you are speaking in French, you will be surprised at how important the et” and the “a” can be.”
Cher Yukon,

Comment ca va? Today I am not recounting a funny or touching incident. Instead I would like to share just one of the many stories of misunderstanding that can take place in the multilingual, multicultural city of Montréal.

OK, it is right after Christmas and I have some pictures I want to give to my Mom (from my new camera) as we are spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with her. My photos are on a USB key, and I figure I can find somewhere to make copies.

My daughter, Corey, is with me at the Atwater Mall. She is looking at puppies in a pet shop. 
Chelsea is visiting in Whitehorse (you may have seen her). Anyway, the afternoon is passing by and I realize I haven’t yet done the pictures. I find a little independent camera shop and decide to try it out.

I am greeted with “Bonjour. Je peux vous aider?” by a man with a noticeable non- Québécois accent. This is not uncommon, as there are so many multilingual people here.

I respond in French, as I usually do now, and ask if I can have copies made right away. I don’t make multiple copies of photos too often, and this my first attempt since Whitehorse Wal-Mart or Superstore.

The salesman explains that under 10 copies it is “une et quatre-vingt neuf ($1.89), but over 10 copies it is “une et vingt-neuf” ($1.29).

Now, in my brain and because of the salesman’s accent, I am hearing one at 89 cents or one at 29 cents, substituting the word “et” (and) for “a” (at) because I am used to copies costing from 29 to 40 cents at the photo machines.

I think to myself, Well, I have more than 10 photos, so it will not be worse than the photo machines, and I order three copies of the 20 photos in all. (I’m sure you are getting the picture.) I say I’ll come back in 10 minutes and I go to check out the adorable puppies.

I go back to the photo shop and the salesperson, who may very well be the owner, gives me the stack of photos and rings in the price at the till. He has a big smile on his face and I start laughing as I think he is joking.

I wait for the real total.

As you have probably figured out by now, I thought I was going to pay 29 cents a copy. In actuality, each copy was priced at one dollar AND 29 cents.

The salesman now is dead serious and says, “That is the price.”

Well, I panic and say, “I can’t afford that! I’m sorry, I don’t want these photos.”

Now it gets ugly.

The pleasant demeanour of the salesman changes and he says, “You will pay!” (he has switched to English now). “I explained to you the price.”

I try to explain that I misunderstood and that it is too expensive.

“You will pay or I will call the police!” he almost yells at me.

There are other people in the shop now. I am losing steam on the argument. Then he chimes in, “You are not a baby. I explained to you the price.”

OK, so now I am angry, upset … and embarrassed. So as not to cause any further commotion, I drop my credit card on the counter. I figure, oh well, I’ll lump this expense in with the rest of the holiday hoo ha.

“No credit cards here,” he states.

Aargh! Nothing is going my way. I pay with my debit and politely pick up my photos. I say, “Thank you. These will make nice presents.” I walk out of the store trying not to look as sheepish as I feel.

Needless to say, this photo shop is definitely off my list of places to visit.

There is no moral to this story. There is no postscript. There is just, hopefully, a lesson for anyone reading. Don’t assume anything and, oh yes, get a price quote before you go check out the puppies.

Until the next adventure,
Your friend, Dale

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top