How to Communicate with your Francophone Maintenance Worker: a guide for new anglophones in Quebec*

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*by a new anglophone in Quebec


So you've decided to leave English Canada and settle down in Quebec. Congratulations! Quebec is a province of diverse food, people, and culture. You know you'll love it here, but there's a snag: you don't speak French (yet). Unfortunately, it'll take a while for you to get a hang of the language. All those things that can go wrong in your new apartment might not wait for you to know how to string more than three words together. At some point, you'll probably have to jump that language barrier and communicate with your francophone maintenance worker.

Not to worry! Here is a handy guide for you to pull this off without a hitch:

Getting in contact
This is one of the most difficult steps. You can't just phone them and say, "Hey, my apartment's fridge is broken," because they'll just answer with "pardon?" and you'll get nowhere. You'll need a go-between.

Option 1: Talk to your landlord. If you managed to communicate enough to sign your lease, they probably speak at least a little English. They're also there to help you, so you should be able to just ask.
Option 2: Recruit a neighbour. You live in Quebec now! At least one of your neighbours will speak French and English. Unlike your landlord, however, you aren't paying them rent, so you may need to bring along a bribe. I recommend baked goods.

Relaying the problem
Hopefully, you sent your go-between along with at least a little description of the problem. Either way, you're going to have to try to communicate with the worker about what's going on in your apartment, and you'll need to do it around that pesky language barrier.

Option 1: Gather some visual aids. Get out your pencils and draw what you need done. Hey, it can't be that hard, right? The references are right in front of you. They'll totally be able to tell your sketch is of a broken fridge.
Option 2: Employ Google translate. Sure, it's not perfect, but it isn't always complete gibberish, right? If you keep your sentences short, at least something should be useful to them. Hopefully.

Clarifying the problem
Okay, so maybe you weren't so clear. Between your go-between and your visual or literary masterpiece, your maintenance worker should have something of an idea of what to do, but they're probably still confused. Let's try again.

Option 1: Try to explain slowly. Try throwing in what French words you do know and slowly and carefully enunciate your English. Maybe they know just enough English to figure out what you're trying to say.
Option 2: Redraw your visual aid. It wasn't that bad! You can get it this time! Look, see, that's the fridge and that's the freezer.

Playing "Language Barrier Charades"
Alright, this isn't working. Time to break out the big guns. You need physical demonstrations.

Option 1: Use body language. You took a drama class in high school, you've got this. Make big gestures towards where the problem is and mime what sort of repairs are needed. They'll get it.
Option 2: Round up some props. Use whatever you have around to aid in your charades. Actually, just use the broken object in question. Maybe you should have started with that.

Thanking the worker
Phew! Finally. You've got the message across and the repairs are finished. All that's left is to thank your friendly (and patient) maintenance worker.

Option 1: Give them a hug. Everyone likes hugs, right? Well, maybe not if they're coming from someone they can't communicate with. Do some charades to get your intentions across first.
Option 2: Speak French. Hey! They just put up with your anglophone scrambling to communicate. The least you can do is to try saying thank you in French. Thank you is "bonsoir", right?

1 Comment

I found this an entertaining article from a semi-trianguale perspectives. Whenever I need to ask for something in Lebanese I employ all of the steps mentioned above, especially the one about visual and body language.
It usually works, even if I look like I crazy person speaking in three different languages while making strange gestures.
Also I work in a grocery store where many immigrants, who can't speak any official language, shop. I usually have to decipher what they're saying and wish they would know to bring visuals when they want something specific.

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