Monday, October 11, 2010

Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis!

It is a tradition that when the Moores and I get together, we watch “Mission Cléopatra”—a movie based on the famous Asterisk and Obelisk cartoons—which came out a few years ago. It is a very silly movie, but filled with hilarious and brilliant word/visual/ cultural plays, and there is absolutely no way to translate it. So I can only enjoy it with a few people—and last night we enjoyed it again, laughing until we fell inevitably on the floor in tears.

The Moores have also introduced me to another hilarious film, which not even all the French would get: “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis”— Welcome to the Home of the Ch’tis—a film by Dany Boon, a well-known comedian from the North.

“Ch’ti” (pronounced “shtee”) is a local word for the people of the North, and it recreates the ‘sh’ sound the Northerners put everywhere, very often at the beginning of words. So for example, if I wanted to say I was from the North, I would say, “Je suis ch’ti, moi.” And it would sound like “J’shwe (one syllable only!) shtea moi.” It’s no wonder I didn’t know what I was hearing when I first got to the North fresh from language school!

Back to the movie: a spoof on Northern culture, the movie plays on all the clichés of the North, as the North is perceived by the rest of France, and the famous ‘ch’ti’ patois—the distinctive northern pronunciation and convoluted grammar. We are now walking around with our northern accents reved up, and leaving poor Andrew in the dust. (Although he is doing a fine job of picking up the more standard French!)

Unless you are from the North, or have lived there for a good amount of time, you would miss the allusions and word plays, even if you were French. But if ever you want to get a glimpse into my life in northern France, I highly recommend “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis”—and don’t worry if you don’t get it all. If nothing else, we'll have something to talk about next time I see you! The translation is ridiculous, but the scenery and the emotional landscape are right on. The only inaccuracy is the weather--which belies the gray, dreary, rainy climate of the North.

So, two of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen I cannot share with my Anglophone friends! But you all know the joy of serious belly laughs with good friends. And
if you’ve lived cross-culturally, you know also the joy of finding again those roots that go so deep. We will always be ‘ch’ti’ somewhere in our hearts.

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