Our longest drive of the whole fortnight, we have 300 miles to travel from Ottawa to Quebec City. The instructions from our travel company suggest the scenic route north of the St Lawrence river. “The region is home to an abundance of immense lakes and picturesque villages”. Sounds a bit more interesting than hitting Highway 20, south of the river, and seeing nothing of our surroundings.
Our satnav woman has other ideas. Obviously not keen on the scenic route herself, she refuses to take us over the river to the French side and the machine is so basic there isn’t the option of keying in “avoiding motorways”. Everytime we try and just follow the road signs she’s yapping on at us,”recalculating, recalculating….turn around where possible”. We end up hopelessly lost in the suburbs of Ottawa at a petrol station. “Yeah, well I needed to fill up anyway”, Dougie says nonchalantly, as he squeezes a few dollars worth into the tank.
An hour or so into the journey and it seems hours since breakfast so we start looking for somewhere to eat. As usual we drive past plenty of suitable dining options because we’re “not sure” until we’re desperate and plump for a place not half as nice as the dozens we’ve already passed. However this place looks cheap and cheerful and has signs saying PIZZA so it will suffice. Having had a week’s worth of smiling “How can I help you, Sir?” americanised charm, we suddenly realise we’re in French territory now and a Gallic shrug is our welcome. Rory decides he would like a hotdog and that seems simple enough: the international language of fast food should help us out here.
“Un hot-dog”, I say confidently.
“Oui”, says our waitress at the counter, then follows this up with an incomprehensible question which sounds like “schrweeveeooroowerstee?”
I’m flummoxed. I have no idea what she’s saying. She stands and looks at me and just repeats the question, with no attempt to make it easier with any hand gestures. I seem to recognise the word “ou” in the middle of the phrase, it being the French for “or”, so I presume she is giving me some sort of choice pertaining to the hotdog.
“Maybe it’s with or without onions?”, Hubby offers.
“No, it’s not that, I know the French word for onion, it’s oignon!”
“Avec une baguette?”, I say, wondering whether she’s asking if he wants it in a roll or not.
“Oui, avec une baguette, mais schrweeveeooroowerstee?”
Not being that knowledgeable about the intricacies of hot dog cuisine, I’m at a loss. The waitress then turns to the three evil-looking cooks, brandishing their pizza cutters, and asks if they can translate. All three of them look at us as if we’ve questioned their parentage and say, “NON”.
I’m about to give up and just order a pizza when a knight in shining armour gets up from a nearby table and says,”How can I help you folks?”. My hero, an English-speaking Canadian who isn’t about to boil me alive. I explain the dilemma and the watiress repeats her question.”Oh, she wants to know whether you want your hot dog steamed or roasted?”To be honest, I’m still unsure how to reply and have to ask this nice chap what is the more usual method of hotdog preparation. Apparently it’s steamed! So steamed is what we order.
Our helpful diner then tells us that we’re off the beaten track and that they never get English speakers in this part of Quebec state and certainly never people from England itself. Quite staggering to think we’re only a few miles over the border from the English-speaking state of Ontario and yet we could be on a different continent. Dougie is not happy staying here a moment longer than necessary as we’re not “local people” and he reckons we could be lynched. Rory’s schrweeveed hotdog is shoved down his gullet at speed and we hot foot back to the car, turn the satnav back on and follow her directions to Quebec City by the quickest route possible.