Cruising the Saint Lawrence River: A useful guide to speaking québécois

May 9, 2024

Brushing up on your French before a cruise along the Saint Lawrence River? That’s great, but you may still hit a few stumbling blocks! While French is the spoken language in the province of Québec, it has its own set of particularities and can be difficult to understand, even for native French speakers. Some of the local communities around our nine ports of call may have their own unique expressions to add to the mix. 

However, it’s not as complicated as it seems. Here are a few typical sayings you’re likely to hear during your travels, and what they typically mean. Tire-toi une bûche (grab a seat), we’re just getting started!  

In this article, you will learn all about:

  • Expressions relating to money
  • How to talk about the weather
  • Ordering food in québécois
  • Greeting someone in Québec

Bring the bacon!

The local currency in Québec is the Canadian dollar. But does anyone call it that? Of course not! You’re more likely to hear the term piasse, derived from the old French piastre. So $2.00 becomes deux piasses, and so on.

Think you got it? Think again! We haven’t covered coins yet. There are 100 cents (sous) in a dollar (piasse). Coins come in five-, ten-, and 25-cent denominations. The latter being called… A ‘trente-sous’! Yes, you understand correctly. The coin that’s worth 25 cents is not commonly known as a quarter, but rather as the 30-cent (pronounced cennes) coin. Go figure.

This actually leads to the very confusing expression ‘changer quatre trente sous pour une piasse’. This saying means that a change is meaningless, or that is the equivalent of switching four 25-cent coins for a dollar. Except that with quarters behind called trente-sous, the expression now translates to changing $1.20 for a dollar, a completely different meaning. Get it? We don’t either!

T’as-tu chaud?

Québecois and québécoises have a tendency to shorten words and blend them together. Phrases such as Tu sais (you know) becomes t’sais, and eventually tsé, and the saying je ne sais pas (I don’t know) goes from j’sais pas to ché pâs. Much quicker!

But this also means that making small talk about the weather isn’t always as easy as we think.

Greeted with a ‘fa’chaud’? This expression started life as ‘il fait chaud’ (it’s warm) and got a little bit muddled along the way. Same goes for its counterpart, ‘fa’frette’. Although nobody seems to agree on the origin of the word frette, its meaning is quite clear: it’s absolutely freezing out here.

If you’re looking for a more colourful expression, try out a ‘je suis gelé comme une crotte’, although this one is a little cruder. Literally translated to feeling as cold as a frozen turd, this expression may come from the good old days when kids hoping to play ice hockey would grab a frozen horse turd to use as a hockey puck on the ice!

Garçon, l’addition!

While ordering food is fairly straightforward, particularly when visiting bigger cities such as Montréal or Québec, French tourists may get slightly confused by Québec’s meal schedule.

What the French call it vs. What the people of Québec call it 

Petit déjeuner | Déjeuner

Déjeuner | dîner

Dîner | souper

So when making an appointment to meet up for breakfast, lunch or dinner, do write down the time as an extra precaution as you could end up waiting a while.

And should you hear someone say to the chef that ‘c’est écœurant’, do not be offended. While the words literally translate to ‘it’s disgusting’, this is actually a compliment and means the food is out of this world. But if trying it out for yourself, make sure you say it with a smile, as it could indeed be taken the other way, depending on your facial expression…


While Canada is a bilingual country, visitors to the Saint Lawrence region cruise along the French-speaking region and will be greeted in French when first arriving anywhere.

However, there is nothing to worry about. Québecers are very warm and friendly, and service in both French and English is available in all nine destinations dotted along the River route. 

So how should you greet the locals? Well, that depends on the time of day. Use bonjour in the morning or afternoon, bonsoir in the evening or bonne nuit at the end of the night. And should you have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with members of Canada’s 11 Indigenous Nations, try a warm kwe! It will surely go a long way!

Find out more about the Cruise the Saint Lawrence sustainable development guidelines on our sustainability page.