My French Life : My Chtimi neighboursh shpeak ch’ti – not French

Written by on July 26, 2012 in My French Life

When I bought a house in France I thought learning the language would be a breeze. I didn’t actually need to learn much, just brush up a bit. I’d studied French at school, gone to school in France to practice, spent almost every holiday in France and in my job worked in Geneva and with Swiss teams who spoke French. So it should have been a doddle.

However… this is not how it has turned out. They don’t speak French here in my part of Pas-de-Calais.

I know, you’re looking at this and saying what on earth if she rattling on about today? Well I tell you they speak a sort of French but it is not the sort of French that I know and love … and speak.

They speak ch’ti here.

It’s a patois, a local dialect and it is really really hard to understand if you’re a foreigner. In fact it’s really hard to understand if you’re French.  The OH’s osteopath comes from Lille and he says he can’t understand a word they say round here where we live. He likens it to a very strong Scottish accent – incomprehensible.

I watched the Dany Boon film a while back “Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis” which translates as “welcome to the sticks”. It is France’s most popular film and it tells the story of southerners forced to move to the north of France as punishment. Southerners in France think that Nord Pas-de-Calais – the Ch’tis – is the North pole of Europe, that it rains all the time, the food is dire and the people are peasants who guzzle beer like it’s going out of fashion.  The Southerners are portrayed as narrow minded and snobbish, reluctant to face the truth – that the people of the north are actually kindly souls who live in fabulous countryside! The film gently pokes fun at both southerners and northerners and is a really charming portrait of life in the north and for me it went a long way to explaining the language.

Basically they add a “ch” – pronounced “sh” – to words with a c pronounced with an “s” sound– or at least that is what I understand! So, as an example instead of ca va, they say cha va and you hear sha va, c’est is ch’est. pincer is pincher. Words with ch in them have a t added to the front so chien becomes thcien. The “ch” can be added to the front of certain words that don’t even begin with an “c” and it doesn’t end there. It is in actual fact a whole new language with altogether different words for everyday objects even – chaise (chair) is cayelle in ch’ti, the French word for you – tu is ti, for me – moi, is mi!

My neighbours seem to find my bewilderment highly entertaining. Remy told me that I should ask Pierre if I could have a sit on his bidet. I laughed nervously – what new nonsense was this? None said Remy innocently, bidet is ch’ti for cheval (horse), he merely thought I might like to go horse-riding – ha, these Chtimi people have a sense of humour that’s for sure.

The saying here goes “Les gens du nord ont le soleil dans le Coeur”  (The people in the north have the sun in their hearts) – they need to as it actually does rain a lot here, but it’s true, they are a very friendly lot, in fact in all the places I’ve been in France I have never met a more welcoming or affable bunch of people.

I have been given a Ch’ti dictionary by one of my neighbours and am learning words from it in order to chuck a few practiced mots into my conversations with my neighbours, here’s a sample:

Science = schïinche in Ch’ti (fr: science)

Ch’ti word Roufrouf (faire du) – travallier tres vite sand prendre aucune précaution contre les accidents, notmamment en négligent le boisage… basically means mediocre work style…

Picher is ch’ti for to urinate (fr: uriner)

Piche-vinaigre means  moany woman!

Wish me luck, I think I might need it!

A bientôt

Related Articles

Insider tips to help you make friends with the locals in France

Making friends in France isn’t difficult I’ve found. They don’t care if my French is not great or I get my grammar all wrong. They don’t even care that much that I am “Flop chef not Top Chef” and can barely grill a bit of French bread without spoiling it. But there are some things […]

Continue Reading

How to make friends in France | Entente Cordiale

“When I move to France I only want to have French friends”. This was a line in an email I received from a couple of Brits. They wanted advice on where to move to in France and this was one of their criteria. They also wanted to be near a town that has a market, […]

Continue Reading

Reviews for My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh

When Lesley O’Mara of Michael O’Mara publishers in London emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in having my story published, I leapt at the chance. I mean, who wouldn’t! Lesley had seen a feature on me in the Financial Times, about how I’d given up the bright lights and mean streets of London […]

Continue Reading

Reasons to love France No 5 | Paris

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”  Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast It doesn’t just stay with you, you hanker after it forever more… What makes us fall in […]

Continue Reading

My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh | Coming to America

An email popped into my in box from my publishers the other day “You’re going to America”… Well they didn’t mean me exactly, they meant my book is being published in print (it’s already available as an ebook), but I can tell you I am no less excited about it. When I went on a […]

Continue Reading


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.