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Bienvenue to the land of Ch’ti – The dialect of the North of France

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - Bienvenue to the land of Ch'ti - Ch'tis - Lille Panorama

The Northern department Hauts-de-France can be a challenge for a French language learner. Under the 2016 new territorial reform, the department is a fusion of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie, enriched with a difficult Patois, quirky traditions and unusual French expressions.

Through my own experiences living in Lille, I’d like to help you avoid making similar French mistakes as I did and allow you to understand the funny world of the Ch’tis!

Standard French versus Ch’ti

Ch’ti, is the Northern dialect of France and is often referred to as the language used in the 2008 film ‘Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis’ starring French comedian, Dany Boon and often translated as ‘Welcome to the sticks’.

As for the French, the North isn’t somewhere you’d choose to go! Even putting the bad weather aside, another reason for this reputation is the Ch’ti patois, sadly depicted to be used by the uneducated, with its differences to standard French.

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - Bienvenue to the land of Ch'ti - Ch'tis - Ch'ti Beer

Listen out for the accent!

– It’s very strong and often confusing, as speakers of Ch’ti add many “ch” sounds, pronounced “sh” to words that normally include ‘s’.

– “Ça va” becomes “cha va” pronounced “sha va”.

– To make things even more complicated, words with “ch” in standard French, can have a ‘t’ added to them, like “tchien”.

– Even the basic tu and moi become “ti” and “mi” along with a huge glossary full of different words.

It truly is another language altogether!

Are you confused yet?

Don’t worry, it’s rare to find French people who speak only in Ch’ti, but here is a useful way to learn expressions and vocabulary is an online Ch’ti glossary that will give you the standard French translation!

The French Northern quoi

Learning French for many years, I always assumed quoi was simply “what” in English. Living in the North of France made me realise how wrong this assumption was.

In the North, quoi is frequently dropped in the middle of sentences – literally as a sentence filler like “bah!” When questioned on its meaning, I was told “It means nothing! It’s just the Northern QUOI!”.

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - Bienvenue to the land of Ch'ti - Ch'tis - Lille Streets

So do not worry if you think people are asking you questions or yelling “what” in the middle of phrases, they’re searching for their words!

Quoi, is also used in the Northern expression – “Je vous dis quoi”. This can cause a lot of mistakes in a conversation! The best way to explain this expression to you is to refer back to ‘Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis’ with its use in this scene from the film. In standard French, we are hearing “Je vous dis quoi” as if it were a question.

Avoid this misunderstanding in the North by remembering they really mean “Je te tiens au courant!” (I will keep you up to date!)

Feeling a l’aise in the North of France

After mastering the language differences, it’s time to get used to the la culture du Nord in French houses.

Here are my tips. Even though team member Jill Craig has shared her experiences with cultural differences in France, I want to discuss my experiences of living in the North, to help you avoid my mistakes when visiting!

  • In the North of France, like in most of France, every shop owner will say hello and wish you a good day. It’s a must that you say hello as you walk in, and goodbye as you walk out. If not, you are considered to be RUDE!
  • Not having anything to drink or eat (without good reason) can make certain French people believe you are uncomfortable in their home! This is similar to how English people expect you to stay for a cup of tea. So drink up!
  • The French have an apéro before a meal, which normally involves a glass of the French cocktail kir or even bubbly! Attention: avoid drinking your drink straight away though – there is normally a toast. I almost always forgot this and toasted with
  • a glass half full….

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - Bienvenue to the land of Ch'ti - Ch'tis - Typical Chti Dialect

  • It is normal for colleagues in the North to invite you to dinner. Even if they’ve just met you! Apparently this is extremely common for Northern people and afterwards its usually your responsibility to invite them! So indulge, never say NO and don’t forget to reciprocate!

Despite its difficult dialect, the British-like weather and the drinking habits, for me, j’adore le Nord! and it will always be my second home!


Have you’ve encountered any Ch’ti or French Northern traditions? Maybe you’ve seen ‘Bienvenue les Ch’tis’? Are you planning on travelling to the North of France soon? Share your comments and experiences in the comments below.


Image Credits:
1. Lille Panorama by dronepicr via flickr 
2. Ch’ti beer of the North by Simon Schoeters via flickr
3. Streets of Lille by Maelick via flickr
4. Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis Audesou via flickr
5. Typical Northern Expressions by OliBac via flickr


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