Monday, December 13, 2010

La chenillette me fait chier!

La famille Chenillette

The french of Québec can be quite elusive. Sometimes it seems that it's better to find out a bunch of words and then ask if they are the correct ones rather than just ask people what the word for something is. The relevant case in point is snow plow. Each winter, I ask people how you say snowplow and I never really get a solid answer. The most solid I've heard is "déneigeuse", but it seemed too literal. People also speak of the "chasse-neiges", but that refers to the entire range of snow-removing vehicles (and possibly non-vehicles as well).

Even more elusive is the word for the little guy that does the sidewalks. These, as my longtime readers will well know, are a favourite of mine. Little diesel smokers that tear up and down the sidewalks, mangling bikes, scaring pedestrians and (as we will see) smashing fences. Well I just learned about the word "Chenillette".

Un chenille is a caterpillar. It's also used to describe any tracked vehicle (like a tank or a snow plow). So you can say "une véhicule à chenille" or even use it as an adjective, "chenillé". So a chenillette is a little tracked vehicle and was used for those small, tracked gun cars in WWII as well as snow plows on mountains in France. I polled the office and only a few of the Québécois referred to the sidewalk plow as a chenillette, but definitely one or two of them did. Also, chenille is not pronounced shuh-nee, it's pronounced schneeyuh. And you can use it to refer to a tractor just like we do in english (though I'm not sure if that is because of the brand name; which may in turn come from their mode of transportation).

In this conversation, I also finally learned the word "la charrue" which means snowplow! Why was this a big secret? How come when I asked how you say snowplow in french, nobody just said charrue? It's so weird. In any case, une charrue is also a big old ugly woman and quite offensive. There is also the very good phrase "placer la charrue devant les boeufs" which is the french equivalent of placing the cart before the horse. Good to know!

La famille Charrue [does this go too far?]

The building I live in has a teeny front yard, which is the right and responsibility of the owner of the Rez-de-chaussée (ground floor). It has a small wooden fence in front of it and every year, because of the closeness of the sidewalk tree, it gets damaged by the chenillette, who has to maneuver closely by it. Last winter, our neighbour moved the fence's rail on the backside of the post to create another 4 inches of maneuvering room. She also put up some orange flags. So this summer, we went for the same. I did the work and also re-attached the missing vertical slats. The downstairs neighbour's daughter's boyfriend re-did her front gate entirely (and did quite a nice job; he was surprisingly handy).

I don't know if there was something exceptionally difficult or if we have a new chenillette driver, but after the very first snowfall, the dude just went absolutely hogwild, took out half the slats and an entire gate. And then last night, he took out half the slats on the other side. And despite that, he still can't seem to properly clear the sidewalk in front of our place. There remains a mound a good 10 inches above the rest of the sidewalk. I respect these guys and their work, but come on! How come we only lost a few slats in the last few winters and now all of a sudden the whole thing is taken out in the first snowfall? I did notice that the chenillette is red and I think the one last year was yellow, so it could be that this model is bigger in some way and harder to maneuver.

I really don't feel like fixing the fence every year. I had suggested just getting rid of it, but the downstairs neighbour said without a fence, you get way more dogs taking a shit and other stuff. Now I'm scheming of perhaps a removable fence, which we can just lift up and store in the backyard for the winter. Might be a cool project.

So to my francophone readers, what do you call the little sidewalk snowplows?

And for your visual pleasure and edification, here are some images of the damage:

Look at our stubbornly proud little reflecting flags, trying to so hard to be helpful and yet looking pretty guilty for their failure at this point. It's not your fault, guys! You did your best.

You can see how the snow rises here. Our fence was destroyed but they still didn't manage to clear the snow.

Well the gate itself is intact, but the entire post holding it in the ground has been sheared off.

It's the fencacolypse!

I tried to capture the mound here, where the plow didn't get down to the sidewalk. You can't really see the different levels, but you can see where the sidewalk is exposed on either side of it. This, combined with the excessive amount of leaves and garbage we accumulate relative to the rest of the block is starting to make me feel kind of paranoid.


mare said...

The Quebecois in my life (one of them driving snow plows in the winter) call them Bombardiers. The original model (yellow) was made by that brand. Recently the city got new ones that are better maneuverable, but are slightly bigger.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yeah, I asked about Bombardier at work but nobody here used that term. I'll broaden my survey.

Thanks for the tip on the new models. I wonder if that's what happened to our fence.

Olivier said...

As far as I remember (which means somewhere around the late 80's in Québec city), "Chenillette' has always been the preferred term.

For larger plowing device/contraptions/vehicles, there is the expressin "La gratte", "The scraper". It's actually a commonly understanded notion "Les libéraux ont passé la gratte dans le comté" which means "The liberals won in a landslide".

We had a mad plower running around our neighborhood when I was young. My late, beloved father called him "Le gratteur fou", an expression he took from a local radio show. Buddy kept crashing into stuff at high speed early in the morning.

But yeah, Chenillette is quite common.

meezly said...

I'm sure the snow plower dudes are drunk and/or stoned most of the time they're driving those things.

Most of the time, they seem to be AIMING for the bikes that are not even in their way.

Let's not forget the odd pedestrian that gets run over every winter by the street plow!

angelica said...

What meezly said.

Seriously, avoiding fences/pedestrians/personal property interferes heavily with drinking and driving, and god knows, they aren't paid enough to be THAT detail oriented ($70k is the average municipal blue collar worker's salary).

OlmanFeelyus said...

They make $70k driving those things! Hell, I'd pay to do a day's work clearing sidewalks with a chenillette/bombardier/gratte.

And guess what? This morning they came by and did a proper clearing without doing any damage at all! I suspect we had a lame or impaired driver that first time around.

Jocelyn said...

What do *I* call those little snow plow thingies?

Usually, my prefered term is "Toi mon astie de malade, si tu me rentre dedans j'vais te péter la yeule calisse."

Seriously. Every time I come across one of these, they seem to be trying to kill me.

Every. Single. Time.

Also, for what it's worth, I've never ever heard the word chenillette. We usually say "la gratte."

Although, we usually use it in a sentence. Like "Tasse-toi, la gratte s'en vient pis il se calisse de nous autre."