Sunday, November 14, 2010


Black Lombardy Poplars breaking the wind in the Pas-de-Calais.
Pas très calé
I shouldn't tell this. When we first moved to French Flanders, I had never heard of the Pas-de-Calais, let alone know that we were living in that administrative department. So when my French husband pulled up in front of the post office and asked me to hop out and put a letter destined for the city of Calais in the correct mailbox slot, I never imagined there could be an almost metaphysically challenging choice.

In front of me were two slots; one marked Pas-de-Calais and the other marked Autres Destinations (other destinations).  What a strange way to sort mail, I thought, and dropped the letter into the Autres Destinations slot, reasoning that Pas-de-Calais meant that it was not for letters addressed to Calais.

Wrong. Pas in this case was not a negation. Mail addressed to destinations within the department was to go in the Pas-de-Calais slot, including Calais.  As it turns out, pas once signified passage; the Pas-de-Calais was so named because Calais was the port of passage between France and England.

That reminds me of another thing I shouldn't tell, one of those jokes about Belgians you hear so much in northern France. Because my Belgian surname gives me attenuated license, here goes: Why aren't there any Belgians in Calais? The road signs say Pas-de-Calais, so they turn around and go home.

Where am I?

A modicum of vocabulary:
Pas: with ne + verb it forms the negative “not,” as in the phrase: Je ne suis pas très calé(e) en la matière. I don't know much about it.

 ©2010 P.B.Lecron

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