Most Americans have never heard of “Ch’ti.” Every Frenchman and woman knows. Most of the French speaking moviegoing public knows. Why? The highest grossing French film of all time is “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis” which loosely translates to “Welcome to the Home of the Ch’tis.”
A is someone from northeastern France, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in particular. The inhabitants are French and speak French, their regional dialect is heavily influenced by the local language Picard (a Romance language closely related to French traditionally spoken by people in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy areas of France and the Walloon part of Belgium). As a result, their pronunciation is slightly different from the rest of France and the local slang draws heavily from Picard. These differences were played upon to great effect in the film, with several sorts of Abbott & Costello “Who’s On First” type of interactions.
In Picard, “ch’ti” is local parlance for the language. In southern France, they are referred to as “cheutimi.” Ch’ti refers to both the language and people who hail from that part of France. Now that you know what it is, we can move on to pronunciation. It sounds like, well, um….
This area is stereotyped as a remount unsophisticated, cold, and rainy place. It’s inhabitants had traditionally been stereotyped as: alcoholic, uneducated yokel who eats disgusting (to the French palate) food, and speaks an incomprehensible version of French (which may be an unpardonable sin in France). The genius of the film is that it exploits these stereotypes and debunks them in such a hilarious way.
Spoiler alert – the main character ends up falling in love with the area’s friendly, unpretentious, helpful inhabitants and is able to see past the grey skies to appreciate the rich local culture. Outsiders tend to think of other countries cultures as homogenous, when they can be incredibly diverse. It’s a good reminder that France’s culture differs dramatically within the country. Think about the differences between New York City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City for example.
One final thought, there’s a line in the movies that says it could be worse, you could have to go to Belgium. Anyone that reads this blog knows my love for Belgium. If it is better than that, it must be heavenly.