I’ve always been fond of the Irish culture, especially since my great-grandmother was Irish. It’s no surprise, then, that Irish music is always blasting from my speakers. When my two favourite Irish singers were touring Canada together, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d travel the few hours to see them in concert.
Arriving at the Irish pub for the show, my sister Felicite and I were able to spend time with the manager, John, who was also friends with the two singers. We were intrigued by the different cultures between Ireland and Canada, but also learned that both countries’ roots were intertwined throughout history.
After an hour, the conversation lagged, so I decided to spice it up with the question I usually ask foreigners, “Have you ever tried poutine?”
A popular dish here, I often treat myself, but it’s frequently unheard of by people outside the country.
Apparently, he’d already tried it because his face lit up as he replied, “Yes, I have. We pronounce it a bit differently in Ireland though: We call it poitin.” I was surprised, and didn’t know what to say. Usually I have to explain what poutine is. John looked cautiously from my sister back to me, “You are talking about homemade illicit whiskey, right?”
I wanted to curl up in a ball, dying of embarrassment. Felicite recovered before me, but not until we exchanged amused glances, “No, it’s a meal.” Felicite replied hastily.
“Yeah,” I added. “It’s fries, cheese curds and gravy.”
It was his turn to blush. His face turned red, the same colour as his hair, which was mostly hidden beneath a hat.
It made me shudder at the thought of what might have happened if we hadn’t clarified the difference between the two words. Could you imagine the look on the waitress’s face if I was visiting Ireland and asked for illicit whiskey? Or if John asked to be pointed to the nearest poitin joint but to his dismay was served a plate of fries instead of a shot of strong whiskey?
The funny thing was, when I later looked up the word in the dictionary it said that the whiskey was typically made from potatoes. Fries, being the main ingredient for poutine, are also made of that starchy but delicious vegetable. I learned a valuable lesson that day, one I will never forget. Always be sure of the exact pronunciation, definition and spelling of an item before ordering it!