Quebec expressions to use at work

Published by Judith Lefebvre on


This is the fourth challenge on Quebec expressions. If you like this one and would also like to discover the previous ones, you can do so by clicking here.

As mentioned in the other challenges, expressions are important for participating fully in discussions and understanding what’s going on around us. In fact, Quebecers use a lot of local expressions, and often, this will be the only explanation you will have to describe a situation. 😀

Today, I would like to teach you four expressions mostly related to work. They’re also used in life outside the office, but for all of them, their meaning is very much related to the world of work.

Expression #1: Le boss des bécosses

I am starting this article with this expression because it’s so often used!
To fully understand it, we first need to explain its two main words.
Boss: 100% borrowed from English.
Bécosse: a distortion of the English word for outdoor toilet. In the past, toilets were located behind the house and were called “back house”. 
So the literal meaning of “boss des bécosses” is “boss of the outdoor toilet”.

However, its true meaning is quite different. It’s used to describe someone who thinks they are pretty important in the corporate hierarchy, or who has the attitude of someone who thinks they have a lot of power, but in reality they don’t. It’s a sneaky way of saying that the person isn’t really the boss of anything at all.

As if to say that the person who thinks he’s the master of the house is in fact only the master of the “back house”.

Although perfect for the world of work, this expression is also used with friends and family.

Examples of how I use it in my life:

  • A friend’s mother used it with her 3-year-old grandson, who said that when his parents were away, he was the boss of the house. She gently told him, “When your parents are not around and Grandma and Grandpa are looking after you, we are in charge. You, you are at max the “boss des bécosses”. 😉
  • We’ve all worked for a family business where, at some point, an unqualified member of the big boss’s family is hired. Unfortunately, all too often, this person thinks he or she has rights and responsibilities simply because of his/her last name. You might say, “Look at him/her, he/she’s been the “boss des bécosses” since day one!”

Expression #2: Pousseux de crayon

Being a “pousseux de crayon” (pencil pusher) is always a pejorative and sometimes even an insult. If someone refers to you as a “pousseux de crayon”, you shouldn’t let them!

It’s an expression referring to people working in offices, especially at administrative level and civil servants. The aim is to underline their inability to carry out manual work or physical tasks, and so the greatest achievement of their working day will be to “push a pencil”.

There is also sometimes an added nuance to this expression, as your greatest achievement will be to push the pencil, not what you write with the pencil.

Examples of how I use it in my life:

  • Has your company ever tried to get a government grant? I would say that every French-speaking Quebecer who has gone through this process has used this expression (even if it was just mentally). For example, if you have to call the government to ask about the additional proof they’re asking for, you’ve probably said to your colleagues, “I’ve talked to a “pousseux de crayon” who’s never worked in a ‘real’ company to think that you can provide that kind of proof after only six months of operation.”
  • It’s also possible to use this expression in our daily lives to talk about someone’s work. Since this expression generally refers to civil servants, someone who lives from one small contract to the next and is told by his civil servant brother-in-law “why don’t you get a ‘real’ job?” could angrily reply: “What do you know about my daily life? You’re just a “pousseux de crayon” who can’t be fired, no matter the quality of your work!”

Expression #3: S’enfarger dans les fleurs du tapis

It’s a very colorful expression, very characteristic (I think) of Quebec expressions. Here, we’re talking about getting stuck (tripping) in the floral pattern of a carpet… it’s a way of saying that the person we’re talking about is preventing himself from carrying out a project or taking action because of obstacles or problems that are unimportant, even imaginary.
The person will talk about difficulties as if they had to cross a dense Amazonian jungle, when in fact it’s just a matter of walking on a carpet with a floral pattern.
In the office, these people are always the ones protesting against a new project… and if it’s your boss, chances are that the projects you propose will very rarely be approved.

Examples of how I use it in my life:

  • If you work in a field where the final product is subjective (web site, graphic design, decoration, etc.), you’ve almost certainly already had a customer who “s’enfargeait dans les fleurs du tapis”. You know, the customer who will ask for eight revisions over 4 months because there’s always THE little thing that’s causing them a problem…
  • We’ve all sat through an interminable meeting because of someone who saw problems everywhere. I’ve personally told a colleague: “You’re going to have to stop “t’enfarger dans les fleurs du tapis”, because we’ve got until 5 p.m. to send the material to the printer if we want it in time for next month’s event!

Expression #4: Avoir des croûtes à manger

Until very recently in the history of the world, food resources were rare and precious. In Quebec, with its long winters and short summer harvesting season, this was even truer. It was therefore important not to reject certain parts of food, such as bread crusts, even if they were sometimes a little hard and not very pleasant to eat.

“Avoir des croûtes à manger” (having crusts to eat) means that a person still has a lot of experience and maturity to acquire. It’s as if thinking you can reject part of your food proves you know nothing about life.

Examples of how I use it in my life:

  • This expression is used in a positive way when you want to show a young person something, and although he’s a bit clumsy, he shows a certain motivation and good skills. For example, one summer at work, a teenager had been hired to help the handyman and, as he was showing him how to fix something, he said, “You’ve still got “des croûtes à manger” (some crusts to eat), but you’re doing great! A little practice and you’ll be a champion.”
  • This expression can also be used more negatively. I was once responsible for an intern who, at the age of 20, had not even finished university and was telling me in all seriousness that he wanted to become a manager in his first job, and couldn’t understand why everyone around him was telling him that he needed to start at the bottom and prove himself. I said to him, “Not to be mean, but if you don’t understand why everyone is telling you that, it’s precisely because “tu as des croûtes à manger” (you have crusts to eat)…”

Your challenge:

As in previous expression challenges, I’m asking you to reflect on your past week and find a situation where you could have used each of the four expressions to describe someone at work or in your environment.

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