Poirot vs. the Canucks

*Spoilers, as always.*

Happy Canada Day! Agatha Christie was rather fond of Canada, speaking warmly of the scenery as she tripped out this way on her many travels. In the Poirot series, two of the more prominent mentions that I can recall of the Great White North are from The Adventure of the Cheap Flat and Elephants Can Remember. Both involve a confusion of the nationalities of American and Canadian.

Miss Elsa Hart, the chief villain, is actually a pseudo-Canuck in the TV adaptation of Cheap Flat. On the run from the Mafia in the States, she assumes a different nationality as well as a different name. The shady manager of the Black Cat nightclub, Bernie Cole, offers some amusing dialog on the prospects of Canada’s future influence…

Poirot: “What I want to know is, is it Elsa Hart, the American?”
Cole: “No.”
Poirot. “Ah. I heard her in New York once, you understand.”
Cole: “Oh yes? She’s Canadian. Like those Dionne quintuplets. It’s gonna be all the rage soon. Canadian this, Canadian that. Bernie Cole can always spot a trend! Known for it!”

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“This is my skeptical face, monsieur.”

(For those interested in a bit of trivia this Canada Day: the Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934 near Callander, Ontario, were famous as the first known surviving quintuplets. I remember driving down from Timmins once with the family, and passing a road sign noting that we were near their hometown. The identical sisters became a sort of gimmicky tourist phenomenon and must have had a pretty bizarre childhood in consequence.)

Although it doesn’t occur in the Christie’s original story, I rather enjoy the use of confused nationality. As an American living in Canada who is frequently confused for being Canadian, it always delights me when people confuse Poirot for a Frenchman, and he corrects them right away. It’s funny– but it’s also exactly how it is!  🙂

The other prominent mention of Canada occurs, of course, in Elephants Can Remember, notable for the most blatantly obvious clues ever inserted into a Poirot script. Anyone watching the episode in North America would think, “No way is she from Boston if she says ‘zed.’ No way would she not know what she was doing on St. Patrick’s Day if she were of the Boston Irish.”

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Oh well. What I really want to know is this: in the denouement, Poirot says that her accent gave her away, which we already knew. He gave the example of her use of “zed,” but he also says that he heard the Canadian aspect “immediately.” I wonder if he could actually tell even sooner. When he first speaks with her, it’s in a stream of rapid French, ending with:

Poirot: “Vous ne l’avez vu à l’avance?”
Mary: “Huh? No, I’ve never been down here before.”

Setting aside the fact that “huh” is more of an Americanism (she should have gone for “eh,” eh?) it is perhaps just a little curious that she can process his question at all, and maybe Poirot files that fact away for later. Of course, if she spent more than half her life in Montreal– with French-speaking relatives of Zelie Rouxelle’s, no less– she was bound to be pretty conversant in the language.

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By the way, this is the second instance in the series where a young girl is hurried away from her home in England and sent to Montreal after it is feared (incorrectly) that one of the parents killed the other! The other instance is in Five Little Pigs, where the daughter of Caroline Crale comes back for the truth about her mother. We know it’s Montreal from the book, and the daughter had been given the name of Lemarchant in Canada. The daughters in both episodes also, incidentally, come back to wreak revenge… and neither quite manages it. Insert Quebec joke here.  🙂

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In Elephants Can Remember, there is, perhaps, one other sense in which Mary’s accent gives her away. She says that she’s just a simple clerk. She pronounces the word “clark,” which is a British pronunciation, used neither in the United States nor in Canada! So, can we say that this “gives away” the fact that she’s a British actress pretending to be from across the pond?

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  🙂

Happy Canada Day, all!

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