You ready for this? In February, Quebec’s Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Board of the French Language) ordered a Montreal restaurant owner Massimo Lecas to rewrite the menu of his restaurant Buonanotte because it included the word pasta as well as several other Italian words. In fact, the OQLF fined Lecas several thousand dollars for what CTV called “a menu liberally sprinkled with Italian words as section headings and titles for food.” Now, I for one rather expect an Italian restaurant to have a menu that includes Italian words, so what was the big deal? Apparently the OQLF was concerned that the word pasta might be offensive to French speakers (Quebec being Canada’s French-speaking province).
(According to dictionary.reverso.net that is how you say “give me a break!” in French).
I realize I do not live in Quebec, and perhaps I should not concern myself with their laws, but the suggestion that someone going to an Italian restaurant might be offended by use of Italian words on the menu, even in a French-speaking province, is absurd…especially since, according to CTV, “every item on the menu was described in French.” Are there really people thin-skinned enough to stroll into a restaurant and get offended because they see the word pasta instead of pâtes? I surely hope not.
Now, this idiocy, which has been labeled “pastagate” and has produced an international tollé (uproar), has actually led to the resignation of the head of the OQLF, even though the fines were apparently well within the law as written. Not surprisingly, Quebec’s French Language Minister Diane De Courcy commented, “These episodes had an undesired effect on the businesses, the Office personnel, the public, and Quebec in general.” Ya think? The fact that Quebec even has a French Language Minister would tend to have an undesired effect on business I would think. Particularly given some of the positions the OQLF has taken on the importance of the French language. In 2012, for example, the OQLF made it clear that it was not happy with the increasingly common use of the bilingual, yet legal, greeting from store clerks of “Bonjour, hello.” At that time Louise Marchand, the OQLF head who has just resigned, “said she was upset that only 57 percent of Francophones asked for service in French if a clerk said anything in English, saying ‘It’s important for citizens to take the language issue seriously'” (CTV).
This is an extreme and, frankly, silly example of political correctness gone wrong in a big way, but the reality is that this is the destination of every path that limits speech based solely on the basis of the possibility that it might offend someone. Imagine, if you will, an America where restaurants can only use English; no Italian or Spanish or French allowed. English, by the way, does not even have its own words for many ethnic foods. Forget Taco Bell. It will have to be renamed “An often crisply fried tortilla folded over and filled, as with seasoned chopped meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese Bell.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? The marketing folks would have a blast recreating the brand with that wording. (And thanks to dictionary.com for that definition of taco).
So here is my recommendation…for my Canadian friends, my American friends…my friends all over the world: if you’re easily offended by the use of another language, get over it–especially when the use of said language is entirely appropriate within the context.
I should add here, though, that I am a firm believer in the importance of a national language. I believe that English should be the “official” language of the United States; I believe all government business should be conducted in English; I believe all public school classes should be taught in English; I believe all U.S. citizens should be able to speak English. But that is an entirely different issue.
Alright, I’m done now. I need to go eat dinner. Hopefully we’re having pasta….