The Quebec government will review how it handles complaints about the province’s language law after being internationally mocked for the so-called “pastagate” issue.
Recent cases in the media indicate that there is room for improvement.
Language Minister Diane De Courcy says the internal review will help improve the performance of the Office quebecois de la langue francaise (OQLF), the authority responsible for enforcing the predominance of the French language in the province.
“Recent cases in the media indicate that there is room for improvement,” said a Feb. 25 statement from the OQLF.
The issue, which has drawn embarrassing international attention, stems from a visit by an OQLF inspector to trendy Montreal restaurant Buonanotte.
The inspector told owner Massimo Lecas that the menu violated Quebec’s language law and that Italian words such as “pasta” had to be replaced with French-language equivalents, even though some of the dishes have no corresponding word in French.
According to media analysis company Influence Communications, the story, dubbed “pastagate,” received 60 times more news coverage outside the province than Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’s trip to New York in December, which focused on drawing foreign investment to Quebec.
Since the story broke last week it has been chronicled in 350 articles in 14 countries, including at major news networks such as CNN and Fox.
After its demands at Buonanotte drew widespread public criticism, the OQLF relented and admitted its inspector was “overzealous” and should have made a cultural exception.
But the publicity led several other Quebec restaurant owners to come forward with similar complaints.
One establishment, Portofino Bistro Italiano, was ordered to add the word “restaurant” to its sign and stationery in case francophones were unclear on its offerings.
Another Italian restaurant, Conti Caffè, was ordered to remove the extra “f” in “caffe.” The restaurant ended up changing its name to “Conti” and had to rebrand everything, from its outdoor sign to the napkins, menus, and wineglasses.
World-famous eatery Joe Beef in Montreal was also called to task by the OQLF for the decorative English “exit” signs on its premises.
At Parisian-style brasserie Holder, a language inspector ordered the owner to tape over the words “Hold” and “Redial” on the staff telephone, as well as a switch marked On/Off. The inspector also notified the owner that “steak” written on a chalkboard grocery list would have to be changed to “bifteck.”
In another infamous incident, officials asked Montreal restaurant Brit Chips to rename its signature dish—fish and chips—to “poisson frit, et frites.”
While such OQLF demands have sparked widespread disbelief and ridicule, the issue has also drawn outrage from those who see the language authority as exacerbating the historical anglo/franco divide in Quebec.
“It’s sickening to see how the OQLF actually pays people to eke out such nonsensical and inconsequential so-called “infractions,” wrote Aida C. Paull in a letter to the editor published in the Montreal Gazette.
“And what the heck are the OQLF inspectors trying to protect the French language from? Why do they need to be so insecure? They make it seem like if they’re not “protecting” their language, someone might just come along and hijack it. They need to look no further than a mirror to see who is driving the wedge deeper and deeper into this province.”
However, others say the OQLF inspectors were simply doing their job, and that the language law is too stringent and should be changed.
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