As French language fanatics kick up a storm about the new English slogan for the Paris 2024 Olympic bid, we take a look at other times the French have lost their cool when it comes to the English language.
- When Chirac stormed out of an EU summit
President Jacques Chirac left a 2006 EU summit meeting in a huff after a French business leader addressed the room in English.
Despite English being the official language of the session, no one seemed to have informed Chirac, who interrupted the speaker to ask why on earth he was speaking English.
He later explained his outburst: “France has great respect for its language …I was deeply shocked to see a Frenchman speak at the council in English. That is the reason why the French delegation and I left, rather than have to listen to that.”
- When Chabal put an English reporter in their place
Who can forget French rugby player Sébastian Chabal’s retort when a reporter asked permission to pose a question in English?
“We are in France, we speak France…OK?” Chabal shot back at the English journalist, which he abruptly brought to an end by walking out.
You need to watch the video below to get the full effect of the monstrously sized Frenchman twisting to camera for the (passive aggressive) “OK?”
- After Macron gave a speech in English
When presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron recently gave a speech at a Berlin university in English, rival candidate Marine Le Pen wasn’t happy.
“Presidential candidate Macron goes to Berlin and holds a conference in English. Poor France,” the National Front leader tweeted, garnering over 700 retweets.
Her vice president, Florian Philippot, also chimed in, tweeting: “It’s not just that he doesn’t respect our language, he doesn’t believe in France”.
See Macron’s English speech below. He switches to English at 13min10.
- When French university courses were allowed to be taught in English
In 2013 a higher education reform relaxed the rules on French universities, allowing more courses to be taught in English. And, surprise surprise, it proved controversial in France.
The Acadamie Francaise, the guardians of the French language (or “language police” depending on your viewpoint), raged against the proposal, saying it would “degrade” the use of French in higher learning.
French former talk show host Bernard Pivot went even further.
“If we let English into our universities, if we let it, alone, dictate science and the modern world, then French will be mutilated and weakened,” he told Christian daily La Croix. “It will become a banal language, or worse, a dead language.”
But not all of France was up in arms, French newspaper Liberation poked fun at the uproar with an English front page and editorial which said “Let’s stop behaving like the last members of a besieged Gallic village.”
- When the government tried to ban the word Hashtag
In 2013 the French government decided to fight against the use of the English word “hashtag” on French social media (meaning the # sign, followed by a word or characters).
Instead, the French Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie proposed an official Gallic version, “mot-dièse” or “sharp word”.
And hashtag isn’t the only English word to have provoked French authorities to come up with their own official French versions.
“Binge-drinking” is to be “beuverie express”, “cloud computing” should be “informatique en nuage” and e-books ought to be “liseuses” according to the office of the Minister of Culture in Paris.
- When France’s Eurovision entry was English
France’s Eurovision contestant Sebastian Teller ruffled more than a few official feathers in 2008 when he revealed his entry song “Divine”, the lyrics to which were almost entirely in English.
“When you have the honour of being selected to represent France, you sing in French,” said French minister Alain Joyandet at the time.
The Minister of Culture and the French language even wrote to the singer to demand he rewrite his lyrics in French.
Despite the enormous pressure, Tellier went ahead and performed the English version, with one little change.
“Divine is better in English. I went to the studio to try and make a French version. It was not good, so I just kept two sentences, just a wink to the French people,” he said at the time.
- When French-produced series Versailles was all in English
The ten-part series centring on the French king Louis XIV was made by French channel Canal+ and aired on French TV.
However, it was written, produced and acted in English, starring English leading roles to make it more appealing to international audiences, something that incensed France’s language purists.
“It is very worrying and totally implausible that a series about Louis XIV should be made in English,” Gaston Pellet of the United Republican Group for Linguistic Renaissance, Initiative and Emancipation told The Times.
“We have nothing against English, but we don’t want French to become a second language in France.”