Friday, March 24, 2006

Chirac flees summit in a fury over use of English

Via Instapundit, a "Heh" -- according to the Brit journal, the Times Online, Blacques Jacques Chirac walked out of a summit in which a fellow Frenchman had the audacity to speak the the amassed EU members in "the language of Shakespeare" (the modern lingua franca of business), instead of the charming and delightful which only the elite speak... and Blacques Jacques took three other french ministers with him when he went. "Embarrassed French diplomats tried to explain away the walk-out, saying that their ministers all needed a toilet break at the same time," the Times article states. (Wow. American women go to the 'throom in pairs, but those poor French male leaders have to go in fours. What a peculiar culture.)

Anyway, I know those Americans who laugh at the absurdity of Blacques Jacques' walkout will be given heck by the folks who think it's a bad thing to establish English as the nation's official language. I can almost hear it now: "you tell all those immigrants that they have to learn English if they want to get by, here, but you laugh at a foreign leader who wants the same for his country." But before you go there, take the time to notice there is a difference: this group of supposed diplomats are not expecting their own tongue to be spoken only for official purposes and for business inside their own country, they expect -- they demand!!! -- that people in other countries and cultures bend to their will over a language which has been diminishing in both use and usefulness as the modern age continues to change the way we work and think.

Since France's isolationists first came to political power, their language has been increasingly shackled. New words are not allowed, especially if they come from a foreign (American English, particularly) root.

In American and world languages, inclusion of foreign words is part and parcel with friendly exchanges of ideas. We Yankees choose to keep our own base language, because the majority of those who chose to lawfully settle here agreed that English was the most flexible and widespread of all the tongues spoken here. Plus, it has its roots in so many other languages, there's a fairly good chance you can make yourself understood with the basics, in a pinch.

But back to the part where we ask new settlers to learn English... When you're the new kid in town, you learn to adapt yourself to the community's standards to the best of your ability, and not try to force the rest (who outnumber you) to bend to yours. You don't have to surrender your cultural heritage at home, just learn to live with the people who welcomed you into their community. And, maybe they'll learn a few words from you, out of neighborliness,and they'll become part of the daily speech of those around you. Nevertheless, coming into a new place filled with other people, you should set your mind to fitting in with those who are already there.

It's called pragmatism.

That's what America's "English First" folks are asking of others.

When we go overseas, our diplomats -- and many of our top business representatives -- are trained to speak the native tongues of the countries which they visit. When we can't speak the language, we apologize and arrange for our own translators, so as to not place a social burden on our hosts. As a guest or as a participant in a group which requires cooperation, you should be willing to make things as uncomplicated for others as your skills allow. And, you avoid going out of your way to insult other with whom you are working.

It's called common courtesy.

Apparently Blacques Jacques has yet to learn of that.

Update: JunkYardBlog has the scoop on Chirac's own words re: why he walked out.
“I was deeply shocked that a Frenchman would speak at the council table in English,” he told journalists, explaining for the first time his abrupt walkout when the summit opened on Thursday.
“That’s the reason why the French delegation and myself left so as not to have to listen to that,” he added.
It confirms my opinion of Blacques Jacques.

1 comment:

Astral said...

France's president Jacques Chirac walked away from the last european council in protest over M.Seilliere talking english.
To be precise, Chirac did not walked away from the European Council because M.Seilliere spoke english (Chirac is fluent in english and has certainly no problem with the language), but because M.Seilliere, who started his speech in french, suddendly turned to english because he said "english is the language for business".
English is no more the language of business than french is the language of poetry, italian the language of arts or spanish the language of flamenco dancing
Any speech can be given in any language; a language is not used according to the content of a speech but according to your audience. In this case, the audience was the european council and as far as I know, the very vast majority of attendants don't have english as their mother tongue. All speeches are translated anyway and english was absolutely not necessary.
M. Chirac was right to point out this anomaly, but wrong to walk out, he should have said to the audience "Et maintenant, mesdames et messieurs, we are going to hear M.Seilliere speech". That would have had much more impact... Anyway, the wrong thing to do would have been to do nothing.