Language watchdog admits being overzealous on word 'pasta' on menu
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:16AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:30PM EST
Quebec’s language police admits it may have been overzealous in asking to change the word “pasta” on the menu of a local Italian restaurant.
According to restaurant owner Massimo Lecas, the Office Quebecois de la langue francaise had determined that pasta is not a French word, and its appearance on a menu without an adequate translation violated Quebec's Language Charter.
Lecas, the owner of Buonanotte on St. Laurent Blvd., said his restaurant was visited by an OQLF inspector on Sept. 5, 2012, who told him there had been complaints about the menu.
"In fact they say following complaints. I'm like, complaints, or inspectors going around looking for these things?" said Lecas.
Many items on the menu at Buonanotte have names in Italian, but the descriptions are in French, and this week Lecas learned that is just not good enough to comply with the Charter.
In a letter delivered on Tuesday, the OQLF pointed out a host of infractions from writing 'bottiglia' instead of 'bouteille' on the wine list, listing squid under the word 'calamari' and using the Italian word for meatballs.
Lecas took a photo of the letter and posted it to Twitter and Facebook where it generated considerable attention, and the restaurateur pointed out that just about the only Italian word the language inspectors did not find unacceptable was 'pizza.'
The restaurateur tried to shrug off the fines as nonsense, but said the bureaucracy's decision was questionable.
"We're not worried that half the people that speak French butcher it, but we're worried about some guy writing on his menu?" said Lecas.
On Wednesday afternoon, amid a flurry of activity on social media, where the incident was referred to as “Pastagate,” the OQLF rescinded, saying it would consider the peculiarities of the restaurant, taking into exception foreign specialties.
Other restaurants asked to comply
Buonanotte is not the only restaurant serving ethnic cuisine that has recently been served notice by the OQLF.
Brit & Chips on Cote-des-Neiges Rd., which serves typical English pub food including fish and chips, told CTV Montreal it too had been asked to change its menu listings in English and remove other terms incomprehensible to unilingual francophones such as the word "gents" on a washroom door.
The OQLF also told owner Toby Lyle that his sign out front should indicate -- in French -- that it is a restaurant.
Lyle said he will comply with those requirements but he is challenging a demand to remove a sign saying "Fish & Chips" from the restaurant's front window, and replace it with one saying "poisson frit et frites"
"I can't comply with this because it will literally kill my business," said Lyle.
"They're telling us that 'poisson frit et frites' is the translation, but it's not. Not in French culture not in international culture," said Lyle.
"I understand the reason for the law, but if laws like this exist to wipe out businesses it is the exact opposite of what the government should be doing."
De Courcy satisfied
Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for the French Language, said she was satisfied withthe work done by the language watchdog.
"I agree with the position taken by the OQLF. In all the issues surrounding language, judgment and moderation must be what guides us. Corrective actions taken today by the Office confirm that I am right to trust their expertise and quality of work,” she said in a statement
De Courcy admitted earlier in the day that she was surprised to learn about the letter sent to Buonanotte, and wondered publicly if this was an acceptable application of the Charter.
On Wednesday the minister said she would order a review of the OQLF's actions and whether it should devote its attention elsewhere.
When asked to comment, Jean-Francois Lisée, the minister responsible for anglophones and Montreal, said the OQLF's concern over the use of the word pasta might be "overdone."
Lecas, who said his only goal with Italian names was to pay tribute to his heritage, said the government would be better served by improving French language education in Quebec.
"Shouldn't we protect the French language in a way that we should all learn to speak it better?" he said.
Social media abuzz with #pastagate
The story lit up social media, with the words pasta and hashtag #pastagate trending in Montreal.
Here are a few of the comments on Twitter regarding the language controversy.