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Les Francais Betes

The French protect their language better than they protect their country


A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet. But e-mail by any other name--well, it just sounds idiotic. But ah, cherie, try telling that to the French government, the world's most fortified stronghold against globalization and adamant defender of la culture francaise.

Last week, the French Ministry of Finance banned "e-mail," "start-up" and other imported English lingo from appearing in the official statements of the French civil service, replacing the words with critically scrutinized, if completely unclear, French counterparts. Jeune pousse (French for "young plant") hardly conjures images of e-commerce start-ups--except, perhaps, The words are en francais and for the chronically stubborn-- that is all that matters.

Yet, although their insolence is laughable, the French desire for fraternite linguistique does, in some ways, resonate in our hearts. Indeed, the vicious spread of American cultural imperialism at times leaves even us yearning to stand up against "the man." But, unlike the French we know which battles to fight--and we mean that as more than a reference to the blatant insanity of marching thousands of soldiers through Russia in the dead of winter. Resistance is one thing, inanite quite another. And we pity the French for not realizing that all hopes of francophonic unity were lost with the arrival of le Big Mac.

So as they fortify the e-commerce Bastille to fight off the onslaught of Internet-propagated Anglophones, we look on with amused disbelief. "Let them say 'start-up'" is a much less contemptuous call to arms than "let them eat cake" ever was.

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