And two months after Ernest-Antoine Seillere of employers’ leader UNICE inspired a walkout of his fellow Frenchmen from the Brussels EU summit, by delivering a speech calling English “the language of European business”, clashes between pro-government monoglot fundamentalists and linguistic liberals across French cities still refuse to die down. Indeed, some participants now speculate that these irrevocable differences in verbiage across the region could lead to the break out of full-scale civil war.
“This is all President Chirac’s fault.” Said one rioter, taking a break from blockading the Louvre to catch up with Home Defence. “Frere Jacques, as we call him, is so touchy about the decline of the French language, he refuses to accept it isn’t the primary means of communication in Europe anymore. But us young garcons couldn’t care less whether we’re serving frites, fries or chips, as long as we’ve got a job in the restaurant. I mean, I’m very much of the opinion that globalisation makes binary code the primary means of discourse anyway, but the old guard refuses to recognise any kind of progress which doesn’t align with their out-dated ways of thinking. I’d better shut up now, you can get a six-month sentence just for speaking English out loud around here.”
At this point the anonymous troublemaker returned to the fray and began to mix up a crate of petrol bombs which were subsequently thrown at advancing commissionaires. The incident now looked upon as the turning point in this conflict came when President Chirac stormed out of a meeting of the European nations and was sheepishly followed by his Foreign and Finance Ministers. Yet this was actually little more than a minor Gallic tantrum, quickly resolved when the next speaker improvised a few paragraphs in French about the pen of his aunt being blue, and the varied lifestyles in La Rochelle, a small French fishing port. However, thanks to the national press and their growing siege mentality, this episode was reported as a major threat to the French way of life. Soon citizens were forced to take sides and decide whether they would say “Oui” or “Non” when faced with demands from outsiders to speak English in future.
Now national battle-lines have been drawn, with neighbour turned against neighbour, and anti-UK sentiment pervading the media. President Dominique De Villepin has personally intervened to ensure English is removed from school curricula, while successful British TV imports such as ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘Home Again’ have been pulled from the schedules as a number of UK celebrities who moved to the country for tax reasons were expelled into Spain. Meanwhile, on the other side of public opinion, thousands of Anglophiles massed in the cities, all wielding placards and bullhorns. They marched in the streets to chants of ‘Allez Les Rosbifs’, and ‘Dick Van Dyke Forever’, groups of youths adding to the situation’s underlying current of violence by using this gathering as an excuse to engage in skirmishes with the police and occupy the Sorbonne. These teenagers have no particular opinion on the issue one way or the other, they simply enjoy joining protests. At which point they always embrace the revelry and jubilantly set fire to some cars.
The 73 year old President Chirac, a man who doesn’t allow translators into his presence because they
“discourage the learning of French”, and was once nicknamed ‘Le Bulldozer’ in tribute to his subtle
political ability, initially showed little willingness to back down, ordering the Parisian police force to
teargas peaceful protestors and their children. Unfortunately, when the sources of public dissatisfaction
became apparent - Chirac’s quashing of a generation’s job opportunities and the authorities denying
citizens the chance to learn English legally (resulting in criminals trying to smuggle self-help tapes
into the country or arrange lessons with illegal ‘backstreet’ tutors) - Jacques quickly caved in.
Indeed, the President, who is well past the age whereby an individual can capably run a country, and only won the last election by being slightly less right-wing than the National Front, was forced to make an abrupt u-turn, releasing hundreds of unrepentant English speakers from a Paris gaol last night. But this self-proclaimed ‘linguistic patriot’, a man who once sold a nuclear reactor to Iraq, and is widely believed to have lost France the 2012 Olympics by going on about mad cow disease like a bigoted pensioner, remains belligerent, refusing to go down without a fight. Later Jacques declared any ‘resisters’ who still insisted on teaching their children English in secret attic or basement rooms around the French suburbs would be “hunted down and shot”.
And so, across the country last night, a few vehicles in the most heavily populated areas were still being joyfully set alight by economically disenfranchised adolescents, while local police looked on blankly. But with groups of vigilante mobs funded by the government prowling the streets, informing bystanders they should “speak the lingo or get out of my country”, this truce is an uneasy one and not likely to hold. On the plus side, recent developments are said to have increased the use of French in continental households by as much as 12%, and Welsh nationalists are now monitoring the situation closely, trying to gain pointers on how they might save their own pointless, dying language.