French Language Blog

DON’T Speak French—Talk to the Hand! Posted by on Sep 13, 2013 in Culture, Vocabulary

If you plan to go to Belgium to practice your French, better stay out of the small city of Menin, near the French borders—unless perhaps you got some good skills at expressing yourself with your hands.
As of recently, the local authorities have decided that from now on it would be inacceptable (unacceptable) for anyone working in la mairie(the city hall) to speak other languages than le néerlandais (Dutch.)
And what if that does not work?
“No problem.” People can then resort to option deux: Communicating by les images (pictures) or les gestes(gestures.)Really?In other words, “if you don’t speak Dutch, and our pictures are not much of a help, then talk to the hand“!

The “helping” pictures in question depict frequent situations such as les mariagesand (even more frequently in Belgium) les divorces (courtesy of RTBF, the public broadcasting organization of the French Community of Belgium)

Of course, the newly announced decision is not there to make the daily lives of the local francophones any more convenient.
In fact, the situation at la mairie de Menin can easily turn into one of those “Belgian jokes” that we’ve already featured quite a few times here on the Transparent French Blog!
Jugez-en vous mêmes (you be the judge):

Of course, one can easily understand, and even defend, the new restrictive decision.

After all, la langue officielle(the official language) in Menin is Dutch.

The local bourgmestre, who will soon be faced with important elections, is very explicit about the issue: “On ne répondra plus qu’en néerlandais. Et si malheureusement les gens ne comprennent pas, on utilisera la langue des signes, des pictogrammes. On mettra en place un système gestuel pour faire comprendre aux gens qu’on les aidera en néerlandais” (“We will not be answering in any other language than Dutch. And if unfortunately people do not understand, then we will use sign language or pictograms. We will set up a gestural system to explain to people that we will help them in Dutch.”)

Not all Menin locals disagree with the new requirements.

The flamand (Flemish) man shown in the video above put it this way: “In Spain, I can’t speak Dutch. So here, it’s the same.”

In the meantime, Menin Francophones of all walks of life will continue to express their dissatisfaction with the new prohibitive measures taken by their city— at the exception of one category of francophone residents from whom,”oddly enough”, no one has heard anything yet.

That would be les MIMES francophones.

French Mimes: “Parlez-vous français?” – Non, not in Menin!

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