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French Academy fights government over English on ID cards

The Academy charged with defending the French language has taken aim at the latest encroachment of English - its appearance on the national ID card widely used for travel within the EU.

The Institut de France houses the Académie Française
The Institut de France houses the Académie Française - a body which is fighting back against anglicisation of the French language. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

The latest versions of the laminated cards that were introduced last year have included English translations of the different data fields, like “surname” appearing in italics next to the French “Nom.”

While the move appears intended to smooth passage across international borders for French citizens, the Academie Francaise – founded in 1635 under King Louis XIII to guard “pure” French – is ready to mount a constitutional challenge over it.

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“Who has decided to place French and English on an equal footing in this document?” asked Helene Carrere d’Encausse, the Academy’s permanent secretary.

“An essential principle is being jeopardised,” she told the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, recalling that the modern French constitution provides in Article 2 that “The language of the Republic shall be French”.

There is a European regulation requiring the words “Identity Card” to be translated into at least one other EU language, but Brussels leaves translating the rest of the document up to member states.

German national ID cards include translations into both English and French, while even passports issued by Britain — which quit the EU in 2020 — offer French translations.

Complaining that the Academy’s voice is no longer heard in public debate, the body has hired lawyers to write to Prime Minister Jean Castex, Le Figaro reported, “asking him to repeal the provision creating the new national ID card” — so far without receiving a response.

If Castex’s office fails to reply, the lawyers are preparing to take the case to the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the conservative Republicans group in the French Senate, tweeted Friday that “the new card no longer really has a ‘French identity’. Why is there such insistence on erasing the substance of our pride and our national unity?”

But speaking on broadcaster RMC, writer and musician Etienne Liebig asked, “Who are we French people to be so very afraid of losing our identity for reasons like this?”

Member comments

  1. It could have been worse. The translation chosen could have been into German – and if Ireland and Malta leave the EU , it might have to be.

  2. My British passport (admittedly printed by a French company) has ‘subtitles’ in French for each section:
    Surname/Nom
    Given names/Prénoms
    etc
    and the dates are given bilingually.

    The French ID card is not only a domestic document, but an international one.
    The Academy seems to have forgotten this.

    1. @Mike bonjour The French ID is only recognized within France and La France d’Outre Mer. Vous avez besoin d’un passeport pour tout autre pays.

        1. Not always. The French ID were not always enough in Spain or Greece. Passports were demanded.

  3. Hilarious really considering most official Italian paperwork is in both Italian and French…Not seen any protests in Italy about that ‘infringement’ on their language…strangely it also seems no more in danger of dying out than French is for all French has such vociferous champions…

  4. Time the EU bit the bullet and decided on a common language. Their window of opportunity is fast disappearing , however, if they want anything other than English as that is now the 2nd language taught in 96% of all EU schools.

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PARIS

‘Tough, passionate and humble’ – Meet the bouquiniste booksellers of Paris

It was feared that the pandemic and loss of tourists would end the 500-year-old Paris tradition - but the 'bouquiniste' booksellers of the Seine are still going strong and are determined to protect their literary heritage, as Julie Edde found out.

'Tough, passionate and humble' - Meet the bouquiniste booksellers of Paris

On a sunny weekend, the bouquinistes of Paris are unmissable – the booksellers are recognisable for the green boxes that run for 4km along the banks of la Seine.

The 220 bouquinistes, who represent the transmission of French heritage, culture and of course the history of Paris, aim to open their boxes as often as possible regardless of the weather.

But while many view it as a romantic addition to the city, the job itself is tough and does’t bring much in the way of financial rewards.

“I am here despite the summer heat,” said Philippe who was a wholesaler in books only five years ago. “I am here for the passion of books and the necessity to live from it.”

Many of the bouquinistes have been in post for decades, mostly selling old and second-hand books but also illustrations and postcards, and sometimes souvenirs. But tourists are feeling the pinch, some booksellers say.

“The revenue is half what it was five or six years ago,” said Alain who has  been a bouquiniste for 20 years. “August is terrible, it’s better when retirees are here and kids are at school.”

The bouquinistes are regulated by Paris’ mairie, and although they don’t pay rent or rates for their boxes, there are strict controls in place. 

Despite the drawbacks, there is stiff competition, especially for the more lucrative spots.

Every year since 2008, the city of Paris has invited applications, it studies the files of candidates, checks that their project is financially viable and that they will mainly sell books.

READ ALSO How to apply to be a bouquiniste

Eighteen new sellers have set up shop since the last recruitment campaign in March, which saw more than fifty applicants. The winners get to occupy a specific spot for free but there is a significant cost related to the purchase of the boxes which amount to €1,500 for each. 

Bouquinistes will often start as ouvre-boîte – doing a shift for another seller until they get allocated a box of their own.

The new entrants always get the spots along the less-frequented parts of the river and some say that their revenue tripled when they were granted a better position – when a bouquiniste dies, the seller who has been there the longest gets priority for their spot.

But for some bouquinistes, it’s above all a job that requires time and love, beyond location. 

“It’s an on-the-ground job” said the writer and bouquiniste Camille Goudeau. “It is tough, you must be able to bear bad weather, the sound of cars and people cat-calling.”

In fact, Goudeau published a novel about her profession called Les chats éraflés with publisher Editions Gallimard. She keeps on taking inspiration for writing from passersby.

“You have to be passionate, develop your clientele and stay humble.” said Luis Ortega, who has been a bouquiniste for 20 years, as well as working part-time as an assistant researcher in geology.

“It’s important to check the good condition of the books, clean them and present them well, since they are second-hand.”

Ortega gets calls from clients who live and work near his boxes, asking for specific books on topics such as philosophy and literature.

Jean-Luc Berger, a bouquiniste who was doing a replacement shift in Paris and who has 15 boxes on the river banks of Melun, 30km away from Paris, said that a careful selection of the books is also necessary in his line of work. 

“We try to find books that resonate with the news,” confides Berger, citing Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses as a recent best-seller after the shocking attack on the author in the USA.

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