Quebec admits it used an ‘excess of zeal’ in crackdown on language on Italian restaurant’s menu

Canadian Press | 13/02/21 12:51 PM ET

MONTREAL — The Quebec government says its language watchdog was a little too aggressive in pursuing an Italian restaurant for excessive use of Italian on its menu.

The provincial minister responsible for language says she realizes there was an “excess of zeal.”

Diane De Courcy says adjustments will be made in the specific case of the Montreal restaurant Buonanotte.

Quebec’s language police have told an Italian restaurant in Montreal that menu items, including polpette, pasta and insalata caprese, must be translated into French. In the case of the salad, they were unable to suggest an alternative.

Speaking more generally, she says similar mistakes won’t be made in the future. She says the Office Quebecois de la langue francaise will be more careful to use a loophole in the application of the language law that offers some leeway for foreign cultural and food products.

It’s an abrupt reversal of roles for the Parti Quebecois government — which has spent years, since its days in opposition, urging the Office to apply the law more strictly.

The organization has even received a 6 per cent budget increase this year, to $24.7 million.

The agency recently visited the Montreal eatery after receiving a citizen’s complaint, and it agreed that certain words on the menu needed to be switched to French.

Among them: “pasta,” “calamari” and “bottiglia” (which means “bottle” in Italian). They did leave the word “pizza” alone.

“They told me ‘polpette’ [Italian meatball] should be ‘boulettes de viande,’ so I asked them what to call ‘insalata caprese,'” said Massimo Lecas, owner of the Buonanotte restaurant, referring to a southern Italian tomato and mozzarella salad.

The case created an uproar in social media — in both English and French. A number of Italian Quebecers, meanwhile, joked about how they would never relinquish their right to eat pasta.

“My menu is completely French, what I have in Italian are the names of my dishes,” said Mr. Lecas.

Each Italian name on the menu is also immediately followed by its French description. Below “insalata mista,” for instance, the dish is identified in French as a mixed salad.

The incident also encouraged other business owners to go public with their disputes with the OQLF.

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