The Quebec government says its language watchdog was a little too aggressive in chasing after a Montreal restaurant for excessive use of Italian on its menu.
"I recognized that there was an excess of zeal," Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for language told reporters Thursday.
Speaking more generally, she said similar mistakes wouldn't be made in the future. She said the Office Québécois de la langue française would be more careful to use a loophole in the application of the language law that offers some leeway for foreign cultural and food products.
"[The Office boss] will make adjustments in this case. But what's also most important, what she said, is that she will ensure that mistakes of that nature don't happen again," Ms. De Courcy said. "Not that there's ever a 100-per-cent guarantee — these are human beings doing these inspections."
It's an abrupt reversal of roles for the Parti Québécois 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 buonanotte restaurant 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.
The case created an uproar in social media — in both English and French. A number of Italian Quebeckers, meanwhile, joked about how they would never relinquish their right to eat pasta.
The incident also encouraged other business owners to go public with their disputes with the OQLF.
One included a British-style fish and chips restaurant that said it was being forced to lose the "fish and chips;" another Italian restaurant was told to change its sign to translate "ristorante."
The incident has even annoyed linguistic nationalists.
Staunch defenders of the French language regret that a bureaucratic brain-cramp could be used to discredit an agency that does important work — that of keeping a culture alive.
The common argument goes that if Montreal is allowed to slide into official bilingualism eventually people will, for the sake of convenience, simply stop using French altogether. They describe bilingualism as a "bridge" to the disappearance of French in North America.
Former politician Mario Dumont summed up much of the local chatter during his TV talk show Thursday.
"I don't think the future of French will be determined by Italian menus, or Japanese sushi," he said, criticizing the OQLF for its mistake.
He regretted all the ridicule the incident had drawn, in the media reaction outside Quebec for instance.
"[This example] has given ammunition to opponents of the French language charter," said Mr. Dumont, the leader of the former Action démocratique du Québec party.