The Great McKibbin's Irish Pub Outrage of 2008 seems destined to go down in infamy as one of the opposite-of-finest moments of the Office québécois de la langue française.
After all the Irish (yes, and those who wish they were) calm down a little, however, we can all examine this case and get a pretty good sense of what's wrong with the way the Office handles complaints.
After a day of intensive coverage in the print Gazette and on our website, on radio talk shows and in assorted blogs, the details of this case are well known from here to Dublin: A customer at the Bishop St. pub complained to the OQLF, saying his server had spoken only English, that a chalked menu was in the language of W.B. Yeats only and that signs on the wall were also devoid of French.
The OQLF sent an inspector, as it is supposed to do. The wall menu was in English only, there was no proof that service had been available in French, and those signs - imported from Ireland, or loving copies - certainly were unilingual. But where the inspector went wrong was in reporting back to headquarters that the antique signs decorating McKibbin's walls did, indeed, violate the law.
Whatever you might think about the more nitpicky rules of the Charter of the French Language, it is the law of the land, and bars and restaurants - even ones on Bishop St. - are required to have French menus and staff who can speak to francophone patrons in French. (The printed menu at McKibbin's is available in both languages.)
But those signs. Could anyone seriously believe that the wooden placard promoting "Thos. R. Caffrey, brewers of distinction" from County Antrim was anything but a work of art? Or that McKibbin's was actually trying to sell "Palethorpe's pork pies - fresh today" - a product that hasn't been available even in Ireland for decades?
The Charter reasonably makes exceptions for artworks, decorations and cultural artifacts, and the inspector should have known that such signs as the one reading "Guinness Extra Stout, Draught & Bottled St. James Gate, Dublin" were covered.
The OQLF has told The Gazette, with some embarrassment, that if McKibbin's owner Rick Fon writes the Office a letter explaining that the signs are cultural artifacts, that particular complaint will vanish long before St. Patrick's Day. As for the other complaints, well, the law is the law, and as we keep saying, it's just good business sense to maximize your pool of potential customers.
In any case, the issue is now likely to fade away, leaving only some fine creamy bubbles in our memories. So all you Irish pub fans can put down your shillelaghs.