06 November 2010


International political summits always have a comical side to them - mostly involuntary, of course. Generally speaking, the more pomp and circumstances, the more potential for things to look funny. So when the not overly modest Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie gathered recently for their summit (don't look for the English version of their website) in the Swiss city of Montreux, non-francophone commentators struggled to keep a straight face. Much like FIFA claims to better the world through soccer, the OIF has decided that the cure to many of the world's ailments is the promotion of francophone language, culture and values.

Switzerland was chosen to host the summit primarily thanks to its initiative of the agile and extrovert foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey from Geneva. Unfortunately, by the time the summit actually came to be, it was no longer her holding the Swiss presidency under the annually rotating system. The job is currently held by Doris Leuthard, from the distinctively less international, and germanophone, Wohlen, Canton Argovia. Thus, the dubious honor of welcoming the delegates from French-speaking countries around the world, and to entertain them in the language of Molière, fell on her. With equally dubious results.

But what a wonderful example of a multilingual country, where people learn French and then use it on the diplomatic parquet! Uh-hum. There was of course also a certain other bilingual country attending. And it, too, was represented by a prime minister of questionable French parlance. Which led to the wonderfully absurd situation of Doris Leuthard and Stephen Harper holding press conferences in French, both visually uncomfortable while pretending to the contrary.

One wonders, then, if at least the private meetings between the parties, which took place as part of Mr. Harper's state visit to Switzerland, were held in a language mastered by everybody at the table. Or was it due to a misunderstanding that the Swiss signed away their coveted bank secrecy laws in a new agreement with Canada? Either way, Mrs. Leuthard's attempt to keep up appearances in this diplomatic defeat was more sad than funny.

So let's quickly return to the realm of laughs. If anything, the Swiss trump the Canadians in a light-hearted, and uncomplicated attitude towards the multilingualism in their country. The German and the French speakers wind each other up all the time, but separatism is not in the cards. Instead, the little rivaleries provide ample fodder for comedians. Have fun and a good weekend with those two clips - one from each side of the Röschtigrabe.

Frölein Da Capo - Röschtigrabö
Giacobbo / Müller vom 24.10.2010

Marie-Thérèse Porchet - Leçon de géographie

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