Pastagate created a Twitter storm in the early days of social media over the issue of language. 


#pastagate: A modern-day tale of David vs. Goliath

Everyone loves a success story. Especially when broadcast, print and online news seems to focus on the negative.

As a social media consultant and small business owner, I always enjoy reading a great “David vs. Goliath” story, one that proves the voice of small business carries quite far in social media – and beyond.

A sad tale of language restriction and unsocial behaviour

Here’s the story. Lately our news in Montreal has been dominated by stories about the pending enforcement of stricter language laws in businesses, both large and small, by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).

Fears about the costs of compliance, particularly for small businesses, started surfacing in letters to the editor last spring.

The tweets that were heard across Quebec

The initial break in the story came when one business owner turn to social media to vent his frustration.

Following a visit from an OQLF inspector in August 2012, Massimo Lecas, co-owner of Buonanotte, was cited for a number of language infractions, including listing ‘pasta’ vs. ‘pâtes ‘ on his Italian menu.

In late February 2013, Lecas received an official letter from the OLF. He then took a photo of the letter and posted it to Twitter and Facebook wryly noting that the only Italian word the language inspectors didn’t object to was ‘pizza.’

By the next afternoon, the posts went viral on social media with the incident dubbed “Pastagate,” and “#pastagate” trending on Twitter.

Lecas was soon telling his story on camera, getting prime time news coverage. A flood of reports from other small business owners with similar OQLF horror stories soon followed.

Joe Beef and Café Henri also victims of #pastagate

The Montreal restaurant Joe Beef was told to take down antique signs, including one that read “WC” (French from France for “Water Closet”) not the Quebec-correct “Toilettes.” Among the changes requested to the owner of Brasserie Holder: Cover up the print on a hot water switch that read “on/off.”

Café Henri owner Jean-François Leduc was fined $3,770 for having a second “f” in the word Caffè — Italian for coffee — on his coffee shop signs.

Like Lecas, he turned to Twitter and from a single tweet received a swell of support online and from well-wishers stopping by his shop.

Quebec’s #pastagate trends on Twitter. At top, a Tweet from Lesley Chesterman.


The outcome: Business owners’ reaction modest, appreciative

Faced with a bad publicity and a huge surge of public opinion in favor of the small business owners, the OQLF issued a statement of apology.

Follow up stories soon featured the faces of happy, relieved, happy merchants.

The came a more drastic action: As public hearings on Quebec’s controversial language bill begin, the provincial Language Minister, Diane De Courcy resigned.

And more news coverage.

Not one business owner questioned by the press expressed anything but regret over the extremes – both in the initial enforcement and the subsequent actions taken by the government

All remained amazed how one tweet could make such a difference.


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