Parlez-vous francais? You might soon have to, at least to a certain level if you are a British expat living in France.
Reports in the French press this week revealed that if the UK was to cut itself off from France and the rest of the EU in June, then Paris would seize the opportunity to make French the official language of Europe once again and introduce some new rules.
While most of the reported measures focussed on issues such as making sure EU documents were only in French and that “Toilets” is changed to “Toilettes” on the doors of the wash rooms of the EU parliament building in Strasbourg, one highly provocative move will have a few British expats in France choking on their marmalade covered croissants.
The government would demand that all Brits in France prove they have reached a certain level of French or they could be forced into taking lessons at the Town Hall.
Simon Chalmers, a London-based lawyer specializing in EU law, said: “This move will come as a shock to many and will be of huge concern to everyone, but on the other hand we've been saying all along that if Britain cuts its legal ties to France and the EU then the French can simply do what they want.
“If the Brits quit, we expect the French will raise taxes on our second homes, move the border back home from Calais and ban British ski instructors in the Alps, but imposing minimum language requirements is something we hadn't thought of, but perhaps should have,” said Chalmers.
Another measure in the post-Brexit bill would effectively force Anglo businesses to have Gallic names and all services and products they offer will have to be written only in French on their websites or brochures.
British owners of companies and management level employees, known as cadres, will have to be able to speak what's been labelled as “dinner party” level French – a high standard that few can reach.
The Local understands the French government envisages adding the language tests to the annual tax declarations.
While the move is apparently being pushed by the Ministry of Culture, its origin lies with the guardians of the French language at the Académie Française, who are notorious for waging war against English.
In the event of a Brexit and the new laws being passed, the Académie's infamous mobile language patrols (see photo below) will turn their attention from fighting the rise of verlan (a kind of slang) in the suburbs to making sure strict new requirements on British expats are respected.
The patrols will carry out spot checks on businesses and locals around regions like the Provence and Brittany, where there are a large number of Brits.
And it seems like the Académie is already preparing for Britain to vote OUT in the June referendum – the photo above above was taken in the town of Sarlat in Dordogneshire, last month.
Mike Stevens, from northern England, who runs a removals service in the area, spotted the “Académie Française Contrôle” vehicle but at the time had no idea why it was there.
“I have to be honest, if they imposed any kind of language requirement on me I'd go out of business,” Stevens told The Local. “If those Académie folk turn up here again wanting to test my language, I'll tell them to F-off. Pardon my French.
“I came here four years ago, knowing four French words: 'Bonjour, biere and baise moi' and they've done me fine up to now.
“I know I am in France but if the French want to use my company then they should learn English. I'm not anti-French or anything, some of my best friends are frogs.
“But random language tests are ridiculous and I ain't opening no Tricolore text book again. I was going to vote Brexit, but this changes everything.”
Other British expats in France were far more receptive to the idea.
“Bravo! This is bonne nouvelle indeed,” said Elizabeth Maxwell, a London-born self-confessed lover of all things France, living in Paris.
“Language tests hold no fear for moi.”
“British expats who refuse to learn la langue française should rentrer chez eux. Bien sûr we should all speak French. I insist we speak it even among our English amis,” said Maxwell.
Although details of the annual tests and spot questions have not been released, it is believed they would vary depending on how long an expat had been in France.
New arrivals would be expected to answer a question like: Comment je peux aller a la gare (How do I get to the post office) while long term expats would need to show they can master the subjunctive whilst talking about cheese.
There had been a plan to involve French border police in the spot tests on Brits arriving in France, but unions threatened strike action saying it was unfair their staff should have to speak to members of the public.
A spokesman for the Home Office in Britain told The Local they couldn't comment as they were still trying to find someone who could speak French to translate the reports from the media.
But he dismissed any idea of a retaliatory measure being forced upon French expats in Britain.
“It just wouldn't have any impact. They speak English,” the spokesperson said.
France's ministry of culture responded to The Local's request to confirm the reports, but unfortunately we weren't able to understand what they said.
The Academie Française said they would only talk to French media.
This story, if you haven't guessed by now is not actually true and is part of The Local France's longstanding tradition of April Fools' jokes.
Hope you enjoyed it. You can put your French text books back in the cupboard now.