A summit of the French-speaking world that Bucharest is hosting this week has sparked debates on the measure Romania should consider itself as part of La Francophonie, taking into consideration that fewer and fewer people in the country pay any attention to the French language and culture, while giving in to the temptation of the Anglo-Saxon “cultural imperialism”.

Despite Romania’s belonging to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the French culture seems less and less capable to affirm itself in the Romanian society, either because of linquistic barriers - which are obvious despite many shool programs focused on French - or because of the Anglo-American communication aggressiveness.

Statistics show that some 25% of the population of Romania, which turns into the focus point of La Francophonie this week, are French speaking. But the statistics are made based on the number of students that learn French in Romanian schools: the real situation is rather different.

“French is useless anyway”

A group of pupils are leaving school somewhere in Bucharest. They all study French two hours a week, but admit they’re more than lacking the language skills. An attempt to have them speak French fails miserably.

“French is useless anyway”, says Andrei S, a seventh grade pupil. “The teacher doesn’t do her best either. She gives us marks based on our paper works alone”.

But things get different when it comes to English: they all have the basic language notions and say the Internet and video games are responsible for that.

Things are similar when it comes to Bucharest highschools. Asked about the three things he thinks about when hearing about France, Marian C., who’s been studying French for seven years but failed to assimilate it, lists Olympique Lyon, Peugeot and Zidane.

The French niche: Piff and Rahan cartoons

Ion Uta, deputy head of the League of Romanian-French Cooperation, believes French studies are going down in Romania.

“We analyzed the situation and by 1997 French had a slight advantage against English. The balance was restored a bit later and now English seems to rule”, he says.

Uta blames the situation on the engines that make English a more accessible language: “The Internet, films, music are the reasons for which English is much more popular. And the Spanish language catches up too, mostly thanks to telenovelas”, the South American-style soap operas.

He believes culture is one of the means by which French may regain its supremacy - that is, an “edible culture” such as the cartoons that were so popular decades ago, like the famous Pif and Rahan.

French bakery

But culture is not the only “solution” for a growth in the popularity of French language. One should ask what the French should do to counterbalance McDonald’s and KFC, which are so popular in Romania.

While Bucharest sports several French-style restaurants and patisseries, not all of them are relevant for the French gastronomy. And the music they play is not quite the famous chansonette, but more like the MTV heavy rotation hits.

Not to mention the patisserie chain named “French Bakery” (in English!), which serves brownies, cookies, muffins, cheese cake and sandwiches (all in English terms) more than the world famous croissant.

Despite all that, historian Neagu Djuvara sees a glimmer of hope. “Chances are strong to keep a link with France for the simple reason that the French influences during the late 18 and 19 centuries were very intense, especially when it comes to language, politics and economy”, he says.

“It’s true there is a major risk of thinning the layer of French speakers in Romania, but I don’t think it will all be lost”, Djuvara says.