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crypto and public policy

How do you say Spam in French?

Filed under: General — July 19, 2003 @ 2:13 pm

Today, the French banned the word ’email’.

First, an explanation. Jean Dupont on the street will not get thrown in jail just for saying “I sent mon amour a leetle email.” This is an attempt to affect human behavior not through threat of criminal penalty, but through government normative pressure. The French government and all its branches (which employ close to half the French working population) are no longer allowed to use the word “email” in any of their publications, public speeches, etc… Instead, they must use the Quebec invention: courriel. AOL may change its login greeting to “Vous avez du courriel!”, but they are certainly not required to do so. The concept is similar to the US government using the words “digital divide” and “information superhighway” ad nauseum: soon enough, everyone’s saying it.

I wish I could explain to the French why it looks pretentious and to the Americans why it is understandable. This is one of those things that makes Franco-American relationships so wildly entertaining. Americans certainly underestimate the value of French culture, but the French certainly overestimate it.

Some situations, like the Yahoo Nazi artifacts case, truly embody the philosophical differences between French and Americans. In this courriel case, though, I can only smile and laugh.

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