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showing results for: July, 2008

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  • Protecting English one beer at a time, or, how do you say 'Bud Light' in Flemish?

    The pending sale of Budweiser, “the king of beers,” to the Belgian beer conglomerate InBev, has sparked jokey headlines like the Baltimore Sun’s “This Bud’s pour vous,” not to mention fear among drinkers of le roi des bières that the new owners of Anheuser Busch might actually change the taste of their beloved Bud Light. 

    Bud Light credit card 

    Budweiser drinkers are apparently so loyal that they carry Bud Light credit cards allowing them to drink beyond their means while earning Bud Reward Points for every dollar spent, and giving a new meaning to “We card hard.” 

    InBev, a company formed from the merger of a Belgian and a Brazilian beer peddler, adding the threat of Portuguese to the linguistic mix, insists that since Budweiser is already so successful, with a 48.5% U.S. market share, they won’t tamper with the secret Budweiser recipe – which prompted one late night comic to quip, “There’s a recipe?”

    But that’s not doing much to ease the fears of loyal Bud drinkers, who apparently fear that InBev will turn Budweiser into a bilingual operation, like Belgium itself, more than they fear that InBev might actually seduce Americans into drinking beer that actually tastes like beer.

    In the United States, Belgium is often cited, along with Canada, as a country where the existence of two official languages produces cultural instability and civil unrest (you may not have had much contact with Belgians, but those Canadians sure are an unruly bunch, eh?).

    bilingual sign near Brussels

    Belgium is divided into three major areas by language: the French-speaking Wallonia (which includes a small German-speaking area along the German border), Flemish-speaking Flanders, and the capital area of Brussels, where both French and Flemish compete for attention with English (though not with American beer, at least not yet).

    Belgian beers are multilingual, and American supporters of official English have already begun warning about the threat that this poses to American beer labels, which like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, must be understood in their original language, English. 

    multilingual label from Lambic beer

    Lambic is a well-known Belgian beer with multilingual labeling. That may be fine for Europe, where people don’t seem to care what language they speak (though they have fairly refined tastes in beer, compared to Americans).

    Budweiser is as American as apple pie, or an apple pie that you have to be 21 to buy, but Americans fear that soon they will be told by their new European masters to order Bud by the litre (that’s French for liter), not the six pack, and to “press 1” to order it in English. Or worse yet, to “press 2” or “3.” Fortunately they won’t have to worry about converting Bud Light calories from metric to Fahrenheit, since calories are already metric, though most Americans don’t actually know this. 

    multilingual Budweiser label

    American beer makers are worrying that they’ll have to give up English -- Miller Brewing Company, makers of "the champagne of bottled beer," was sold in 2002 to a South African firm, and although English is an official language of South Africa, so are Afrikaans, which is based on Dutch, and 9 additional native African languages. But there are some companies that would be unaffected, linguistically, if they were sold overseas.

    Toyota probably wouldn’t change the language of Chevrolet model names if it bought General Motors, since cars in Japan all have English names anyway. And Starbucks isn’t worried about the language factor in a takeover either: their menu is already partly in Italian, though they would have to change their cups from ounces to centiliters (Starbucks’ venti doesn’t mean ‘really big,’ it’s Italian for “20” – because a venti latte is 20 oz. -- not centiliters -- of latte, though most Americans don’t actually know that either). Plus Europeans still like to drink their coffee very strong, in very small cups that Starbucks doesn't even have a name for.

    But given the nature of global capitalism, beer drinkers may soon have to invest in a French-English dictionary before they can order a beer (or a Flemish-English dictionary, if they can find one). And so Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, from the (soon-to-be-former) home state of Anheuser Busch, announced that she will propose a constitutional amendment requiring labels on American beers to be in English, the language in which the beers were originally brewed (ok, Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch were German immigrants who probably spoke only German when they started making beer in St. Louis, a city with a French name, but any resemblance between Bud and a real German beer is purely fanciful).

    And former U.S. Attorney General (also a former governor of Missouri) John Ashcroft, whose mastery of language and the law is so precise that as AG he insisted that waterboarding wasn't torture, is pushing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the INS) to require all candidates for American citizenship to demonstrate the ability to read and understand beer ads in English.

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