Regional Differences in France & Italy: Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis & Benvenuti al Sud

In 2008 when Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was released in France, it was an instant success. The plot focuses on the manager of La Poste in Salon-de-Provence, who is transferred to Bergues in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and all the negative stereotypes about the north of France, i.e. it’s always rainy and cold, the people are poor, ignorant and backwards, they speak a strange dialect of French called ch’ti, etc. This film is now the most successful French movie ever and Italy has just released their remake of the film, with one major difference – the main character lives near Milan and is transferred to the south, to a small town near Naples. Essentially the same negative stereotypes exist for people in the south of Italy as for the north of France, including the strange dialect that the main character has trouble understanding (Napoletano).

These movies are great for language enthusiasts to learn about accents, dialects and cultural differences within the same country. The French language or French culture doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere in France because it just depends on where you are in the country, which is true of every country and every language. I speak American English but I certainly don’t sound like someone from Alabama. Even if we all speak the same language, we really don’t. But in the end these comedies are about tolerance and discovering that people are people, regardless of differences in location or culture or language.

Another interesting aspect is the translations into English of the original French film. (I haven’t found English translations for the Italian film yet.) Obviously the translations cannot be exact when dealing with puns or words that sound similar in French but do not in English. Usually the English translation just add sh- to the beginning of words. However, the scene about the misunderstanding of siens and chiens (his and dogs) becomes fish and office in English. Here are the trailers of the two films in their original language, with English subtitles for the French film:

Allociné has the Benvenuti al Sud trailer with subtitles in French if you want to compare the two languages. Several clips are also available on Youtube, including Dany Boon’s cameo.

The American remake will supposedly involve both Will Smith and Steve Carell. The plot will essentially be the same, with a southerner being transferred to the north (North Dakota) instead of near the sunny coast (Hawaii).

Benvenuti al Sud will be released in France on November 24 (hopefully sub-titled and not dubbed!)

  • Anna

    I realized a great American movie about regional differences for English learners is My Cousin Vinny. You get two regions (urban East Coast – Brooklyn and the small town South) for the price of one 🙂 I can picture using the “What is a yoot?” scene for a lesson.

    • Ha, yeah that would be a good movie for teaching accents!

  • pacamanca

    I don’t know if that’s bad in France, but dialectal differences in Italian are so intense that the film Gomorra, about the mafia in Naples, was subtitled in Italian. A couple of years ago, an Italian Big Brother had a couple from Calabria, and when they talked to each other in their dialect their dialogues were subtitled in Italian as well.

    • Yikes, I haven’t seen anything that extreme in France, though there is a huge difference between the typical northern and southern accents.

  • Zhu

    US and Canada also have these East Coast/ West Coast differences and jokes I think.

    I went to see Bienvenu chez les ch’tis in France with Feng and even though he doesn’t speak French he got the gist of the movie and liked it.

    • Yes, I can definitely see a Yankee vs. Southerner distinction in the US, though there are so many different Southern accents.

  • I just watched Benvenuti al Sud this weekend because of a recommendation by my friend in Genova, you can watch the film in its entirety on Youtube.  The film was absolutely hilarious and does a great job of contrasting the cultures between the north and south of Italy.  The breakfast scene stands out as one of these great comparison moments andwas probably one of my favorites in the movie.  I even learned that in some areas of Italy Voi is used as the polite form instead of Lei, and that in the south you only drink tea if you are sick or have a stomach ache.  I had a heard time understanding when they switched to the Napoletano dialect, but maybe this helped me identify with Alberto!