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:
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!)
Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.