by Jean-Marie de Bourqueney
Translation Louise Thunin
Brussels, on a winter morning. I’m climbing into the Thalys train for Paris. I sit in my assigned seat, leaving the one next to it free. I warm myself, but I remain in my individual bubble : with my cell phone (sorry, my ˝GSM˝—we’re in Belgium, country of my heart) in front of me, news items parade by; e-mails inform me of all the work awaiting me on my arrival in Paris. Three minutes before departure, a man, clean-cut-manager style, enters the train car (wagon in French ; I’ll let you guess the Belgian pronunciation of this word…) and asks me if the seat next to me is free. Nothing very surprising, indeed. Yes, but before I get a chance to answer, he has asked me the same question in four languages : English, French, German and Dutch (Flemish)… I answer with a timid oui. So he sustains conversation in my language during the hour-and-a- quarter-long trip. I learn that he is British, a European functionary. I admire how deft he is at speaking French so well, as I always admire those who are multilingual, all the more as, in this field, my own grade is an absolute zero, even after having begun eight foreign languages.
And suddenly, the reality of Europe appears to me as Pentecost revisited. Yes, Europe means ˝speaking in tongues˝, not the glossolalia which the Bible reports, a series of sounds and rumblings, vaguely audible to others. No, it is the real ˝speaking in tongues˝, that is to say, understandable, intelligent tongues which, each one being different and specific, offer their stones to the construction of a reality that we can still visit : European culture. Not a language that would direct minds and practices but one of diversity, of conviviality, enriched by its internal differences.
Just an example : in French, with the verb aimer, I can love goose liver pâté, my wife, God, and my human brothers and sisters. In English there are two verbs : to like and to love. In Biblical Greek, three verbs… What if we were to rediscover the subtlety of languages rather than uniformity and conformity ?