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NEWS 16 Mar 17

Minister's Foreign Language Struggles Mocked in Romania

The linguistic blunders of Labour Minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu have become a fertile source of jokes on social media, after she had a few problems delivering speeches in English and French to a UN convention.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Romanian minister of Labor, Lia Olguta Vasilescu. Photo: Wikimedia.

Romania's Labour Minister is in trouble over her foreign language skills - or lack of them - after two speeches by her in English and French at a UN event on women’s rights went viral.

Lia Olguta Vasilescu, the former mayor of the southern city of Craiova, was taking part in the 61st session of the UN Commission of Women’s Rights on Tuesday and Wednesday, when she read out two speeches, in English and French, on how Romanian women had become integrated into the labour market.

After the first speech, in English on Tuesday night, was posted on YouTube, it was widely mocked on social media and in satirical publications like Times New Roman.

"Olguta Vasilescu spoke English with such a Soviet accent that the Deveselu anti-missile shield was activated,” it snickered, referring to the shield designed to protect NATO-member Romania against possible threats from Russia.

Another satirical publication, Kamikaze, giggled that the minister had vowed "to start speaking English every night in the centre of Craiova to attract more tourists to the area.”

The minister replied with some dignity on Facebook, noting that "For someone who has never taken any English class in school ... I think I was pretty decent. I don’t believe there was anyone in the room who did not understand what I said."

Her ventures into French also drew caustic laughter, however. Times New Roman wrote that "hundreds of people gathered early in the morning in front of the UN headquarters in New York after organizers announced that Romania's representative, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, will speak again in a foreign language. The curious audience brought cameras, recorders and por-corn to witness a great show.”

“Comedy Central showed interest in broadcasting Olguta’s speech live, but UN organizers did not make a decision yet because they have offers from HBO Comedy and Netflix,” the same publication added.

Digi 24 television channel also spotted a few glitches in Vasilescu’s French oration, noting that when talking about the role of women on the global labour market, she spoke of the "marche de tramvai"  - the march of the tramway - instead of the "marche du travail" - the labour market.

While many Romanians saw the funny side of the minister's linguistic errors, commentator Florin Negrutiu has taken a more serious line, saying it showed that the Social Democrat-led government was short of competent officials.

“It is probably the weakest Romanian government since 1989, in which [Social Democrat chief] Liviu Dragnea has brought people with no personality so they won’t have a strong voice in the party," he wrote.

"It is led by a Prime Minister who says: 'I repeat' and 'I stress' 20 times a day. What exactly? God knows … Mr PM never says anything,” Negrutiu added in the editorial for the Republica opinion website. 

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