News that Lidl had “banned” the Welsh language last week provoked outrage and threats of a boycott by disgruntled defenders of all things Cymraeg.
The PR own goal stemmed from a statement issued on Friday (7 November), where the German discounter said its policy was for staff to speak English to customers, irrespective of their native language.
This had apparently been in response to a situation in Scotland where two staff members were banned from speaking Polish to each other on their tea break, but inadvertently outlawed the use of the Welsh language in its stores.
Cue cries of indignation on social media, accusations of a “disgraceful” and illegal policy by lobby group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society), and an investigation by the Welsh Language Commissioner.
The initial lack of clarity on the status of the Welsh language proved that not everything Lidl does turns to gold, and it was forced to issue an embarrassing clarification on Sunday where it said the Welsh language had never and “will never” be banned from its stores.
In a letter to Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws, Lidl MD Ronny Gottschlich added that the retailer would begin “including the official Welsh language symbol on store entrances across Wales, and providing all our Welsh-speaking store staff with ‘Working Welsh’ badges”, to let customers know they can speak Welsh to these members of staff should they wish to do so.
Huws responded today that she was “pleased” Lidl had made a “clear statement of policy that removes any ambiguity about the use of the Welsh language in their shops”, but it seems that a number of the big retailers are struggling to come to terms with the official status afforded to the language by the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg is proposing a ban on all Morrisons stores from 1 December in response to what it claims is a historical failure to respect the language.
This stance came to a head in January when a Morrisons pharmacist in Bangor, at the heart of predominantly Welsh-speaking Gwynedd, refused to process a prescription written in Welsh, and sent it back to the surgery to get it translated (prompting more protests).
Tesco blundered last month with a sign on its Aberystwyth Extra store ATM, which offered customers “Free Cash Withdrawals” in English, and “Free Erections” in Welsh (translated as “Codiad am Ddim”, rather than “Arian am Ddim”), while Asda was guilty of posting a Scots Gaelic sign in a Swansea car park.
Both retailers thanked eagle eyed shoppers for correcting the mistakes, but they should all try much harder, or as I would say, ymdrechu’n galetach, rather than paying mere lip service to a language more than half a million people can speak.