April 6, 2011 | French
I Hate the New Burlington Coat Factory Ad
Do we really need to disparage multilingualism to sell clothes?
Here I was just now, minding my own business, studying French vocabulary for weights and measures (i.e., “ton,” “millimeter,” “mouthful,” etc.) with the television on in the background, when all of a sudden an ad caught my attention.
Café Saint Honoré Today, Upper West Side
DVR capabilities are a great thing.
The ad, for Burlington Coat Factory, goes like this. Two women, strangers to each other, are standing at the condiments area of someplace where they have apparently just purchased coffee or tea. One of them, a supercilious white woman, reaches across the other, a light-skinned black woman, for something for her drink, and says, “Merci.”
The other woman, who is down to earth and spunky, looks at her and says, “Cute accent.”
The supercilious woman then says, in weirdly accented English, “My native tongue is French, but I actually speak four languages fluently.”
The spunky woman says, “Really? I got my girls four dresses for fifty bucks at Burlington. Parlez-vous good deal?”
Next you leave this scene and hear from a disembodied voice: “Impressive brands and styles for your whole family, all at up to 60 percent off department store prices every day. Now that’s really something to brag about. Burlington. Brag about it.”
More Upper West Side French (Name Means Cotton Counter)
I absolutely hate this ad. It is goofy, but overall it plays the themes straight and, I think, is meant to be understood pretty literally; there is no campiness or irony. It makes the multilingual person a white, snotty bitch, which is irksome, and the other woman—the nice one, the one you could perhaps imagine yourself hanging out with—the representative of self-righteous monolingualism.
I’m not saying it’s bad to be monolingual, but do we really have to stoop to disparaging people who are not? The commercial seems so shockingly typical of the worst stereotypes of American culture, in which knowledge-bashing and shopping are favorite sports.
I admire people who know things. I admire people who are nice. Many people who know things are nice, and I hate the too-easy equation of knowledge and snobbishness.
Why couldn’t this company have pitted something that is actually crappy, like crass materialism, or perhaps meanness without the multilingualism, against the good deal? Why link multilingualism and snobbery and bad behavior? I would like to see the ad redone with a multilingual person who gets a good deal for her daughters while also being nice to monolingual strangers at coffee bars.
Oh, yeah, and also: it is so trite to bash French people (this includes non-French actors playing French people).
I don’t like your ad, Burlington Coat Factory. I don’t like it at all.