Along the border with Germany, the French region of Alsace is known for its white wine, Christmas markets and … ridiculously long town names. So long, in fact, that one resident of the little town of Niederschaeffolsheim was unable to buy a pair of sneakers.
Here's how this unusual online clash played out recently between the old Alsatian language and modern word counts, as reported in local daily Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace. A 16-year-old named Justine was wrapping up her purchase on Foot Locker's website when she was prompted to insert her address. The box, however, had a limit of 15 letters, and Niederschaeffolsheim adds up to 20. "I thought it was surely an error, so I re-tried but it didn't work," she told the newspaper. "I can't do anything about the name of my village."
Justine decided to tweet a screenshot of the ordeal, hoping to give Foot Locker a gentle nudge. She didn't expect over 5,000 shares and 45,000 likes, or comments such as "Your tweet is more efficient than a geography class" and "the name of your town is a Scrabble winner." Justine was thrilled to introduce her compatriots to "one of the longest town names in Alsace."
The French often poke fun at long Alsatian names, but these denominations are relics of singular dialects unique to the region. For centuries, the area's ownership has been hotly disputed between France and Germany; As a result, Alsatian dialects are a hodgepodge of the two languages, inheriting German's long-winded word construction. Multiple times throughout history, Alsatian dialects were banned in schools by the French government as a way to eradicate German influence.
As a result, these regional languages are dwindling. A 2013 report from the French Minister of Culture found only 42% of Alsatian citizens could converse in its dialects, whereas 62% were considered "fluent" in 1999. Geography is perhaps the last bastion of these rarefied tongues, harboring magnificent mouthfuls like Mittelschaeffolsheim, Pfulgriesheim and Breuschwickersheim.
Alsatians are not alone in their linguistic lengthiness: The longest town name in France, Saint-Remy-en-Bouzemont-Saint-Genest-et-Isson, is located further west in the Marne region.
Foot Locker claimed to have never had any previous issues with their 15-letter town-name limit. "Time will tell if this Tweet will convince brands to adapt their websites to our dear Alsatian communities," concluded Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace.
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