A new book by a Frenchman, Josselin de Roquemaurel, says his compatriots should expect mockery of their accent reminiscent of ’Allo ’Allo but concedes that the capital’s green spaces are one of his greatest joys.
According to the author, London is expensive, the public services inadequate, and the natives unfriendly towards the French living in exile among them. He describes the English as ‘Germanic, insular, Protestant’ and imbued with a pragmatism that is at odds with the more abstract and rebellious Gallic spirit. The English may love France, he says, but an age-old rivalry prevents them from being fond of the French.
Well, though many of the things he mentions are in some ways true, unfriendliness towards the French is not one of them. The English are more courteous than the French and are more prepared to integrate foreigners amongst their midst. Because of past rivalries between the two nations, the French and the English do find it hard to gel. But there are many things that they have in common.
London and Paris now compete in the culinary field and there are those who believe that London now has the edge after years of lagging behind. In fashion, both nations are masters of this innovative and lucrative art. The competitiveness in this field can be summed up as classical glamour from the established houses in Paris, as opposed to more modern concepts of a new generation of young English designers who veer towards the modern trend of breaking the boundaries through more flesh exposure to cause the maximum sexual impact.
On the literary front, both are endowed with giants whose contribution remains unparalleled. To name a few from each side will be enough to understand the measure of their achievement. The English have Shakespeare, whose work dominates any list one could conjure up, as well as Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, George Eliot and Charles Dickens. And for the French: Racine, Molière, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Balzac and Flaubert.
The author, whose book appears in French shops this week, has lived in London for thirteen years and is the scion of a well-to-do French family. He says that it is fashionable for French residents to claim they have one or two English friends. But ‘the friend’ often turns out to be half French or married to a French person, or a rare English ‘Francophile’ who’s fluent in the language.
In other words, his suggestion that the English live in isolation from the rest of us is not what I have experienced from the age of eighteen, when I landed in England in 1949 and made it my home. In fact, being a foreigner in England can work to one’s advantage in a number of cases. People are curious to get to know you and learn about your background and culture.
I don’t for a second believe the assertion of unfriendliness is a credible characteristic of the English. If I’m wrong then I must have lived in a cuckoo world or as a hermit. British ways will rub off on you sooner or later, for we are a nation full of tolerance and regard for others, whose mode of life differs from ours. We have our drawbacks, but none of a serious nature.
We can of course be bloody-minded in some aspects so as to keep our accustomed way of life, even when it proves outmoded and rather impractical. But on the whole we fare better than most and are resilient when the chips are down.
The French, however, have a certain savoir faire embedded in their very genes. They are naturally anti law and order and are extremely difficult to govern.
But the rivalry between our two nations is rather a good thing. It keeps both sides in a creative competitive alertness, beneficial to both and to the world at large. ‘Long live the Entente Cordiale!’ is my call to arms.