Taking a Dig at The French

The English and the French are well known for their long lasting friendship built on mutual esteem, or maybe not. The Entente Cordiale is but a thin veneer over the gulf that separates the two countries. But indeed, there is a lot of fun to be got out of a situation playing the French against the English.

by +Lucas Dié on Books

1,000 Years Of Annoying The French by Stephen Clarke was published by Bantam Press. The title is a promise kept throughout the book. The book is a romp through history and covers incidents and misconceptions from the days of William the Conqueror to the present in an amusing way. If the insults dished out may only be understood with a grasp of history, the author brings modern analogies into play. In that way, even if you went through a Labour blighted school with no clue about history, you’re able to understand just how offending some gestures were meant on delivery and how serious they were taken at the time.

Along the way, Stephen Clarke addresses some typical misconceptions about France and all things French entrenched in English minds. Did you think William the Conqueror was French? He definitely wasn't, he was Norman. The Normans as direct neighbors to the French despised the French even more than the English. That is quite common among good neighbors.

Do you like your Croissants and your Baguettes? And aren't you thankful to the Austrians for inventing them? Seemingly, the method to put bubbly into wine was an English invention, these days grandly called ‘Méthode Champenoise’ and defended by the French to the teeth. And the English, forever striving for efficiency in killing, rather than the French that invented the guillotine. But trust the French to make the most of it.

The author is especially rude about the French perception of historic events. ‘The French don’t really remember Waterloo or Trafalgar; and they don’t regard the Nazi Occupation as a defeat, it was more of a waiting period until Charles de Gaulle was ready to come back and seal victory.’ And I for one couldn't agree more with this assessment.

The author goes through every minor or major spat in the relationship between France and England. Reading about the bygone contretemps makes you appreciate the ongoing battles the more. Like former French President Nicolas Sarkozy forgetting to invite the Queen to the celebration of 65 years of D-Day, or French embassies going into paroxysms of rage every time the lack in stature of their current minuscule (in more sense than one) leader is mentioned.

If the book is funny for English readers, it becomes downright hilarious for non-English readers. Written by a typical rosbif (the French way of saying roast beef, and for them synonymous with English), the book is addressing French misconceptions about themselves in a ridiculous way while at the same time showing up all the misconceptions the English hold about themselves. While the latter certainly wasn't the intention of the author, it is none the less highly entertaining.