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Monday, 24 October 2005
viva la difference


The above two magazines were side by side on the shelf in my local supermarket. The one on the left encourages us to read about amazing diets as used by certain celebrities. The one on the right expresses concern that certain models are starving themselves. Both reflect an unhealthy obsession.

Two things interested me in this study into the hostility between the British (or English apparently) and the French.  The first is the idea that the similarities between the English and the French are a key part of the problem

“The French are a kind of sibling, cast in the same mould as us, but showing how the same genes can express themselves in alternative ways,” says Dr Wendy Michallat, an expert in popular French culture.

“Given this common background, the English, in spite of themselves, tend to give way to what Freud called ‘the narcissism of minor differences’. We make a great deal of what distinguishes us from the French, for fear of seeing our prized identity lose its uniqueness by being revealed as just another set of shared human traits”.

The second thing that interested me was that they don’t hate us as much as we hate them

Seventy-two percent of Britons questioned in a recent survey believed the French warranted their negative stereotype, while only 19% of French believe the Brits deserved their “Rosbifs” tag.

Welcome back to bluemeanie who rejoins us in blogging after an 18 month hiatus. She does so with a bang.

Posted by bigblue on 24/10/2005 at 11:51 PM
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The reason the English hate the French is that they have been ruled by a French elite ever since the Norman invasion in 1066.  The entire class system in England is built on these foundations.

Ever noticed that the people who historically tended the animals used English names for them (“chicken”, “cow”) but the people who historically ate them used french-derived names for them (“poultry”, “veal”)?

Posted by flank  on  26/10/2005  at  10:27 AM

Yes: sheep-mutton & pig-pork are two other examples where the animal name has an Anglo-Saxon origin and the food name has a French origin.

However I tend to think that the historical wars (including the so-called 100 years war) are more influential in generating the hostilities. The entente cordial is a mere hundred years old.

And 200 years ago (this week), addressing the troops before the Battle of Trafalgar, Horatio Nelson said:

You must hate every Frenchman as you hate the devil!

whereas Victor Hugo said (in 1855 in a speech celebrating the aniversary of the 1848 revolution):

There has never been an antipathy between them, only the desire to surpass. France is the adversary of England as the better is the enemy of the good.

Hugo was of course an asylum seeker, who sought refuge on British soil for over 20 years.

Posted by bigblue  on  27/10/2005  at  12:41 AM

Interesting point.  I’m sure there are lots of influences - one of them I’ve noticed is an English disgust at the French military performances in the First and Second World Wars.  There have been several instances on each side since then of political and economic betrayals. 

In our current form of western democracy (government of the politican, for the politician, and by the poltician) attitudes and prejudices tend be shaped by the agendas of the ruling party.  At heart we are all either sheep or dressed mutton - depending on our social class.

Posted by flank  on  27/10/2005  at  06:59 AM

I also think that there is something in the French history of being the kind-of enemy, then being allowed to be a great power again (think Napoleon and Vienna Settlement of 1815). A primary school teacher of mine described the French involvement in WWII like this:

;Then Hitler crossed the boarder into France, and the French held up their arms (here she did a whimsical hand/leg movement) and said, “ooh pleez, pleez, do not attack Paree, do not bomb our bootiful city”, so they proved themselves useless to us in that war!

::sigh:: The merits of education…

Posted by bluemeanie  on  28/10/2005  at  07:55 PM

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