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What do the French really think of the Germans?

Ben McPartland · 3 Jul 2014, 18:54

Published: 03 Jul 2014 18:54 GMT+02:00

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Franco-German rivalry, goes back a long way. In fact even Roman emperor Julius Caesar noted the enmity between the Germans and the Gauls. The countries have gone from warring nations to being the “twin engines” behind a unified Europe, even if the French have to accept now that Berlin is clearly the stronger motor.

Over the years the French, from writers to politicians have expressed some forthright opinions about their neighbours from across the Rhine – both positive and negative.

We’ve gathered together a selection of the best:

“In Germany, they consider beer to be a vegetable.” This dig at the Germans love of beer came from French novelist, comic and screenwriter Jean-Marie Gourio. Yes, if there’s one thing the French will mock the Germans for, it’s their cuisine.

Naturalized French composer Reynaldo Hahn famously mocked the apparent arrogance of France’s neighbours saying: “Germans are remarkable in their own country, but elsewhere they are unbearable”.

Much of the analysis on the Franco-German relationship focuses on Europe. French writer Jean Mistler said : "Europe would be almost complete if the French stayed one less hour in the bistro and the Germans stayed one more hour in bed.”

SEE ALSO: Ten reasons why France is better than Germany

French woman of letters Germaine de Staël said: “The talent of the Germans is they are very good at filling their time, but the French talent is to forget about the time”.

Naturally the leaders of France have had some things to say about Germany and Germans over the years, notably the exiled war-leader and former President Charles de Gaulle.

In a famous speech in September 1962 De Gaulle described the country’s former war-time enemy as “a great people”. The speech is credited with setting the tone of the post-war reconciliation and opening a new chapter in Franco-German relations.

“I congratulate you ... for being young Germans, which means you are children of a great people. That's right, a great people - which has also made some great mistakes in the course of its history.”

Since then most of France’s politicians have continued that warm line towards their neighbours. When he became the first foreign dignitary to speak to the Bundestag, ex-French president Jacques Chirac heralded the closeness between France and Germany in the modern Europe.

“The peoples of Germany and France quite naturally turn to each other,” Chirac said, before finishing his speech with “Long live Germany! Long live France! And long live the European Union!”

But not all of France’s politicians have been warm towards Germans. President François Mitterand was known for his spiky relationship with Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Declassified documents from the British Foreign Office in 2009, revealed Mitterand’s opposition to the unification of Germany.

According to notes belonging to a British foreign policy advisor Mitterand told the then British PM Margaret Thatcher that re-unification “could bring back the bad Germans that they were before.”

“Germany could reunite and claim back the territory it lost during the war,” Mitterand reportedly told the British PM. “It could be even bigger than under Hitler.”

According to The Economist magazine, Mittterand’s advisors were also not too fond of Germany, with one of them saying: “The French holiday in Spain or Italy and send their children to London or the United States. Nobody goes to Germany.”

On occasions French politician’s slights on Germany can be of a personal nature. “She says she is on a diet and then helps herself to a second helping of cheese,” Nicolas Sarkozy famously said about German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

And what about the French people themselves?

“Some of the older generation in France still hate the Germans because of what happened in the war, but the younger generation certainly don’t think like that,” Nelly Fournier told The Local on Thursday.

“I think Germans themselves are more disciplined, stick to the rules more, and are more aware of the environment,” Fournier added. “They are very different to the French. They don’t have a Latin temperament, maybe that’s a good thing.”

“These days a lot of French are jealous of Germany’s economic success,” she added.

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Sixteen-year-old Salim Chaabane said: “We see Germany as the strongest country in Europe. They are powerful economically but their language is horrible.”

“The French don’t have any problems with the Germans,” said Romain Delpouve. “It’s a much more difficult relationship with the English”.

Proving that it’s bad to generalize about a whole nation 19-year-old Morane said: “Germans can be a bit cold, but I met one once and he was really cool.”

And getting back to matters on the pitch, Clement Boellon said that when it comes to France’s most bitter rivalries, Germany is not among them.

“It’s not like we are playing Italy, which France has history with,” said Boellon. “Or even France vs Algeria."

“When we think of Germany we think of beer and parties. There’s no feeling of hatred between us and the Germans." 

That could all change for at least 90 minutes on Friday night of course.

SEE ALSO: What do the Germans think of the French?

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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