In the latest case of French bashing from across the English Channel, Andy Street, the managing director of upscale retail giant John Lewis, did not mince his words.
Shortly after visiting Paris this week to pick up an international retail award, Street told a group of entrepreneurs on Thursday that France was “finished” and advised investors to take their money out of a country where “nothing works”, the UK’s Times newspaper reported.
Not stopping there Street went on to say that the country was “sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat”.
“I have never been to a country more ill at ease, nothing works, and worse, nobody cares about it,” he said.
And the exec was similarly unimpressed by the Paris’s Eurostar station at Gare du Nord, which he described as the “squalor pit of Europe”. Although he might be the first to describe the rundown station in those terms, he’s probably not the first to think it.
“You get on the Eurostar from something I can only describe as the squalor pit of Europe, Gare du Nord, and you get off at a modern, forward-looking station (St Pancras),” Street told the conference in London.
He even slammed the hospitality at the World Retail Congress event in Paris, saying the wine and food were better at a London event.
He did however have some kind words for France for the “service”, which he described as “incomparable”.
It is not clear how long Street actually spent in Paris to justify his opinion that France was “finished” but perhaps his outburst was motivated by the fact his Eurostar train back to London from Paris was delayed.
Initially Street’s tirade was dismissed by a spokeswoman for John Lewis who told The Local that they were “tongue in cheek comments not to be taken seriously”.
We were told the managing director would not be making any more comment, but later on Friday, as news of his comments were being picked up in the French press, Street tried limit the damage, by apologizing unreservedly.
"The remarks I made were supposed to be lighthearted views, and tongue in cheek,” the executive said in an e-mailed statement .
“On reflection I clearly went too far. I regret the comments.”
Despite the regret Street's barbs will be embarrassing for a company, which has plans to launch a French language website and recently began deliveries to this side of the Channel.
It was left to the French embassy in London to fire a riposte.
“France is the fifth biggest economy in the world, the second of Europe, and is the country with the fifth largest stock of foreign direct investment in the world, so obviously many foreign businesses do not seem to share Mr Street's view,” a spokesman told The Times.
“Also, saying that nothing works in France shows how wide of the mark those comments are.
"Everyone who has lived in France knows that it enjoys world-class public services. Public transport, for example, is excellent, and at a price that Mr Street is unlikely to find in many countries.”
This is not the first time the French embassy in London has stepped in to defend the reputation of the country.
In January this year the French outpost hit back against criticism from a British newspaper that the country is becoming “a tragedy” and in doing so has taken a swipe at the UK, the NHS and its transport system.
The embassy in London was aggrieved by a piece by City AM journalist Allister Heath titled “France’s failed socialist experiment is turning into a tragedy” in which in, now age-old fashion, he predicts France’s economic demise and the exodus of all its bright stars.
In their reply the embassy listed the reasons why France is not turning into a tragedy. You can click on the link below to see what they had to say.