French bashing: Why the hatred towards France?

A documentary exploring why Brits and Americans are so keen to bash the French has proved a big hit in France, where viewers, far from feeling ashamed, have reacted with pride and hit back with bit of their own "Yankee Bashing".

French bashing: Why the hatred towards France?
Why do Anglos love to hate the French?

French Bashing: A combat sport invented by Anglo Saxons to criticise the lazy, striking, effeminate, cowardly, unfaithful, seducing, impolite, unhygienic, arrogant, cheese-munching French.

This definition of the popular sport played by both Americans and British is given at the start of “French Bashing”, a documentary by filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Péretié, which was aired on Canal Plus on Wednesday

The programme captured the attention of a French public ever keen to understand what those Outre-Atlantique and Outre-Manche think of them.

During Wednesday night’s screening the hashtag #Frenchbashing topped the trending charts on Twitter in France, as viewers discovered why exactly the Brits and the Americans love to bash them so much.


The programme explains the origin of many of the derogatory clichés mentioned above.

Apparently much of the anger from the other side of the Atlantic apparently originated in the 18th Century when France and the US competed to be the country that most upheld the principles of freedom and the rights of man following their revolutions.

Much has happened since then of course that has only fueled resentment from across the seas and helped confirm the unfair clichés of the French that many Americans and Brits still hold dear.

There was Charles de Gaulle pulling France out of Nato and the President Jaques Chirac’s refusal to join the Iraq War of 2003 that lead to Tricolore flags being burned in America and French Fries to be renamed or Freedom Fries.

That stance, which even those who backed the war would find hard to fault now, was taken by many Anglos as proof of the legendary French cowardice dating back to the surrender in World War Two.

Then there was Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sordid hotel sex scandal that led to him being dubbed “Le Perv” and taken as evidence that all French men are cheaters and unable to control their ravenous sexual appetites.

Then there’s the cartoon version of DSK – Pepe le Pew, a smelly French skunk that is desperately seeking to find l’amour” with a cat and won’t take no for an answer.

Then there’s the constant strikes, the struggling economy, the apparent refusal to reform, the pessimism, Fox News’s famous ‘no-go zone’s in Paris and even the dog poo on the pavements.

The programme however ended on a moment when the eyes of the Anglo world looked to France with a certain degree of respect, when millions took to the streets in the aftermath of the January terrorist attacks.


SEE ALSO: From Nelson to Newsweek: a brief history of French bashing

But if the reaction from the viewers who took to Twitter are anything to go, the journey through the tired clichés of the French has simply reaffirmed their Gallic pride rather than jolted them into more soul searching and pessimism.

French international rugby player Benjamin Kayser was one of hundreds who took to Twitter to express their pride at being French.

“Nothing as good as French Bashing, the documentary from Canal Plus, to make you feel proud to represent France, before crossing the Channel on Saturday,” said Kayser, who is on his way to England for the Rugby World Cup.


Other viewers simply tweeted along the lines of “Good reasons to feel proud to be French”.


“We are watching French bashing on Canal and instead of feeling shame we are almost proud,” tweeted Les Tonton Flingues.


Others took the opportunity to partake in a little “Yank Bashing”, with one tweeter mocking the fact that some Americans still think the Iraq war was a good idea.

“Funny to see how Americans still think that the war in Iraq was a good idea. What a load of idiots,” tweeted Lucio.

Another joked about the cliché of French spending their days drinking coffee, yet Americans probably spend more time in Starbucks. 

“We learn the French spend all their day in a café… but who invented Starbucks?” tweeted D4DO_greg.

While the French may understand the origins of the sport of French bashing a little better, they should probably be prepared for it to continue.

But for the sake of balance it’s worth pointing out that it’s not always been bashing from across the pond. Just watch this video from US comedian and commentator Bill Mayer.


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OPINION: The notion that the French are not child-friendly is risible

A barbed column in a British newspaper that suggested the French are not child-friendly and their youngsters are more repressed than their British counterparts has angered many francophiles. Writer Colin Randall responds to the latest example of "frogbashing" from across the Channel.

OPINION: The notion that the French are not child-friendly is risible
Are French children almost Victorian in comparison to British rambunctious brood? Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Beneath a headline pandering to Middle England prejudice – “The one thing I don’t miss about our family holidays in France? The French” (paywalled) – a Daily Telegraph writer announced that her Francophile days were over.

Georgina Fuller told in a barbed column this week of grim restaurant experiences south of the Dordogne where French diners would tut-tut at her “unruly brood” of three small children. 

The details were enough to persuade someone editing her words to sum them up as an argument that few countries are less child-friendly than France. 

The writer complained that restaurants failed to open before 7pm. There were “no such things as a kids’ menu”. Painfully stuck in the mind was the memory of feeling mortified when her eldest child demanded fish fingers next to a table where a French boy of around four was happily tucking into a bowl of moules.

Unconvincingly presented by Ms Fuller as the light-hearted observations of one whose late mother had a fondly remembered home in Aquitaine, this was journalistic feat taking us back decades to lamb wars and the Sun’s “hop off you frogs” campaign.

And it took me back to the dying days of my own Telegraph career. At a leaving party in the paper’s grand apartment-cum-office overlooking the Tuileries gardens in Paris, the British ambassador kindly noted that my work revealed an understanding of, even a liking for, the French. “No wonder they fired you,” a fellow-journalist teased me later.

He was only half-joking. This week’s piece in the Telegraph confirmed that when stuck for an idea, a certain kind of columnist can usefully fill the void with a spot of frog-bashing,

In my own experience, it is a peculiarly British or rather English trait to gaze across the Channel in gleeful search of any opportunity to mock or belittle. 


OPINION: Cheap French-bashing is an old tune from British press and politicians

It can work both ways, but only up to a point. There is what the former president Jacques Chirac described to me as “l’amour violent”, not so much a rough love affair as a tempestuous relationship between near neighbours with a long history of falling out but also much to admire and respect in one another.

Chirac may have been overheard saying the UK’s only contributions to Europe were bad food and mad cow disease. But more broadly, I see little evidence of reciprocal kneejerk disdain for all things British, whereas the “love France, hate the French” line is trotted out at regular intervals, even when there are no disputes over a Covid vaccine or fishing grounds. 

Some expats have been known to indulge. Several years ago, a Home Counties woman living reluctantly in northern Brittany explained her unwillingness to learn French.  “Who on earth would I want to speak it to?” she asked as if it were the most natural reason imaginable for stubbornly resisting the integration that enriches so many lives – including, to be fair, those led by her more open-minded husband and son.

The notion that the French are not child-friendly, least of all in restaurants, is surely risible. There is certainly a case for suggesting their children are better behaved when eating out. This, to some extent, is because it is entirely normal to be included in such family outings from an early age. 

Why wouldn’t the four-year-old on the next table be enjoying his mussels? In resorts close to my home in the Var, I see children of a similar age happily dissecting shellfish. A snail producer in Loire-Atlantique once told me most French children had regularly eaten the delicacy by the time they were six or seven. There are children’s menus in France now but when my own children were small, they were content with shares of their parents’ food.

Georgina Fuller quotes with apparent approval a French acquaintance who felt he and his siblings were more repressed than British counterparts given carte blanche to express themselves freely.

 “Some of the silent children I saw in restaurants and local towns in France seemed almost Victorian in comparison to our rambunctious brood,” she writes.

Such generalisations are best treated as suspect. Even my late French father-in-law was accurate about only some of the British with his favoured mantra: “The French live to eat, you eat to live.” 

But if children, middle class or otherwise, are encouraged to regard fatty processed food as the height of their dining ambition, and maybe grab packets of crisps and sweet fizzy drinks between meals, it is no wonder they recoil from anything more interesting or nutritious.

The Fuller children may indeed flourish away from disapproval in France, when taken instead to Devon and to other continental destinations such as Ibiza, the Netherlands and Portugal. 

But their mother should not be surprised that the response of French people who have read of her resolve to steer clear of France can best be summed as bon débarras.

Colin Randall was the Daily Telegraph’s former Paris bureau chief and is now a freelance journalist and divides his time between London and the south of France.