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French soldier who stormed Normandy beaches with American forces dies aged 98

Bernard Dargols, the only French soldier to fight in an American uniform as Allied forces stormed the coast of Normandy at Omaha Beach in a battle heralding the end of World War II, has died aged 98, the Caen Memorial war museum said on Tuesday.

French soldier who stormed Normandy beaches with American forces dies aged 98
Bernard Dargols pictured on Omaha beach in 2014. Photo: AFP

“We are deeply saddened by Bernard's passing… surrounded by his loved ones, a few days from his 99th birthday. We will miss him terribly,” the museum said on Twitter.

His death comes just a few weeks before France is hosting ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which are to be attended by US President Donald Trump.

Dargols had left France in 1938 for an internship in the United States, and after seeing France's Vichy leader Philippe Petain shake hands with Adolf Hitler, he enlisted in the US Army, later obtaining joint French-American citizenship.

Bernard Dargols, left, in American uniform in 1944. Photo: AFP

He was just 24 when he crossed the Channel from England to France on June 8, 1944, two days after Operation Overlord was launched to help wrest back France from Germany.

“Some GIs were killed in the water. By what miracle was I going to make these last few metres” to the beach, he recalled in a 2012 memoir written with a grand-daughter.

“If the Liberty Ship had been able to quickly go into reverse, I think I would have asked them to do it,” he said.

A few hours later, aboard a jeep nicknamed “La Bastille”, he found himself surrounded by his fellow Frenchmen who couldn't believe their ears.

“What a feeling to hear French spoken, to be taken in the arms of all these people older than me, calling me their liberator,” he recalled.

“If I had kept all the bottles of calvados brandy they were giving me, I think I could have opened my own specialist shop!”

Dargols, whose family had Jewish origins, had an aunt and uncle who were deported to the Nazi death camps where they died, though his mother managed to remain in Paris during France's occupation.

After the war he took over his father's sewing machine shop, but he often spoke about the bloodshed he witnessed, giving interviews to ensure younger generations never forgot the high price paid. 

“Today we're seeing the signs of anti-Semitism,” he told AFP in a 2014 interview.

“I want young people to fight back against it.”

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/cartesfrance.fr
But while the map – created by cartesfrance.fr – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.
 

 
 
 
Here are some of the key points.
 
1. Everyone hates Parisians
 
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
 
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
 
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
 
 
2. Staycations rule
 
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
 
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
 
 
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
 
3. Northerners like a drink
 
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
 
 
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
 
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
 
 
4. Poverty
 
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
 
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
 
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
 
5. Southern prejudice
 
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
 
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
 
 
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
 
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
 
For more maps that reflect France, head to cartesfrance.fr
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