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FRANCE EXPLAINED

How do the French really feel about the English?

Deadly enemies, friendly rivals, sporting adversaries or the butt of jokes? While 'French-bashing' is an established trend among certain British communities, how do the French really feel about their cross-Channel neighbours?

How do the French really feel about the English?
Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP

As France prepare to take on England in the football World Cup, there has been plenty of mostly good-humoured banter on both sides, but in general this is a complicated relationship.

First let’s get one thing clear – while we are aware that English and British are not the same thing and that the UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, French people tend to be pretty vague on the difference between les anglais and les britanniques. What we’re examining here is largely an English phenomenon, but media or politicians who at least nominally represent the whole of the UK will also be making an appearance. 

Listen to the team from The Local discuss the French-English relationship in the latest episode of Talking France – find it on Spotify, Apple or Google podcasts, download it HERE or listen on the link below.

Saturday’s World Cup football clash is making headlines on both sides of the Channel with French sports paper l’Equipe getting in early with the franglais headline ‘God save notre king’ – their king being, of course, star striker Kylian Mbappé.

Over on the other side of the Channel there were reports of English fans boycotting baguettes and croissants ahead of the big match, while the French commentator Julien Hoez found himself the subject of a UK newspaper article after making a flippant comment on Twitter about an (objectively revolting-looking, it must be said) fish-finger and cheese croissant on sale in England.

Hoez is far from the first Frenchman to be less than flattering about British food, with former president Jacques Chirac once remarking: “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”

But away from banter about food and football, English ‘French-bashing’ can be more serious.

In the midst of an actual war in Europe, British MP (and, briefly, prime minister) Liz Truss remarked that “the jury is out” when asked whether French president Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe of Britain.

Her remark is part of a long tradition of British politicians who have decided to make verbal attacks against France or the French, usually to try and distract from problems at home.

It goes way back to British portrayals of Napoleon Bonaparte (did you know that it was British cartoonists that created the myth that Napoleon was short? In face he was of average height for a man of his time) right through to tabloid headlines over Covid travel rules.

Interestingly, this is a trend that’s much less prevalent among French politicians and media, where tabloid headlines about the UK – where they exist at all – tend more towards teasing than vitriol.

Political commentator – and a Brit who has lived in France for 25 years – John Lichfield told us: “I think when British politicians engage in a bit of French-bashing they assume that their people will like it and their media will lap it up and therefore there is a sort of constituency for that type of French-bashing in England, not necessarily in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

“It’s not something that French politicians really go in for because there’s not much of a constituency for it, I don’t think there are many votes for Macron or anyone else in seeming to be anti-British.”

He added: “What’s interesting at the moment – with the England v France match – is that it focuses attention on where this ‘French-bashing’ is coming from – and it is an English thing, not a British thing. Most Scottish or Welsh people, certainly the ones that I know, don’t tend to be particularly anti-French.

“It comes from England and particularly from the English-based British media. There is of course a certain amount of teasing of Britain and British people in the French media, but nothing like as insistent and as vicious as you get from the other side of the Channel.

“I think it’s partly that we are an island and when we look out on the world France is what we see, so it’s the French that we pick on, whereas France is continental so when they look around they have lots of neighbours that they like to tease or to dislike – they don’t have the same obsession with England or with Britain as the English have with the French.”

But politicians and media and one thing, while ordinary people are another.

It’s rare for Brits living in France to report any verbal attacks or aggression from the French because of their nationality – although of course teasing and banter, particularly around sports events, are par for the course.

READ ALSO The French phrases you will need for France v England football banter

John said; “I always find that French people who don’t know Britain have a quite weird view of it – they think that we’re either all old people in bowler hats and pinstriped suits or we’re punks with purple hair and razor blades hanging off our ears who are smashing up pubs. They don’t seem to think that there’s much in between, so you do get a kind of cartoon view of Britain – as there is a cartoon view of France in England.

“In 25 years of living in France I’ve only once ever been attacked for being British – and that was by a farmer during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease that had come over from Britain, so he had an axe to grind. 

“But on several occasions I’ve had rude comments and signs made at me while driving through Britain in cars with French number plates

“I think there is still a lot of warmth towards Britain in France because of two world wars and that is not forgotten. We tend to have a rather cartoonish view of both word wars and not recognise the huge contribution made by the French towards their own defence in World War I and more of a contribution at the beginning of World War II than we ever give credit for as well, whereas I think a lot of French people – especially older French people – do remember what happened in 1944 and 1914-18.

“So there are many reasons why there are different attitudes going across the Channel – but really the British and French are very similar in many ways. I’ve said before that our two countries are like sisters who live next door to one another, constantly looking over the fence to see what the other is doing (the British more than the French it should be said) but there is this type of sisterly quarrelsome relationship in which both countries admire each other more than they would like to admit.” 

You can listen to the team from The Local discuss French-bashing and their experiences as Brits in France in the latest episode of Talking France – find it HERE.

Member comments

  1. As a Scot living in France, that article is an excellent analysis of the cultures. I use the plural because when people call me English I say no, I’m Scottish (and/or British) and they understand immediately and have a chuckle. The “Auld Alliance ” is alive and well 😉. However some do need a bit of educating as to why Britain is the Royaume Uni!

  2. There is also a certain mutual insecurity at the hipper end of popular culture by which both French and British secretly fear that the other nationality is cooler. Laud him as they do the French subconsciously know that Johnny ‘alliday and the like do not really come up to scratch against the Beatles, Stones and the many other Brit performers down the years. I refute that however view with two words: Ed Sheeran (or do I mean Cliff Richard?). On the other hand we Brits are entirely envious of all the incredibly cool and downright drop dead gorgeous movie actors France has had down the years since at least the early 50s, a Julie Christie or a Kate Winslet now and then hardly compares and Kristin Scott Thomas had to go to France to become famous. Not that we’d ever admit this, preferring to sing the praises of the ‘Carry On’ films as true auteur art in the proper Cahiers du Cinema way and, let’s face it, French film comedy is usually fairly dire. And you’ll never get a French actor as cool as Connery as Bond. But I have to admit, as someone who regularly commutes between Nice and Sheffield, and rides trams in both cities, that when I get onto the Sheffield tram and look around me I still can’t suppress the thoughts of: ‘Why is everyone so ugly? Why do they all dress so badly?’

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FOOD & DRINK

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

From home-made to made in France, organic to artisan, AOP to Red Label - French food and drink products have a bewildering array of different labels and quality marks - here's what they all mean.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

In France, there are many different types of étiquette to be aware of when purchasing food, drink or other products. However, this étiquette does not have to do with behaviour – rather it is the French word for label or sticker that might designate certain properties about an item being purchased.

Here are some that you might run into while shopping in France:

Wines and other beverages

French wine often has several different designations and labels that you might come across. In France, wine is labelled based on region rather than grape.

Cru – the word “cru” – translated as ‘growth’ – on a wine label signifies that it was grown in high-quality vineyard or growing site, and provides further proof to where the wine was produced. 

Vin Bio – this designates a product, and in this case, wine as being organic. You will also find a bio (pronounced bee-yo) section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio –  a market where all the products on sale are organic.

Here is an example of what the label looks like:

Photo Credit: Economie.Gouv.Fr

To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.

Vin natural – While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.  

This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.

Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.

Vin biodynamique – Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.

Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. 

Champagne (capital C) – The sparkling wine known as Champagne can only be produced in the French Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. In fact, the Champagne industry has a skilled team of lawyers tasked with insuring that the name “Champagne” is not being used inappropriately or incorrectly. Champagne is a famous example of the French AOC (more on this below).

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Geographic designations and traditional techniques

In France, there are three different labels that determine where a product comes from and whether it was made according to certain traditional standards.

L’Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) – This designation can either indicate that a product comes from a specific geographical area or that it was produced following a certain traditional technique. Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body.

You can see an example of the label below:

Photo Credit: www.economie.gouv.fr

The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

It is worth keeping in mind that simply being considered an AOC product does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better than a non-AOC product, as it is focused on either geographical location or technique used when cultivating the product. The AOC designation is typically applied to certain wines and cheeses, though it can be extended to other products too.

READ MORE: What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) – the European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

The two labels are pretty much the same, but the AOC is French and older, while the AOP is recognised on a European level. 

In most cases, in order to apply for AOP designation, the product must already have an AOC recognition at the national level and then it is later registered with the European Commission. 

For France, the AOP concerns certain dairy products – specifically, 45 cheeses, 3 butters, and 2 creams – other foods like “Grenoble walnuts” are also listed as AOPs.

As for non French products, Gorgonzola cheese is an example of an Italian AOP.

La Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie (STG) – In English this would be referred to as the “Traditional Speciality Guarantee”. This is another European-wide label. It attests that a food product has been manufactured according to a recipe considered traditional.

The first French STG was “Bouchot mussels” which are collected using a traditional aquaculture technique. 

Quality labels

Label rouge – This French label allows you to identify superior quality products. It has been in existence for over 60 years – according to the French ministry of economy, Landes chicken was the first food product to be awarded the label. Label rouge can be applied to food products as well as non-food agricultural products, such as Christmas trees or flowers.

For example, a Christmas tree might qualify for the Label rouge if it is: from the Nordmann or Spruce species, free from parasites (fungi and insects); fitting the proper aesthetic criteria for shape, colour, symmetry and density; and fresh – meaning cut down after November 21st.

Nutri-score – this five letter label designates food products based on their nutritional value. This is regulated by public health authorities. The logo is on packaging and ranges from A (dark green, most nutritious) to E (dark orange, least nutritious).

Artisanale – this is a protected “appellation” (title) that was created in 1998, and it regulates ‘craft’ products according to French law – the most common usages are for bakeries and breweries but it’s used for a wide range of products. 

People running the business must be able to prove a certain relevant education and qualification level and register with the trade organisation or guild for their craft.

For example, bakery owners must register the boulangerie with the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat and take a preparatory course.

Typically, artisan producers promise to use non-processed materials and they must also follow certain quality rules. For example, bread sold in these artisan boulangeries cannot have been frozen.

French bread and pastry designations

When buying your baguette at the boulangerie, there are some differences to be aware of.

Baguette Tradition – As suggested by the name, this designation means that the baguette was made using the traditional ingredients – only flour, yeast, salt and water. These were decided upon as part of the French government’s ‘bread decree’ of 1993. It also indicates that the baguette is free of any additives or preservatives. 

Baguette – A regular baguette could contain extra ingredients like grains, cereals or nuts – or any chemical additives or preservatives.

Boulanger de France – This label is relatively new in France – it was launched in 2020 in order to help differentiate artisinal bakeries from industrial ones. In order to obtain the label, then the bakery must respect certain quality regulations (eg. salt dosage used in bread, and specific recipes and manufacturing methods). Also, boulangers who apply for this label also commit themselves to favouring seasonal products.

Other French labels you might come across

Fait maison – this means ‘home made’ in French, and the logo for this type of dish looks like a little house.

You might see this label when at a restaurant or when buying food. In essence, it means that the dish was cooked on the spot. It also means that the dish was made with unprocessed ingredients, and that the only processed ingredients are those listed HERE.

Made in France (or Fabriqué en France) – It may be a bit misleading, but the label “Made in France” does not mean that 100 percent of the manufacturing steps for the product were carried out in France, but it signifies that a significant part were indeed done in France. This label is applied primarily to “consumer and capital goods”, but it can also be attributed to certain agricultural, food and cosmetic products, according to the French ministry of economy.

In order to qualify for this label, a part of the French customs body (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes or DGCCRF) must authorise the label. If a product simply contains colours associated with France or a French flag, that does not necessarily mean it was entirely produced in France.

The penalties for falsely using a “Made in France” label, which are laid out in the French consumer code (article L. 132-2) are up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €300,000, which may be increased, depending on whether there were benefits derived from the offence.

Origine France Garantie – This label is awarded by the “Pro France association” to both  food and non-food products that can prove to have had the majority of manufacturing operations (at least 50 percent of its per unit cost) carried out in France and that the parts of the product that constitute its ‘essential characteristics’ were manufactured and produced in France.

Terre textile – This label attests that at least 75 percent of the textile product’s manufacturing was carried out in the French geographical area that it references – for example the label would indicate a part of France, like Alsace, and then below it would say “Terre textile”. 

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