Annoying the French..

Hastings Castle
Hastings Castle

‘France would be lovely if it weren’t for the French.’ How many times have you heard that?

Much as it’s every Englishman’s duty to urinate on a Belgian at some point, it is equally ingrained that annoying the French is part and parcel of being English.

To wit, let’s take an example from a day I was approaching French Customs on tour.

My accompanying chum said, without hedging or vacillation, ‘Good God, don’t actually open your passport, Barnaby. Just tap Johnny Frog on the head with it and say, “British passport, Jean Pierre, that’s all you need to know.”’ Borderline arrogance? A healthy soupcon of patriotism? Or simply annoying the French?

Battle of Hastings

Ah, but then there is this trifling invasion of 1066 from the Norman settlers in France – a skirmish in which, arguably, the English didn’t fare marvellously. Did this whitewash knock us into humility? Not at all. As I often like to quote, there is a happy ending. We absorbed the Gallic je ne sais quoi; added our own inimitable stamp; and now, incontestably, the English are the best lovers in the world. N’est pas?

P1010954But let’s unfold events and dissect the details. Norman means North Man, referring to men from the north – i.e. Vikings. And why did they settle in northern France?

Because the English king Alfred the Great, fruitier than a Bantu warrior, gave them a stern walloping in the ninth century. With well-smacked tails between their goblets, the north men had to look elsewhere for rich pickings.

Thus, they sailed south, to the obvious choice for pilfering, looting and rampaging: northern France. Still is, actually. Notice the busloads toddling across the Channel in search of cheaper alcohol, garlic strings and hosiery?

And while we’re about it, notice the name of the stretch of water separating the countries? The French call it La Manche, which translates as “sleeve”. We all know, though, that it is indeed the English Channel.

Infuriating the French

P1010958Anyway, let’s get back to annoying the French. To conclude, it is incumbent upon me to point out that, because of Alfred’s deflection of invaders, the area of Normandy in France owes its whole existence to the English. So pop that in your Gauloise and smoke it.

God Save the Queen.

Only joking, of course. I mean, what would we do without champagne? Oh, but what’s this? Six years before Dom Perignon was even born, the English had already invented champagne? My dear Jean-Luc, it seems it’s not your day. Bisous…