Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 10:46:05 AM EST
My apologies if this has already been posted. It is an article about a new book, That Sweet Enemy, by Isabelle and Robert Tombs about the relationship between Britain and France. The article is just fabulous.
Have any of Eurotrib's French posters read or heard about the book: The English are Invading Us!
The waiter doesn't know who he's dealing with. Robert Tombs is a specialist in French history, a self-confessed francophile who, with his French wife, Isabelle, also a historian, has just written a book called That Sweet Enemy: the French and the British from the Sun King to the Present. At a time when books that cunningly exploit that cross-Channel loathing - such as José-Alain Fralon's new Help, the English Are Invading Us! (Au Secours, les Anglais Nous Envahissent!) and A Year in the Merde and Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke - are proving lucrative, That Sweet Enemy sets the frogs v rosbifs rumpus in its historical context.
The book is published in the same week that Jacques Chirac walked out of an EU summit because a fellow Frenchman chose to address the meeting in English, arguing it was the European language of business. That meeting was ostensibly about European cooperation. But the point remains: there is nothing so galling to a Frenchman as to suggest that those mucky rosbifs across the Channel and their ugly language might have the upper hand.
Mwahahahahah! All your base are belong to us. Now, let's eat...
There is a great deal about food in the book. For instance, the great French penseur Roland Barthes contended that steak-frites was "the alimentary sign of Frenchness", but the Tombses write that, in fact, this national dish was imported by Wellington's army. "The same is true of cognac," says Isabelle. "It isn't French at all. Well, it is now, in fact it's more French than French - it's a symbol. But actually it was you who invented it." "Well, the Irish Jacobites," says Robert.
"And your late granny," Robert says to Isabelle, "gave us a cookbook called Cuisine et Vins de France which listed a Frenchman's favourite dinner which includes leg of lamb, which is quintessentially English really. And smoked salmon, which isn't French. Their favourite drink is whisky! I think we've had a lot of influence on French eating habits without realising it." That is the book's grand theme: in Kipling's words, approvingly quoted towards the end, the task of each nation has been "to mould the other's fate as he wrought his own".
The most interesting part of the article.
What are the prospects for these two feuding nations? Are they doomed to become the minnow and the flea? Isabelle fears so, unless they get into bed together. But surely that won't happen? "It could be that the Iraq war has weakened the British relationship with America," says Robert, "and it could be that the realisation that Europe is not going to be a French empire has made the French less sure of Europe. So there's a certain logic that the two should go together. It's a possibility."
Perhaps like Isabelle and Robert, France and Britain may arrive at some mutually rewarding embrace. It is, after all, a thin line between love and hate. But, given the history of hostility recorded in That Sweet Enemy, such an intimate alliance seems unlikely.
Maybe, maybe not.