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Sunday, 10 December, 2000, 15:40 GMT
Will the British and the French ever understand each other?
Will they ever understand each other? Join the debate ...
Ten years ago, under the English Channel - or La Manche, whichever you prefer - history was made.

The construction workers drilling the Channel Tunnel broke through the chalk and shook hands with each other. For the first time since the Ice Age, Britain and France were physically linked.

But after 100 years of cultural and political rivalry - everything from the Napoleonic Wars to calling each other frogs and rosbifs - can Britain and France ever really learn to love each other?

For this Europewide debate, Europe Today's Terry Stiastny brought together Philippe Auclair, a French journalist who lives and works in Britain; and Jon Henley, the Paris correspondent of the British newspaper, The Guardian.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

It's time for the Brits to see themselves as Europeans

Rob Wegner, USA
I read the British press regularly because I'm the son of "mixed" European parents (German and Italian). It seems the British press preaches political correctness with regard to racial harmony, but is rather xenophobic when it comes to inter-European harmony. It's time for the Brits to see themselves as Europeans and to stop living their hegemony through the United States.
Rob Wegner, USA

Please tell me one nation on this planet that the English actually do get on with.
Neil, Scotland

In answer to the question of will the UK and France ever be friends you need to look no further than the solidarity shown during the demonstrations. The main reason for cross-national solidarity is that we don't see the place of your birth as being the defining characteristic of your person. Workers of France and Britain are both being oppressed. We have a common struggle in our anti-capitalist agendas. We have a common enemy but it is not each other it is the same capitalist forces which create national hostilities in the first place.
Andrew Neeson, UK

The problem between the Brits and the French is the Americans

Simon Smith, England
The problem between the Brits and the French is the Americans. The 20th Century was the American Century and the French sphere of influence shrunk as a consequence. English has become the world language and the Americans and British rescued them twice from wars.

Anglo/American liberal culture is pervading all aspects of conventional French life, food, music, TV, language, business. It surely comes as no surprise then that they legislate against the use of English in business and advertising, advocate the abolishment of English units for weights and measurements in favour of the French metric system, want a European army free of American involvement. France is desperately trying to remove all American influences from European society and that by association includes the English.
Simon Smith, England

It's not simply a question of whether the French and English understand each other. Moreover it's a question of do they trust each other. The English with their tradition of "fair play" have a real problem with the French who pick and choose which rules of the EU club they are content to obey. For further evidence just look at all those French public figures who have been charged or imprisoned for corruption or who are currently placed under formal investigation. A level playing field would help the English warm more to the French.
John, UK

What have the French ever done for the Brits?


Roger K, USA
Think of it this way: The UK sent soldiers to fight and die to save France in two World Wars. What have the French ever done for the Brits? It will be difficult for them to be friends since the French don't really understand the concept of friendship.
Roger K, USA

Most of the French I have met are nice people, particularly the older ones. The problem is that as a nation, we're not really European but closer to being American and there isn't much likelihood of that changing. If anything we're becoming less European. By all means try to stay friends with the French, but they do make it difficult, don't they!
John, UK

I think relations between the two countries would improve, if only we would detach ourselves from slavishly following the American line on every foreign policy issue and see ourselves as Europeans so we could concentrate on playing a constructive role in Europe.
Shahinur Khan, England, UK

We already love each other!


Greg, France
We already love each other! Who else could we mock so often without starting a war?
Greg, France

It is interesting to listen to French guidance on the proposed independent European defence force. We should reflect that this advice comes from a nation whose defence of their own soil during the two major European conflicts of the 20th century was such an outstanding success. With such military incompetence should we feel secure with the French guarding our flank? As an ex RAF officer with some 20 years service I know who I would rather have as my wingman and he has a star and bars not a tricolour!
R. J. Clarke, UK

As an Erasmus student from the UK studying law in France, I can see obvious differences in the approach of each country towards Europe. France is, perhaps obviously more openly pro-European. The fight over power between France and Germany at Nice demonstrates this (whilst us Brits seem to care less about overall European power, but fight against losing our national sovereignty.)

Every time I go shopping, or take cash out, I am reminded of France's greater integration - the price being displayed in Euros and Francs. At the end of the day, though, the two nations are very different politically, culturally, legally and socially. Surely we are bound to have the odd disagreement!
Alan, UK / France

It's envy

Christian, Surrey, UK
It's envy. The English resent (in the nicest terms possible, obviously) the French having a country with good weather, nice beaches, mountains, etc. Actually, I really don't think the average English or French person "hates" the other, it's only in the press that this is seen to be the reality - and we all know what planet most journalists inhabit and it's not the same one as me (or the French)!
Christian, Surrey, UK

Understanding the French is not so difficult. Individually, I know and like many French citizens. As a nation, they suffer from either an insufferable superiority or inferiority complex - I cannot decide which on any given day. As long as one acknowledges their obvious superiority and submits to their will on every occasion, one is almost tolerated.
George Milton, USA and Italy

This British/French rivalry is a very British concept fuelled by right- wing tabloids. I dare anybody to find a talking point debate similar to this one on a French website. The French are basically the only people in Europe that the British have any particularly strong feeling about, probably because they are geographically and "historically" the nearest. The French on the other hand share boundaries with a number of countries so they have the possibility to fairly distribute their dose of xenophobic feelings among those.
Val, EU

It is the media and politicians that stoke up trouble

Phil Berry, UK
It is the media and politicians that stoke up trouble. The French and English (like all other Europeans) actually get on when they know each other. In my view it should be illegal to pedal anti-French, anti-European talk. After all, it was that sort of attitude that fuelled the First and Second World Wars.
Phil Berry, UK

The only way for the rivalry to end is for French and British citizens alike to stop seeing themselves as French or British, but as Europeans.
Nic, Europe

No doubt there is a lot of enmity between the two cultures. But one thing is striking though: there are far more squabbles and jokes on the Brit side than in French media (I've lived in both countries). From here (US) this all sounds like a pointless, laughable quarrel between brothers.
Sam, USA

It appears to me that both the English and the French suffer from mutual envy far more than mutual distrust. While the English housewife from Swindon tries her best to cook a French supper, her counterpart across the Channel tries desperately to make her children appear English, the so-called "English chic." So one may very well conclude that the mutual suspicion between "les Rosbifs" and "the Frogs" stems more from the inferiority complex suffered by the bourgeoisie of the two neighbours. Either side finds the culture on the other side of the Channel to have more snb appeal.
Edward Cheng, USA

Neither can survive without the other

Ed, UK
It's petty things that draw our countries' differences out. For example, Prescott saying that the French diplomat at the Environmental meeting was "too tired to understand", therefore she retaliates by calling him "sexist" and "macho". It's the British birthright to moan, and moan we do. But at the end of the day, both France and the UK should be looking to making a brotherhood and increase their European links. Neither can survive without the other, nor can both survive without Europe.
Ed, UK

Why not? Only arrogant and opinionated people can 'never' be friends with anyone. What stops the English and the French from being friends (or at least tolerating each other), especially that so many English people visit France for day trips, (OK: booze cruises), weekend breaks and holidays?
Volker, England

I think the rivalry is overall friendly and both countries can learn a lot from each other. Although only separated by "La Manche" the two countries are worlds apart in terms of their attitudes and culture. It would be nice to see the British press for once highlight the good things about French life. My sister lives and works near Toulon and is married to a Frenchman. I hope my nephews will be able to appreciate the good aspects of both the French and British cultures in the future.
Andy, Netherlands

Isolation breeds ignorance

M. Bailey, Belgium
I am half English and half French and I've lived in both countries. There are good things and bad things about both the French and the English but what the hell, variety is the spice of life. But what really appals me is the rabid, savage hostility of many British people and the attitude of some British tabloids. Isolation breeds ignorance. That's why England needs the European Union. M. Bailey
M. Bailey, Belgium

Two neighbouring countries with similar sized populations and economies is bound to lead to a (mainly friendly) rivalry. The particularities of each country make it an easy target for jokes in the other, but in each case I think there is actually some secret admiration of the "rival. As a Brit living in France, I am not alone among my friends in acknowledging that the quality of life (and the weather) is better here. However, I also know plenty of Frenchies in UK who enjoy the more dynamic cultural life, and the higher salaries.
Nick V, France/UK

I would like to present a rather unique view as I am living proof of "entente cordialle", my mother is French and my father is English. I am in the fullest sense a European. In England, now there's a contradiction in terms!
Sébastien Turner, England

France is a proud country that is on a different wavelength to England, with its own traditions and opinions. It might make them an easy target for jokes and the occasional squabble, but we generally get on OK.
Rob, France

Both the UK and France are ancient countries sharing a lot of common history

Mark Thompson, UK in France
Both the UK and France are ancient countries sharing a lot of common history. But it is the common past that gives rise to a neighbourly rivalry, which in turn lures us (and them) away from really wanting to understand the other. Remember that us Brits look as strange to them as they do to us.
Mark Thompson, UK in France

The French are having their revenge for Agincourt through the EU. The bureaucrats pass regulations which we English stupidly try to implement to the letter while our French neighbours merely pay lip service. The recent fuel disputes in both countries was another example of the difference between us. While the Brits stockpile and bemoan their loss of freedom of movement, the French just put their feet up with a bottle of wine until it all blows over. When in France I do try to make the effort to speak French. This normally results either in being ridiculed because of petit imperfections in pronunciation or being used to help someone with their English!
Mike H, England

I think the antipathy for one another is partly historical and partly to do with the degradation of the typical English way of life. Over the years, the true English identity has been eroded by political correctness and liberal politics whereas the French have managed to keep their macho male dominated image. Another problem is our right wing press that promotes jingoistic French bashing nonsense referring to them as frogs etc. I have found in Germany that the addition of French and English cultures make things a lot easier over here and we should be looking at our commonalties to draw us together and our differences to make things interesting.
Mark, Germany (UK citizen)

If you are French and wish to understand the English, the first thing you are expected to do is to learn English. And for some reason the English think they just need to cross the Channel, do a bit of shopping or buy a summerhouse. But sorry guys it does not quite work like that.
Xavier, UK/ France


There is no particular anti-English feeling


Thomas, France

Although French people are xenophobic there is not a particular anti-English feeling. England focuses its xenophobic feelings onto France because we are the nearest. As long as England will not fully play its part in the EC construction, the frustration of its people might rise. Talking about Le Shuttle, when I see on the news the poor level of local train services, I sometime wonder if England is not closer to India than France.
Thomas, France

We understand each other only too well ... that's the problem! (The greatest thing about the French is the English Channel; and the greatest thing about the British is the Pas de Calais).
Mark M. Newdick, USA/ UK


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