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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 18:22 GMT


Fury over 'drunken Brits' posters

Welcome to Bombay - or Britain?

Posters advertising Britain as a nation of drunkards have been appearing in Paris.

BBC Paris Correspondent Jon Sopel: The French have been upset over British press coverage of the beef crisis
And the culprit? Amazingly, it's Eurostar - the company which presides over the biggest ever demonstration of the entente cordiale, the Channel Tunnel.

One advert shows five Sikhs with the caption "Bombay is three hours away", while another uses a picture of an apparently drunk middle-aged man with the slogan "For a good roast beef, allow two hours".

[ image: The British are portrayed as drunks]
The British are portrayed as drunks
The third poster promotes Britain as a nation of body piercers, using the caption: "The biggest ironmongers in the world."

Eurostar called them examples of the "French sense of humour", but race relations groups on this side of the water did not see the funny side of it.

The campaign is in stark contrast to the adverts seen for Eurostar in Britain where France is painted as a nation of Gallic flair and cultural refinement. It was met with outrage by Britons.

Marc Wadsworth of the Anti-Racist Alliance, said: "They are stereotyping us as wearing turbans or eating roast beef and at the very least this is xenophobia.

"Does the caption 'Bombay is three hours away' imply Sikhs should go 'back home' when their home is Britain?"

Bradford's Labour MP Marsha Singh, said: "I thought such stereotypes were a thing of the past."

Eurostar Spokesman Roger Harrison said: "The idea behind the posters was to play on Britons' reputation for humour and tolerance.

"They were aimed at intelligent French people who also have a taste for the ironic."

The posters, which come after a sustained attack on the French in the British tabloid press over the beef crisis, may shock Brits getting used to the image of "Cool Britannia".

But French social commentator Claude Barrante told the BBC that uncool images of Britain remained.

"The image is still of horrible clothes, detestable food, bad weather and people who are very stiff - as if they have swallowed an umbrella."

[ image:  ]
And the French it seems are not the only ones to still disparage the British.

Anyone who has seen the British Airways ads featuring PJ O'Rourke will know of the apparent disdain the Americans hold for certain British traditions.

The Italians think we eat terrible food, but they do think we play everything by the rule book and therefore have respect for us, especially our political stability, which is something they lack.

But Dr Zhichaa Zhang, a research fellow at Oxford University's faculty for Oriental studies, said the Chinese (a quarter of the world's population let's not forget) respect the British.

"The Chinese see them as very well educated, have good manners and well dressed and groomed. When they talk about the British they talk about the Royal Family."

In the western part of Shanghai there is great reverence for the British who built much of that part of the city earlier in the century.

And the "myth" that Europeans smell of milk - the Chinese eat hardly any dairy products - is really just that, a myth.

The South Africans are intrigued by the contrasts in the British character - on the one hand we are snobs (Royals, tradition) and on the other we are yobs (football hooligans, punk rock).

The usual term is for the British is rooinek - rednecks - after the tomato-like complexion of colonial soldiers exposed to the sun.

But in less polite circles the term is soutpiel - pickled penis - which relates to the imperial straddling of continents, as the nether regions are being pickled by the salt water in between.

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