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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Vive le sandwich anglais!
Visiting France to mark 100 years of the entente cordiale, the Queen has warned that the French and British must stand together. What unites us with our cousins across the Channel? Increasingly, it's the sarnies we scoff down at lunch - and we're not talking baguettes.

Oh, la, la!
"We don't take one-and-a-half-hour lunches anymore," says Parisian Geraldine Desailloug. "The French now eat convenience foods like the English. Your sandwiches are very popular."

Madame Desailloug - who works for Food From Britain, a development consultancy for UK food and drink producers - says that though the French still tend to look down on our cooking, they are becoming increasingly enamoured of the great British culinary invention of placing fillings between two slices of bread.

In the past decade, the soft bread sandwich - of the sort which Britons still favour above all others - has caught on across the Channel. From almost nothing, the pre-packed wedge familiar to British lunchers, now makes up 25% of the one billion sandwiches eaten each year in France.

"The British sandwich was the model," says Anne Fremaux of the French market research firm Gira. "They are considered quite good and a healthy meal in themselves - not like hamburgers."

However, it may be the convenience of the British industrially-filled sarnie rather than its culinary merits which has prompted this French enthusiasm.

"Then the Rosbeefs put the roast beef between two bits of bread"
The most pronounced upsurge in sandwich consumption occurred when the French working week was cut to 35 hours in 2000 - meaning business had to be squeezed into a shorter day.

"It caused a lifestyle change," says Jim Winship of the British Sandwich Association. "People couldn't afford to sit in restaurants for hours in the afternoon as they had before."

The average French midday meal lasts 38 minutes - less than half the time taken to eat lunch in the 1970s. Parisians in particular have seen their lunch hours slashed, and so it is in the capital where the British sandwich has been most popular.

"The British sandwich fits the new business lifestyle perfectly. It's not messy, so you can eat it at your desk, and you can vary the fillings to have a different meal every day of the week."

The loss to Parisian restaurateurs has been a gain for British sandwich makers, says Mr Winship. The UK has the most developed sandwich market in Europe, and British producers have been quick to cash in on the new French appetite.

While there are difficulties in exporting fresh sandwiches, London-based firm Oldfields was shipping 10,000 sarnies a week to France by 2002.

Jacques Chirac and Prince Phillip
"Black tie for sandwiches, Jacques?"
Other UK companies have set up factories in France to satisfy the hunger for convenient lunchtime fayre.

The history of the British sandwich is steeped in being too busy to eat anything else. Indeed, John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich, gave his name to the food because he ate them during prolonged gambling sessions when he refused to leave the table.

So do the French think that British food is only worth eating when they have no time to scoff down anything better?

"Non!" says Geraldine Desailloug. "The French have always eaten very small breakfasts, but now we are beginning to enjoy brunches with your bacon and eggs."


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