By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
Two-hundred years to the day after France's defeat at Trafalgar many Brits still view their cross-channel neighbours with suspicion and antipathy. The French however, think we should just get over it.
France is the UK's top tourist destination, with 12 million British visitors each year, while the UK is the second most popular spot for French tourists with over three million visits a year.
The air route from Paris to London is the busiest in the world, carrying some 3.3 million passengers a year... then there's the Channel Tunnel.
Such statistics might fool a person into thinking the British and the French actually like each other. But even though it is over 100 years since the Entente Cordiale was signed, pledging Britain and France to a lasting political friendship, relations on many fronts are decidedly frosty.
But the main problem seems to lie here. Stereotyped by the Brits as garlic-loving, snail-eating, skirt-chasing, shoulder-shrugging "Frogs", the French don't really care what the British think. Not without their own stereotypes and prejudices, "Les Rosbifs" are not important to the average French person.
"Most of the French feel neither burning animosity nor deep affection towards the British," says Christian Roudaut, author of a book on Anglo-French relations, L'Entente Glaciale. "I'm sure the British would say this represents precisely the sort of arrogance for which the French are notorious in the UK.
"But the level of abuse over here is amazing. I can't believe what is said and appears in the national press in Britain. If you interchanged the word French for black you would be branded a complete racist."
And the age-old French stereotypes appear to show no signs of disappearing in the UK. Seventy-two percent of Britons questioned in a recent survey believed the French warranted their negative stereotype, while only 19% of French believe the Brits deserved their "Rosbifs" tag.
But where does Britain's anti-French feeling stem from?
While Franco-British enmity stretches back centuries, many of the xenophobic stereotypes of the French in today's society stem from the post-war period, according to Professor David Walker, from the University of Sheffield.
Take the notion that the French don't wash. This might have stemmed from the hardships France endured after World War II. Recovery was slower and accommodation often lacked basic sanitation.
The latest Renault Clio advert trades on the Anglo-French rivalry
"The contrast between the two domestic environments must have been startling for the British visitor of the 1950s and early 1960s," says Mr Walker. "It is not hard to see how the myth of the 'dirty French' was disparagingly communicated back to the Albion."
But the two countries' similarities are as much part of the problem, according to some.
"The French are a kind of sibling, cast in the same mould as us, but showing how the same genes can express themselves in alternative ways," says Dr Wendy Michallat, an expert in popular French culture.
"Given this common background, the English, in spite of themselves, tend to give way to what Freud called 'the narcissism of minor differences'. We make a great deal of what distinguishes us from the French, for fear of seeing our prized identity lose its uniqueness by being revealed as just another set of shared human traits."
But the British have a more complicated relationship with the French than just straight forward xenophobia, says M Roudaut. While French folk might not appeal to the British, the way they live their lives does.
Last year's French census revealed the number of Britons living across the Channel had increased by almost half in the past five years, to 100,000. That's not counting the 47,000 who have second homes in France, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The flow in the opposite direction is even more pronounced. There are an estimated 270,000 French people registered as living in Britain, according to the French Embassy. The real figure is higher as not all French register when they come over.
"You come to us to retire and we come to you for work," says M Roudaut. "I don't mean to be rude but the French people living in the UK are not here for the weather or food. There are many things I love about Britain - like the sense of humour of the people and their politeness - but for most French people here it is an economic decision, not a lifestyle one."
In an attempt to improve Anglo-French relations the organisers of an upcoming exhibition of French and British art are producing a pledge book to combat negative stereotyping of the French.
All British visitors to the Entente Cordiale show in London will be encouraged to sign, as will French visitors when the show transfers to France next year.
Are the British just jealous of French talent?
The idea is being driven by Richard Kaye, who was alarmed by the attitudes survey mentioned earlier, which was commissioned for the exhibition.
"Nobody is pretending that this is full blown racism, but rather the inheritance on the part of the younger generation of 'acceptable' attitudes of suspicion and cultural isolationism towards France and the French," says Mr Kaye.
"This intolerance is simply not constructive. By encouraging visitors to the exhibition to pledge to reverse this worrying trend, we are taking a step in the right direction."
Roll on the rapprochement.
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
I can't believe how many people I have known over the years believe in the stereotypes. I am now a student studying languages, but when I was at school there were large numbers of students refusing to go on exchanges abroad because they didn't want a "Frog" or a "Kraut" staying in their home. At the time I doubt many of them had ever met people their age from France and Germany, let alone had the opportunity to form their own opinions on them!
Steve, Southampton, England
Your article refers to the British attitude towards the French. However, I think that you will find that people in Scotland do not share the English hostility towards the French. In fact people in Scotland will often refer to the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. I think this is an English view and is incorrect to say it is a British view
Thane Lawrie, Aberdeen
I know I jokingly engage in a bit of xenophobia every now and then, but I don't really believe in it. This article does concern me and it's statistics like these that are baffling. Seventy-two percent! That's shocking... where was this survey done? Well I'm not in that seventy-two percent. The French are just people like the British, they just live over a tiny bit of water and speak a different language (not even exclusively, they make more of an effort to speak English than we do in speaking French). To be honest I'm ashamed of the people who answered that the French deserved their negative stereotype. It's not helpful, it's closed-minded and immature.
David Brown, Cardiff, Wales
Get over it never!!
We have a unique opportunity to show the world how 'brothers' can scrap and yet remain friends. Britain and France have fought for over a thousand years, we still retain our cultural differences and we respect each other. Sibling rivalry is good thing, its healthy and helps us both to steer the world in the right direction. If we can agree and get on, so can the rest of the world. It's well known that the French and English people like each other and enjoy the company. Its just the French and English gov't that never get on.
Niel Hillawi, Gosport
25% of the French voters regularly vote for far-right parties and we are worrying about British xenophobia.
British people support French agriculture through the Common Agricultural Policy, so why should we not retire to rural France?
I'm surprised by the findings that only the British are guilty of maintaining this friction. One of the stock French insults is "Son of an Englishman". I think both 'sides' are guilty, and both sides enjoy the rivalry, but when it comes to any real decision (work, lifestyle, friendship) the rivalry is put aside as a joke and only real issues are considered.
Ben, Bath, UK
In my experience the negative British view of the French is held and promoted out of genuine ignorance of France and it's people, and often by Britons who have never even crossed the channel. For those a little more informed there are many positives to be confirmed about France and le vie Francaise - I have never come across a Briton with a negative view of a French holiday, for example.
Perhaps a little sang froid would assist UK understanding of our neighbours!
David Grebby, Kidderminster, UK
As a Brit living in Paris (I have been emailing Terry Wogan as his "alternative Paris correspondent") for a year I can say that the French stereotypes are definitely not correct. French people do wash, and they are friendly people. Although there are still some things like slow administration, lots of paperwork to fill out and cheap wine that are true. I completely agree with the economic reasons for people to leave France to work in the UK. I am leaving Paris in a few weeks to start a new job back in the UK and my wages as a research scientist are increasing dramatically (about 30% more)! This is only because the wages in the UK are fair and they depend on age and experience. While my time in Paris has been enjoyable as it is a fantastic city I'm looking forward to moving to the UK so I at least have money to spend and I'll be able to get a decent curry.
John Eldridge, Paris, France.
Late in the article, you the game away when she writes of "Anglo- French relations". The enmity that exists is between ENGLAND and France. The rest of the UK is not part of it.
John Kent, Edinburgh
I like the French and France but we aren't the ones who have to get over it and move on. In my view the French have a longheld antipathy towards the UK and global Anglo-Saxon influence. The French Government has to stop seeing everything as a contest between the French and the Anglo-Saxons. By the same token we Brits need to realise that France does not owe the current generation anything.
J McNeill, Glasgow
While I agree that most of the notions of French stereotypes are outdated and unnecessary, Anglo French relations are hardly encouraged by the French President Jacques Chirac being quoted as saying "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad,". We may have differences of opinions, but that is just downright rude!
D White, Stafford UK
I should hope any sensible person doesn't take this too seriously. There is the same sort of stuff between Scotland and England, but it happens on a more basic 'tabloid' level.
Graham Foss, Aberdeen, Scotland
Curiously I've noticed more anti-French comments now I live in London, than when I lived up north. I can't explain it.
Personally I like and admire the French. I think the English and French can be seen as siblings who fall out over silly little things, and sulk. But when things really matter we grow up and work together.
Daniel Smith, London, UK
While it is wrong to condone any animosity between our two nationalities, it is as bad to pretend that we are the same. Britain and France are culturally as different as they are geographically. These differences should be recognised and celebrated to promote each country's strengths, rather than ignored in fear of offending someone.
Peter Holton, Reading
Is it not normal for neighbouring countries across the world to have a dislike for each other. The only difference is that the UK is not connected by land.
Many of us have French friends and family, and know that this sort of whipping-up of old stereotypes is mostly contrived by the media (err BBC?) and is rather sad. But for what it's worth, most young people in France I talk to are completely fed up with the political leadership in Paris and the state of the French economy - and often cite the UK as a model of a more modern, and better, Europe!
Until I moved south from Scotland a few years ago, I didn't even realise this was such an issue. I never noticed such ill feeling towards the French back then. This is definitely an English phenomenon, not a British one, and the same goes for your attitude towards Germany. The French are right, get over it!
As a Frenchman who's been living in UK for 8 years, I will very soon leave your country following the intolerance of British people. British are not true European and Dr Michallat is wrong to say 'The French are a kind of sibling, cast in the same mould as British'; we are not the same. British ONLY look after their own interest and blame everybody in Europe for the work inefficiency, the red tape in administrations, the strikes, the 2 hour lunch, the way European drive, the justice systems, the fact that nobody speaks properly English etc...Look at yourselves first and sort out your hooligans, binge drinking problems, highest teenage pregnancies rate in Europe, etc...
I think the term 'Brits' should be replaced by 'English' in this article. Scots do not have any animosity towards the French, stemming from the Auld Alliance. I'd be interested to know if Professor David Walker had done any research north of the border. I'm sure any Scottish person would agree that they are made very welcome in France once they have clarified their nationality!
Fiona, Edinburgh, Scotland
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