Are foreigners in or out of favour with the French?
With hamburgers and cappuccinos appearing on menus, France was just about embracing global culture. But will Brexit change this? Paris-based writer Stephen Clarke hopes not
With all the recent talk about Britain and its links to the European Union, a lot of my fellow Parisians have been thinking aloud about how they view the Brits, and foreigners in general.
Of course, some of them cannot resist taking a purely historical line, explaining to me that Britain has never cared about the continent except as a convenient battlefield, and that no one in mainland Europe would worry if we retreated once and for all behind our defensive wall of seawater.
Most Parisians have been much kinder when discussing the prospect of losing me as a fellow member of the EU club, mainly because this talk of British isolationism has come at a time when France has been opening up more than ever to foreign influences.
The best example is the word ‘Brexit’ itself. As soon as the Brits started using it, the French media adopted it, and early in 2016 I did a French radio interview where it was being bandied about as freely as ‘baguette’ or ‘Camembert’.
Read more: What effect could Brexit have on British expats in France?
This has not been France’s only show of internationalism in recent months. One morning, in my corner café, I read a newspaper article announcing that the French now eat more burgers than baguette sandwiches. This is a cultural revolution on a parallel with Cuba inviting the Rolling Stones to play in Havana. Since time immemorial, the French national bread-and-meat combination has been the ‘jambon-beurre’, a ham baguette, while ‘les burgers’ were officially frowned upon as a nasty American habit.
It is the same with cappuccinos. Time was, if you tried to order one, French cafés would tell you to go to Italy (or something similar). Now, most of them are happy to sprinkle a cent’s worth of chocolate powder on an old-fashioned café crème, and charge double.
Even beer has recently undergone a revolution, with almost every region of France now making tasty versions of Anglo-American pale ale. The stranglehold of the industrialised lager has been broken, and a whole new world of French culinary experiences has opened up, thanks to international influences.
So all this talk of potential Brexiting came at a strange time for the French. They were just getting comfortable with the idea of embracing global culture (or elements of it, anyway), when the Brits turned round and slapped them in the face.
This is why I make a point of telling everyone in Paris that whatever happens in our uncertain political future, we French- and English-speakers will always be friends. Especially now that France has started making decent beer…
Stephen Clarke’s new novel is Merde in Europe.
Read more columns about French life:
Why I love France even more than the summer
The highs and lows of raising British children in France
Why do shops in France shut on a Sunday?
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