Since the autumn of 1066 the English have fought the French 35 times, won 23, lost just 11 and drew once (because they had help). With La République now crowing that the English language will have no legitimacy in Europe after Brexit we’d be forgiven for thinking such stats stick in the throat of our nearest neighbour even now.
English is currently one of 24 official languages of the EU and the third ‘working language’ of the European parliament. But Robert Ménard, mayor of the southern French town of Béziers (incidentally, liberated from the Nazis by the British 11th Armoured Division in 1944), believes a post-Brexit EU should no longer recognise English as lawful.
Mayor Ménard is of course entitled to his view and we should take into account that the region he calls home is famous for its love of Souverainism. But his remarks come off the back of a general (and understandable) beef among Europeans that English has squeezed out their own national tongue.
So in the wake of our vote to leave, the demi-cannons of the French are primed again. And tongue is only the tip of the iceberg. After more than a thousand years slamming our culinary skills France’s political Anglo-gripes are shared at the highest levels. Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy the former French president called for the Jungle refugee camp in Calais to be moved to the UK so that, “Britain can do the work that concerns them.”
It’s conflict but not as we know it. The belligerents are dressed in Armani rather than armour.
Admittedly, we have played our part in diluting the Cordiale. Over the years we’ve stamped the prefix ‘French’ on just about every bad or sordid thing in our lives (letter, pox, marbles, tricks, etc.), mocked their Onion Johnnies, constantly poo pooed their cleanliness and ribbed them in many of our finest comedies.
But so too have the French hurled abuse back. The truth is the animosity is so deeply ingrained that it’s hard for us to get by without it; like quarrelling siblings – born of the same genes but not able to stand the sight of each other. And according to studies it all stems from historical or cultural differences, a smattering of “school propaganda” and the burning of Joan of Arc.
Nevertheless in these more enlightened times can we assume that the everyman on both sides of the Channel is able to rise from his muddy past like a lotus and live in harmony? Fat chance, especially if Colin Furze’s farting machine is anything to go by. What’s more it looks as if Brexit will only make matters worse.