US general Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf may have been a tad OTT when he observed, ‘Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.’ As was Mark Twain’s observation, ‘France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes.’
Personally, though, I’ve always thought heaping disdain on a nation is somehow a back-handed compliment. Indifference – no comment at all – is the worst of insults.
And I’ve always had a high regard for the French, particularly their women. Not, I hasten to add, necessarily in a leering sort of way, but just the ability of the average mademoiselle to look rather chic, regardless of whether she has the vital statistics of a Breton cart-horse.
On the other hand, there has been a dichotomy – often verging on unfettered animus – between robust Anglo-Saxon values and French gentilities. They believe they are the great thinkers of Europe – from Descartes to Sartre, not forgetting Monsieur Hulot (anyone remember his bicycle?) and Bernard-Henri Levy – while we Brits are dismissed as…well, uncouth rosbifs, with the occasional intellectual throwback of a Shakespeare or Dickens (who were probably French anyway, if the truth is ever known).
Yet, despite the contretemps over the centuries when we’ve kicked the crap out of each other, Britain has hosted French émigrés many times. From the Huguenots to the bloody purges of the Revolution – when we saved many an aristo neck – to WW2, when our sceptred isle was a sanctuary for the Free French, even if we had to suffer the sniffiness of General De Gaulle.
Now we’re repeating the favour again, as more Frenchies are set to pile in and join the 400,000 who are already here, the vast majority residing in London, where their educational qualifications are much prized in the City.
The latest lot are financial asylum-seekers, ultra well-shod escapees from nouveau President Hollande’s threat to penalise anyone earning over a million euros (£812,000) with a 75% tax rate.
Singer-songwriter Francoise Hardy signalled the exodus and spoke for many, telling Paris Match magazine, ‘I’m going to be forced to move because of wealth tax.’
So look forward to seeing even more bistros that can transform scrag-ends into lip-smacking delights, patisseries that make Greggs look gormless, and a fashion je n’se quoi indelibly Gallic.
The downside is that property prices will soar stratospherically, after already rocketing in recent months, as worried, wealthy Greeks, Italians and Spaniards join Arabs and Ruskies, looking to park their moolah in the safe havens of London’s exclusive suburbs.
So quelle domage for your poor, average, British multi-millionaire banker, whose bid for prime real estate in the opulent reaches of Regents Park, Mayfair, Chelsea and St. John’s Wood is going to get a droit, royal gazumping.
But think of the benefits…ever haughtier couture and proper pomme frites.