This is a preview to the chapter France from the book Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Paul Allen.
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That may have been the sentiment of Napoleon Bonaparte’s great adversary the 1st Duke of Wellington, but two centuries and two world wars as allies on and relations between the Brits and French have become – mostly – more amicable.
Certainly today’s Brits seem to hold their neighbour and his country in particularly high esteem.
Blame it on Peter Mayle, I say. Nearly 20 years on from his seminal A Year in Provence and it seems we’re still looking for a slice of that idyllic life abroad he so vividly conjured, with its long, alcohol-greased lunches, lazy afternoons and colourful neighbours.
And it’s not hard to see how his book so captured the popular imagination. After all, France is the country with which, in many ways, the British and Americans have the tightest bonds and closest regard.
In the millennium since William’s conquest in 1066, the British and French have shared centuries of rivalry, enmity, friendship and alliance. America too owes much of its independence to French support during the Revolutionary War with Britain.
But love them or hate them – and there are staunch opinions on both sides – it’s hard not to be at least a little envious of the French and their country.
For one there’s the language and its accent, like chocolate mousse vocalized. Somehow even English when spoken with a French accent sounds sexy.
Then there’s the easy style, the wonderful cuisine (the fact that chic and restaurant have both entered the English lexicon speaks volumes), the wine, the architecture, the enormity of their contribution to “culture” in all its guises. Even its national anthem sounds cool.
There’s also that hauteur, a sense of innate Gallic superiority that so mirrors the opinion the English have of themselves, and is arguably the fount of our mutual admiration and, at times, loathing.
France, the European Union’s largest country, has been blessed geographically too.
and all the others, when you
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