With a newsletter coming out on the 75th anniversary of D Day, we couldn’t let the occasion pass without a reminder of why we love this country so much. After all, on this day 75 years ago 156,000 Britons, Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Norwegians and men from many others joined the Free French soldiers risking their young lives to liberate France.
Why was it so vital to do that? For the British the reason was simple, as a historian with the BBC’s D Day coverage said yesterday: “D Day is the day when Britain went back to help its first and greatest ally. It went to war alongside France, it was driven into the sea, with France. And now it was coming back to honour its pledge, never to surrender, and help secure France for the French.”
So just why do we love France so much?
Helping each other stay democratic has been a two-way street for the British and French. Through strong defence and alliances – especially the Entente Cordiale signed in 1904 – the British and French have been on the same side in every conflict for over 200 years. Not bad, considering how appallingly we got along before that! Our own Thomas Paine from Thetford helped to lead France’s revolution, while Britain has always been a handy escape for Frenchmen needing a refuge, from the Huguenots to Charles de Gaulle.
Paris is “a moveable feast” (Hemingway), “always a good idea” (Audrey Hepburn), “a lesson in history, beauty and the point of life” (Thomas Jefferson). We couldn’t agree more. Plus, it has the Olympics starting in slightly over five years, so the city is getting a major refurb and property prices are likely to go shooting up.
Okay so we love France, but do we love the French? The evidence is that we do. That’s why, unlike in other countries, we tend to live among the local community rather than establishing our own expat “ghettoes”. Sure, we may sometimes hear of British people setting up a fish and chip shop in France or similar crimes against the French lifestyle, but when you compare that to Spain or Cyprus, it’s obvious that we want to live among French people.
We couldn’t find any data on whether more British people marry French people than any other European country, but given how we just love English spoken with a French accent (and vice versa) we’re going to assume that plenty of us have done! Don’t assume you need a significant other to make the move here – read the experience of a single Brit in France who made a leap of faith.
No-one quite does a cottage like the French. Then again, no-one quite does a chateau like the French either, or an apartment on a boulevard.
Nowhere quite does a cottage like the French. Then again, nowhere quite does a chateau like the French either, or an apartment on a boulevard. French homes are generally well-built – their building regulations are at least as strong as those in the UK and US – and stylish too. It is no coincidence that some of the more exciting styles of architecture have French names, from the Carolingian cathedrals from Charlemagne’s day, via French Gothic to Belle Epoque, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco…
Yet the tradition of liveability is still all-important. It’s why Paris has limited building the huge tower blocks like London, Moscow or New York.
Kids love it here
Of all the British children under 15 who live in continental Europe, a third live in one country, France, according to Office for National Statistics data. Why do we take our children to live in France? Because it offers a combination of politeness and opportunity. The book French Children Don’t Throw Food was an international best seller, challenging those of us in the UK and USA to wonder where our own parenting has gone wrong!
Yet children in France also have easy access to skiing in the Alps, swimming in the Med, a better diet and a more grown-up attitude to alcohol too.
Many of our favourite artists were born in France, plenty died in France and nearly all tried in France. The country has provided light and inspiration for everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Van Gogh to David Hockney (who recently moved to Normandy). It’s produced a few great artists of its own too.
But it’s not just painters and sculptors. Elton John, David Bowie and Pink Floyd all found inspiration in French recording studios. The list of writers who have taken inspiration from France goes on longer than a Proust sentence, but we have to mention Dickens, Hemingway, Somerset-Maughan and Oscar Wilde. More recently, Julian Barnes and Sebastian Faulks constantly return to French themes.
When Elizabeth David published French Country Cooking in the UK in 1951 it was a ray of French sunshine in a grey nation still suffering rationing.
Obviously. From Escoffier to Raymond Blanc, we have to thank the French for coming to the UK and improving our diet! When Elizabeth David published French Country Cooking in the UK in 1951 it was a ray of French sunshine in a grey nation still suffering rationing. Charles de Gaulle may have said: “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” but he didn’t know the half of it. There are at least 1,000 distinctive varieties of cheese in France.
France is a constant reminder that we don’t have to eat in chain restaurants and that a skilled waiter and sommelier are friends indeed.
Back down to earth, the Britons and Americans love to go abroad, but it does help if the country works properly. France may suffer the occasional strike but it works at least as efficiently as the UK or US. It has the coolest trains – who can forget their first ride on a double-decker train?! – including the TGV. It has beautiful roads. And it has efficient airports.
The French language
Just as every English schoolchild is mortified to put on the full French accent for their GCSE French oral exam, we all love practising it in private. From Inspector Clouseau to “your muzza was a hamster and your fazza smelt of elderberries”, it’s just part of our comedy DNA. And while it’s sort of nice to go to Spain or Germany or Greece and have people insist on speaking English to us, having spent five years at school learning the pluperfect tense, it’s quite nice to give it a go. And the French will certainly give you the opportunity!
It’s very close
You can swim to France. Not that we’re recommending that. Indeed until 12,000 years ago you could walk across, when the North Sea was a giant glacial lake and the Channel was a valley. It all ended in one cataclysmic waterfall, but no doubt over the next few hundred millennia you’ll be able to walk to Dieppe again.
In the meantime, being able to transfer your car to Calais via the Chunnel in just 35 minutes or taking a ferry in 90 minutes isn’t bad. Paris remains our closest capital city without requiring a flight, and who knows how vital that relationship will be if the “climate emergency” campaign takes off.