Why do the French hate the British so much?

 

(asked by Ravi from the UK)

Hello,
I can’t understand why the French, especially those in Paris hate the British so much. Despite the historical wars of CENTURIES ago, we have been through so much together, especially during the World Wars. We have worked together since then, the Channel Tunnel being an example. Many French citizens work in Great Britain and many Brits visit or settle as expats in France. The attitude of the average Paris born person is ridiculous and just outright rude! As someone who was thinking of living in Paris for a year, I am very put-off by this superficial attitude of many Frenchies. Can you explain why the French or Parisians have this dreadful attitude towards the British?

 

Ask a FrenchmanVery interesting question and for once, we’re going to leave the US and Americans alone today (who said “finally”?).
First I have to say that I’m a little sad you’re not going into specifics, because you seem to be alluding to some personal experiences, and I wish you had described them.
I’m going to start by pointing out the contradictions in your question.
You seem to feel that if not all, at least most of the French hate the British, but a few lines later you mention the fact that we work together well, and that many citizens from both countries work, live and settle in the other one.
See where I’m going?
If we work so well, if there are so many people travelling and moving to the other country, maybe it’s because the French don’t hate the British, and the British don’t hate the French either.
And because of that I can’t really answer the “why” in your question, because there is no “why” in the first place.

But don’t think that will stop me from answering nonetheless.

Frog

The Frenchman according to the Brits.
(source:Grand-Duc via Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s talk about history and geopolitics first.
You say the wars we had were centuries ago. Well, yes, the last one was 1815 if I’m not wrong (really 1815? I’d swear there has been at least another one after that? Any historian among people reading these lines?), and that’s technically two Centuries ago.
But as you’re not an American (whoops, sorry, I said I was gonna leave you alone tonight guys, sorry…) you know that two centuries are not much when you’re talking about history, especially compared to roughly a thousand years of almost constantly being sworn enemies.
You also know of the influence history has in shaping national identity and national rivalries. Yes, mostly because of what I would call “school propaganda”, the French are still pissed at England for the Hundred Years War and burning Joan of Arc. And, if I’m not wrong, you guys are not big fans of Napoleon, are you?

So, yes, we haven’t been at war in about 200 years, we’ve even been allied for more than a century, but not everything will go away that easily, and a rivalry has always been present between both countries, even after we stopped warring; colonization was a nasty race against each other for more power, influence and riches, on a lighter topic, there’s also a strong rivalry between France and the UK in many sports, etc.
Even today, while we’re trying to build some sort of decent Europe, there’s always that feeling (and not only from the French, but from many other Europeans) that Britain doesn’t really know what it wants with Europe and keeps on being a pain in Europe’s ass on many issues.
I’m not even going into the fact that many European and French people strongly resent that when there are some tensions between Europe and the US, Britain pretty much always sides with the US (are you still trying to gain the 13 colonies back or what?), to the point that the UK is sometimes seen as the US’ lapdog as far as international politics is concerned.

But seriously, apart from those criticisms and rivalries, I don’t see any hate from the French towards the UK, and especially not towards British people.
I mean, sure you’ll find some backwards people that will hate the UK (and usually every single other foreign country with it), but one cannot say that France hates the UK.

And if I didn’t know better, I’d even be tempted to say that’s the other way around when one reads the British tabloid press. For example, no French newspaper has ever insulted Tony Blair and called him a worm or a weasel, even when he behaved as such in the first half of the last decade. Can I say the same with the British press and Chirac and the French? No I can’t. But, as I said, I know better, and I know that tabloid press is a piece of crap and doesn’t represent the British people in any way.

Rosbif

Those Brits look funny, don’t they?
(source: Timo1974 via via Wikimedia Commons)

Before I finish, you seem to insist on the fact that more than the French in general, it’s the Parisians who hate the Brits, and that I really don’t know where that comes from, because I personally have the feeling that Parisians may be the French that are the most enamored with Britain.

If you had asked about people from Périgord, yes, you may find quite a few that dislike British people more and more, but one cannot say they don’t have good reasons for that (when locals can’t afford to buy houses anymore and must leave villages where their family has lived for centuries because British retirees have made local real estate unaffordable for the local population, there are good reasons to be mad).

However, apparently you have been mistreated by Parisians. Well, that has nothing to do with the fact you’re a Brit, not even the fact that you’re a foreigner. It has everything to do with the fact that they’re Parisians, and most of them don’t know any other way to treat people, they even mistreat each other. This is how most Parisians see human interactions.
Simple as that.

So, in the end, yes we have our differences, our rivalries, and our history, but no, the French don’t hate the British, although their popularity would be higher if they finally fully committed themselves to the EU and if their rugby team lost more often against France.

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David Billa

David was born and raised in the French South West. After a few years in the US and a few more in Paris, he finally settled down in Japan. He blogs here about his various experiences and travels, with an emphasis on his home country, France.

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34 Responses

  1. ebatbuok says:

    Well said, sir…
    I don’t hate English people, nor despise them. Not the way I saw Scottish people despise English people :)

    • Bertrand Feuvray says:

      I wonder why the English want to remain united with Scotland and Wales ( I do not know much about Northern Ireland to say anything) because they seem to hate the English more than continental Europeans. England and the English are considered important partners in several European nations of the EU.

      • David Billa says:

        Er… Why would an English want to keep Wales or Scotland part of the UK?
        I don’t know, maybe for the same reasons a bunch of French wanted to keep Algeria part of France in the 50’s?
        You know, colonization and all that.
        Now, the Scots have voted, they decided to remain part of the UK, end of story for now, isn’t it?
        (maybe the Welsh should get their vote too though).

        • John says:

          I think a better analogy would be ‘Why would France want to keep Brittany or Languedoc part of France?’, since they’re both former nations, or regions that previously enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and cultural/linguistic distinction. Also, Scotland’s establishment voted to join the union in 1707 (albeit without the consent of the people) – England never managed to conquer it.

          • David Billa says:

            Sorry John, but Brittany and Languedoc are not former nations. They enjoyed a great degree of autonomy in feudal times, just like every other region in France, it’s the whole point of feudalism. But since the end of feudalism, and France became a nation in the current meaning of the term, they have been part of it.
            Brittany has indeed a somewhat different culture and a different language (spoken by a small minority, just like everywhere else in France too, despite what they want us to believe).
            While I understand your comparison with Brittany (I have an old post about it in the old blog, I’ll move it here sooner or later), I’m not sure why you chose Languedoc as an example though. Corsica would have fit the bill much better.
            And honestly, if the vast majority of Bretons or Corsicans wanted to be independent, please, be independent.

        • John says:

          Hi David. I was referencing Occitania, which no longer exists, so used one of its former regions as an example. Brittany was politically united as a single kingdom in the 9th century under Nominoe, and secured nominal independence from the Franks after the Battle of Jengland and the signing of the Treaty of Angers (851). I’m not sure the fact that the modern nation state of France is a recent development invalidates my parallels, since there’s a continuation of dominance by essentially the same dynasties in Paris over the rest of the polities in the region, from Charlemagne up until the Revolution. Also, of course the minority languages of France weren’t ‘minority’ languages when their respective regions/territories had autonomy.

          That said, obviously the British and French contexts are different, I just think the fight for supremacy in medieval France is a better parallel than European colonialism in North Africa (except in the case of English/British atrocities in Ireland, which I would say is the same).

          • David Billa says:

            Be careful John, Occitania has never been a political entity, only a linguistic one (and even there, Occitan is far from being a unified language, not sure whether speakers from Gascony and Nice can understand each other that well). It’s not even a “region”, it encompasses pretty much the southern half of France and includes many counties, duchies and others.

            Brittany was indeed politically united once, but that’s even before feudalism. Once again, the concept of country back then was very different from what we understand today. What I mean by that, is that the fact that Brittany was once independent more than a thousand years ago is not a valid argument for claims to independence nowadays. If it is for Brittany, it is pretty much for any other region in Europe. Brittany’s past independence (and the very concept of Occitania, which only vaguely was a thing after the fall of the Roman Empire) are current reinventions, re-appropriations and retelling of history by the independence movements that can exist there.

            One problem with your parallels is also that you kinda associate modern France with its monarchies. Well, while it’s true that modern France started to take shape roughly during the 17th Century (Louis XIV kinda is the one who put an end to feudalism even if it was slowly dying), we had a Revolution to make sure those kinds of things (France being embodied by one series of individuals) don’t exist anymore.

            All in all, what I’m trying to say here is that claims to independence sometimes find “reasons” for more or less valid through history, but I think that finding traces of past independence in times when the very concept of the country from which one wants independence was different is not always very valid.

            Now, back to my original parallel, I didn’t pick any former colony of France, I picked Algeria precisely, because contrarily to the other colonies, Algeria was fully integrated to France and considered as a part of France by many, even if it actually still was a colony (the locals being exploited by the French natives and all that). While it’s still different from the Scotland situation, I think it’s the closest possible parallel with France.

  2. james flower says:

    Well said. I’m English and my sister lives in the Dordogne area. I find all people there friendly an helpful.

  3. Linda Shay says:

    Nice response but I wonder why you don’t mention Mers el Kebir? True the French and English have been allied but let’s not forget Churchill sunk the French Fleet in Mers el Kebir after the French signed the Armistice with Hitler. Of course 1940 is still a ways back in time but I imagine there are some still alive today holding that grudge. Just a thought.

    • David Billa says:

      Believe it or not Linda, I wasn’t aware of the Mers el Kebir episode when I first wrote this post a couple of years ago (I only reposted it here last month).
      And even after knowing the facts (and by that, I mean reading the wikipedia page on it), it’s hard to call that a battle between France and the UK. I guess I’m one of those French people who have trouble considering the Vichy government as “France”. I think it’s a complicated issue that will be debated for a long time and that doesn’t have a right and wrong answer.

      Also, I don’t think many people hold a grudge against the British for that incident, but I’m under the impression that most people don’t know about that incident.

      Knowing more about the story, I think that sinking those ships made sense, killing the crew with them, not so much (could it be avoided?)

    • Bertrand Feuvray says:

      I do not understand why my people the French would be mad at Churchill for sinking the French Navy during WWII. It was logical. Hitler could have seized that navy at any time. Or if there was any doubt that Hitler could seize it, why wait and see if He was going to do it??? So as far as I am concerned, it was a strategic move and a good move. Why are the French always so upset then things happen to things French like that? They need to grow up and see what the point was. Churchill was a Francophile and he was also practical. De Gaulle made him attack somewhere in Africa. We can see from that that Churchill tried to please De Gaulle. Actually, he admired him. And De Gaulle gave him the best military decorations after WWII.

      Someone like Hitler could not be trusted. He had the best relationship with Poland in order to make sure that the Poles would not worry about the Germans. And yet what happened, He attacked them. He had an alliance with russia and when he planned to attack it, Churchill told the russians about it and they would not believe that the Germans would do that. And what happened? The GErmans attacked russia. French people need to stop picking fights with the English because of their quick impulsive reaction to what happens between the two countries. They need to see the practicality of actions and try to understand.

      • David Billa says:

        Well, as you may know, the Mers El Kebir battle is not exactly famous in France, so I doubt that many French people would be mad at Churchill or anybody else in the UK.
        Now, one reason why they could (should?) is that it’s not just the ships that were sunk, but 1300 French sailors with them, sailors who were quite unlikely to start wearing the Nazi uniform just because. I mean some may have, but we can easily imagine that most would have joined the Allies forces, like most of the French military that was in the colonies and overseas did.

  4. jeff powell says:

    Ridiculous question I have lived in France for ten years and have never felt any serious animosity in this wonderful country.

    • Bertrand Feuvray says:

      I lived in England for ten years and I feel that the English people are a wonderful people. I was told on several occasions in both England and France that “I was English now.” Long Live England and the English.

  5. Linda Shay says:

    As evidenced by the range of comments, it is clear that generalized statements evoke reaction and sadly Ravi’s original question is clearly generalized. I suspect for every Frenchman/woman that “hates” an Englishman/woman, there are an equal number that feel no animosity or ill will of any kind. As for Mers el-Kebir, unless some authenticated document is discovered that explains Churchill’s rationale, we will be left to speculate; albeit from an educated standpoint. There is little argument that if the French Fleet in North Africa fell into Hitler’s hands, the British would have quite possibly been defeated. The French had a substantial fleet, second only to the British, US, and Japanese. That said, it should be noted that the French, Darlan in particular, were well aware of the crisis developing and had made a full commitment to scuttle his own fleet if the German’s made any moves to secure it. It should further be noted that the French did exactly that in Toulon two years later; they scuttled nearly 80 of their own vessels.
    Perhaps Churchill acted prematurely but of course he was also desperately courting Roosevelt for US intervention. It was shortly after Mers el-Kebir that Roosevelt sent to Britain tons of ammunition declared “surplus”, circumventing the neutrality act. This was followed with Destroyers for Bases and then finally Lend Lease. It is disturbing to even consider a decision by one man, which cost the lives of over 1300 allies, might have been a self-serving tactic. Again, without the “proof” we may never know.

  6. Peter says:

    Just a comment on the length of France and the UK’s history as allies.

    You mention in this article that France and the UK have been allies for around a hundred years, which I’m guessing means you are taking WW1 as the starting point of the alliance. Arguably that alliance stretches back further.

    It’s my understanding that relations had started warming in the 1830s, and the French and British were allies in both Opium Wars (the first of which started in 1843) and the Crimean War (which started in 1853). After that they were reasonably friendly and respectful towards each other. I guess that puts the France-UK alliance at more like 170 years old!

    • David Billa says:

      I was referring to the Entente Cordiale of 1904.
      Indeed, France and Britain have been occasional allies in the 19th Century, but their relationship was also a bit tense at times, I’m thinking about various issues in Africa during colonization for example.
      So, while they’ve been friendly since roughly after 1815, they didn’t become official allies before 1905.

  7. Johnny says:

    I am Scottish (British) and lived in Paris for 3 years 2003/06 and i loved every second of it. I stress the fact that I am Scottish because I don’t know if it would make any difference if I was English.. BUT I would happily go back and live in France again if the circumstances were right work wise etc… I Made several friends for life.. some French some from other European nations. Of course there are individuals who may not like you because you are British but in my experience they were few and far between and not worthy of a second of my time. I think the person who asked the question is guilty of believing the stereotype. France is a wonderful country. I would suggest they grasp the opportunity to live in Paris with both hands and forget what they’ve heard.

    • David Billa says:

      The fact that you’re Scottish may or may not play a role.
      It may because of the “Auld Alliance”, it may not because most French people don’t really make the difference between British, English and don’t know much about the intricacies of the United Kingdom.

  8. Mark says:

    I am English and I have been to France many times. I would say that france is like anywhere else, mostly good people. I have heard some Brits say they don’t like the French, without ever stepping foot on French soil? You get fools and good people everywhere. I think there are plenty of things we both admire about each other.

  9. Mark says:

    In fact I would rather lose a rugby match to France then Scotland or Wales, if I had no choice in the matter

  10. Oliver says:

    Talking on behalf of my generation (I’m 31, English), I believe that any anti-french sentiment has shifted towards tongue-in-cheek banter.

    If we were to meet in a pub, the French would call us roast-beef, and we’d call you cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Neither would be said with emnity, more a mischievous twinkle to our eyes!

    It’s only when we take ourselves too seriously that problems occur (eg – Our football hooligans!). Banksy has a quote I like… “those who wave flags, don’t deserve to have one”. Live by your own set of morals, not allegiance by flag.

    • David Billa says:

      This is also my experience with encountering English people, except that while I won’t get offended if I’m called a frog, I will if I get called a surrender monkey.
      However, I’ve never heard a rosbif say that, only conservative Americans (and they paid by being publicly ridiculed).

      • Oliver says:

        Unfortunately it’s said here too… though I reiterate, it’s tongue in cheek. Alongside comments about going on strike ;).

        The problem is, that offence is subjective. I know those who are offended by roast beef! Though I am not. The safe path is to be respectful to all – but we’re all human. And safe can be dull!

      • David says:

        One factor in any hatred (strong word) or perhaps dislike of the British by French people of an older generation may relate to the Second World War. My father and his regiment landed in Normandy in June 1944 and, (obviously along with other British, as well as American and Canadian troops) fought their way through France until Germany’s surrender. At the end of the war one of my father’s colleagues said to him “The French will never forgive us for liberating them…” He took the view that the French would find it galling to have to show gratitude to a country, Britain, that had been an enemy for so long in the past (all through the middle ages – the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt being examples) and right up to the Napoleonic Wars. I think he may have had a point.

        • David Billa says:

          Honestly, I don’t think so.
          First, when D-Day is taught in French schools (at least back in my days, I have no idea nowadays), the Brits and the Canadians were an afterthought, it was all about the Americans (I blame the Marshal plan and overall US propaganda for that).
          Next, I haven’t met a single French person who is not grateful for what Britain has done during WW2.

  11. ben says:

    “Why French hate british so much” ? Seriously ?
    You guys are sick! Stop your obsession with us
    After poluting the internet with hateful french bashing comments everywhere, you post a page “why French hate us so much” ?
    What is wrong with you ?

    • David Billa says:

      Uh?
      Have you read anything from this site apart from the title of this post before commenting?
      I mean, the post itself would be a good start…

      • ben says:

        Just read the post, I find it pretty accurate. Let’s say that my comment was about the question. I admit I should have read your answer
        But com’on man, look at all this hateful comment from british everywhere ?
        There was this french dude on youtube posting a comment saying he would not hesitate to give his life to defend brits if they were attacked. And some brits insulted him for being a “fag” who would surrender, they don’t need him etc …
        I searched in google, “why british hate french so much”, and I found your page.. Pretty ironic…

  12. Brett Bellas says:

    I served in the Légion Étrangère for 5 years, I have my “attestation de service” and could have taken French citizenship. I chose not to. I never encountered any problems being a “Johnny Rosbif”. In fact I think most of the French I met during my time thought it was cool that an English guy chose to undertake military service for France.

    Vive La Légion!

  13. Jo says:

    I grew up with a sense that the French do not like it because English is used more widely as a language round the world than French, that they feel it should be the other way round.. the fact that the timezone is zeroed in Greenwich and should have been in France.. Is there any truth in that?
    The other thing that is noticeable here and feels like dislike is all the blame in Calais that it is our fault in Britain because of the immigrant issues.

    • David Billa says:

      If you’ve read the post thoroughly, you will have understood that this hate is more imagined and a phantasm than a reality.
      While it’s true that French used to be the international language before being taken over by English, the US is as much to be blamed as the UK for that (if not more).

      Concerning Greenwich Meridian Vs Paris Meridian, I have never ever heard anyone resenting the English for that. I’m sure a vast majority of French people don’t even know that there was a time when the Paris Meridian was the reference.

  14. Thomas says:

    I’m a rosbif who has lived and worked in Paris for the last 12 years, and I found David’s original answer to be just about spot-on: on an everyday level there is little or no anti- English sentiment (and I work and socialise 100% with French people) beyond the usual jibes about the weather and British cooking.
    As David rightly states, politics and sport are the two areas where the old “perfide albion” tag is still used, and there is sometimes a bit more “needle” to relations, no doubt because these are two areas where rivalry is generally inherent, so they provide a platform for a bit of old-school cross-channel bickering.

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