We don't care for the French - but love their food, fashion and creativity

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The Independent Online
We have no idea who their prime minister is and we certainly do not want to live in Paris. But Louise Jury discovers that the traditional British enmity to the French is not what it was.

The paradox of Anglo-French relations is laid bare in a survey carried out exclusively for The Independent and for Le Monde newspaper in France.

Despite centuries of antagonism between the "frogs" and the "rosbifs", half the French actually like Britain. They, too, have no desire to swap countries - even more French said they did not want to live in London than British people in Paris. But they like us for our afternoon tea, our pubs and the monarchy.

We admire their fashion and fine cooking, according to the survey conducted by Harris. In fact, more than one-third of us actually like France, although a fifth registered dislike.

"I do think that the Channel tunnel and increasing travel have softened attitudes on both sides," said Gillian Shephard, the former education secretary and a committed francophile.

There are pockets of ignorance. More than 80 per cent of French respondents had a good opinion of Tony Blair and only 11 per cent had no opinion of him or had never heard of him. But in Britain, 82 per cent of people questioned said they had never heard of the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, or had no opinion of the man.

Yet we have clear attitudes about the French people in general. We like them for their culture most of all, and their creativity and hospitality, although we do not rate their sense of humour and we consider them arrogant and cold.

They like our customs, our economic prosperity and our history, including our parliamentary democracy and the way we fought Nazi Germany and helped them during the Second World War. Unfortunately, no one thought to ask them what they thought of the British character.

Raymond Gubbay, the concert promoter who lives part of the year in his apartment on Paris's Left Bank, said he was not surprised the French were warmer towards us than the other way round.

"We're so insular over here. They're so much more international and European in their approach. There's no real customs control over there and when you come into Waterloo it's like Fort Knox. It seems to epitomise the Little Englander approach," he said.

By contrast, the French were buzzing with excitement about us, reported Labour MP Denis MacShane, who used to live in France and wrote a biography of Mitterrand.

"There is a fascination with what the new government is doing and what makes the Prime Minister tick," he said. "They particularly admire the fact that Blair speaks French and they haven't heard that from a British prime minister for half a century."

The British are prepared to learn. More than half of those questioned thought it would be possible to follow the French example and cut the number of working hours to 35 a week.

In Britain, the Harris Research Centre interviewed a representative sample of 934 adults between 5 and 7 December. In France, SOFRES interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults on 28 and 29 November.


What French think is best of British %

Traditions: teatime, monarchy, pubs 46

Economic prosperity 32

History: Birth of democracy, Empire 31

Culture: fashion, music, art, film 27

Good taste/refinement 19

Technology: telecoms, aircraft 10

None of the above 3

Don't know 3

What British find makes France famous %

French skills: cooking, fashion, scents 70

Culture: literature, painting, films 47

History: French Revolution, The Resistance 36

Technology: high speed trains 16

Political power: economy, nuclear power 8

None of the above 5

Don't know 9