Paris Stories

What shocks the French? Well-behaved British children... and good British food,
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The Independent Online

British visitors to France often get the wrong idea about French children. They see them sitting angelically in restaurants, dressed like adults, with serious expressions on their faces. They assume that is how French children always behave.

That is how the Jean-Christophes and Aurelies perform when they are taken to restaurants by their parents (under threat of death for misbehaviour) or when in class wading through the French school curriculum. At other times, half of them behave like champagne corks released from shaken bottles.

My wife has just returned, mentally exhausted, from a three-day trip to a scientific theme park – with 120, mostly French, 11-year-olds. Staying at the same hostel on the site were two British school parties, from comprehensive schools in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Many of the French children were rude, quarrelsome, noisy and demanding; their teachers often found it necessary to scream at them. On the first evening, as the French children fought over their dinner, one British school party filed silently into the dining room, took up their places without a word and ate with perfect table manners. The French teachers looked on astounded.

So did the French children, for a few moments. Then they started sniggering at the dress sense of "les Anglais": all purple trousers, orange T-shirts and garish football tops. The British teachers sat complacently with their charges, in perfect control without having to raise their voices. My wife, too, was impressed, but suspected that this was a pre-arranged performance to put one over on the French.

The next morning, Margaret asked a young French teacher how he had slept. "Miserably", he said. His room was next to a dormitory occupied by those "vulgar" English children. Once closed up in their dormitories and released from patriotic duty, the British kids had spent the night subjecting one another to unspeakable tortures. "And where were the English teachers?" he asked. "Drinking beer and wine downstairs."

Psst! Wanna see some nude photos of President Chirac (right)? A gaggle of unorthodox French websites, and what the French call "sites érotiques Anglo-saxons", are claiming to possess centre-fold pictures of the Président de la République.

The claim is plausible. There was a kerfuffle in the summer when a group of paparazzi surprised Jacques Chirac on the terrace of Fort Brégançon, the official presidential retreat on the Mediterranean coast, wearing only a pair of binoculars.

He was reported to have been inspecting a yacht containing the racing-driver brothers, Michael and Ralf Schumacher, and a number of young women, also not fully dressed. The pictures were offered to the glossy French magazines, which refused to publish them. Paris Match said they were "without political or social interest". In conversations with friends, Mr Chirac has, in his usual disarming way, confirmed the story. He apparently told colleagues in the RPR party that he had been caught by the photographers with his "bollocks in the air". Even so, the French press insists – and The Independent on Sunday can confirm – that the boastful websites do not truly have the pictures of the President's New Clothes. According to one centre-right politician, the Elysée Palace has bought up all the pictures and destroyed them.

Anglo-French niggle number two. The French refuse to accept the idea of London as a gastronomic capital. Eurostar's posters to persuade Parisians to spend the weekend in London play around – sometimes amusingly – with British stereotypes. One shows rain falling on a Parisian café terrace. All the customers have crowded under the awning, except one young man who is sitting, smiling, in the rain. Another poster shows someone sitting down to an elegant meal. Beside him, reflecting the French conception that the British eat mint sauce or ketchup with everything, is a tube of "mint-flavoured toothpaste". The caption in both cases is: "You must be missing London."

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