John Lichfield: Note to M&S – Paris is pining for your sausages

Share
Related Topics

I have terrible news for Parisian Anglophiles and British expatriates in Paris. The British sausage and the pork pie are not, after all, returning to the French capital. Ten years after its hurried, Dunkirk-like departure from the continent, Marks & Spencer plans to open a new store in Paris. The location is perfect. M&S will take over a 1,000sq m store on the Champs-Elysées, just a few yards from the office that I share with the BBC (or, as I try to tell visitors, the BBC shares with me).

Hooray, we thought, as did hundreds of others. No more mercy dashes to Ashford or Maidstone. No more cross-Channel forays to fill up the car boot with chicken tikka massala, iced buns, Percy Pigs, Wensleydale cheese and Sainsbury's red label tea. It may seem strange that, in the capital of foodie France, British expats should crave British nosh. Are we not surrounded by some of finest delicacies, markets and restaurants in the world? Yes, but childhood tastes and habits die hard.

The craven departure of M&S in December 2001 left a gaping hole in the market. The Paris branch of WH Smith, just off the Place de la Concorde, has provided some food relief for ex-pats in recent years. Smiths cleared some of its shelves and replaced the books with Crunchies and Quaker Oats, cream crackers and Marmite (regarded by any French person who has tried it as a weapon of mass destruction).

But WH Smith, since it remains stubbornly a bookshop, was not able to offer anything perishable. No sausages. No pork pies. No cheese. Great, therefore, was the rejoicing among Britons in Paris, and many Anglophile or discerning French people, when they heard that M&S was planning its own Operation Overlord, a D-Day-style reversal of its retreat from the continent. It took the Allies only four years to return; it has taken M&S a decade. No matter.

Officially, the company refuses to confirm it will be invading France later this year. "We know we are very popular with French people. But we cannot confirm the speculation," a spokesman said. I am, however, reliably informed that M&S has signed a lease to take over the Esprit shop on the northern (posher) side of the Champs-Elysées from September.

I am, however, also reliably informed that it has no plans to sell the British sausage on the most beautiful avenue in the world. The new store will be restricted to the "higher ranges" of M&S clothing and underwear. This must be the most dunderheaded marketing decision since Decca turned down The Beatles.

A British Parisienne of long standing, to whom I delicately broke the news, said: "Hooray. No British woman can survive without M&S knickers. On the other hand, boo. It means I can no longer wear M&S clothes, bought in Britain, which Parisian women assume to be very expensive because they have never seen them before."

"But that's OK, I suppose," she added. "What is unforgivable, and inexplicable, is the decision not to sell food. The old M&S shops in Paris survived on knickers and ready meals, cheddar and pork pies. It wasn't just expats who bought that stuff. The French loved it too."

She is quite right. When M&S retreated from Paris in 2001, a "book of condolences" was opened by the angry staff. It was signed by thousands of French people as well as British expats. Six months before they closed, the two Paris city centre shops were besieged by French customers laying in stocks of baked beans, tea, soup, cakes and apple pies.

The "no-food-we're British" decision is not the first example of deep cultural misunderstandings by M&S in its dealings with France. When the old stores, on the Boulevard Haussmann opposite Galeries Lafayette and at Châtelet, opened in the 1970s, M&S refused at first to supply translations of its labels.

London headquarters changed its mind when it was pointed out that Parisians were buying packets of dried flowers and using them – with disappointing results – as herbal teas. The first translations, supplied from London, also caused problems. M&S branded marmalade was declared to be sans préservatifs, in other words, "without condoms".

Ultimately, however, the old M&S stores – there were 18 across France – became great cross-Channel ambassadors for the British way of life. Even Princess Grace of Monaco used to shop at the flagship Boulevard Haussmann store when she was in Paris. She was reported as saying that she went there to buy stock for her charity jumble sales. Not everyone believed that.

Marc Bolland, the new boss of M&S, should reconsider urgently. The new store must sell representative examples of British haute cuisine (suggested list on application to the email below). If vulgar commercial considerations alone are insufficient to change his mind, he should reflect on his company's responsibility for Britain's image and prestige in France. Just after the M&S retreat was announced in April 2001, a friend overheard the following conversation between two Parisian mums in a playground

Maman Numéro Un: "Isn't it terrible about Marks & Spencer? Last Christmas, I bought these bizarre things there... You pull them at either end, they explode and everyone has a present to put by their plate."

Maman Numéro Deux (amazed): "Only the English could think of something like that."

j.lichfield@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform