Pardon my French - and Peter Mayle's bloody book

Share
Related Topics
A FEW weeks ago the French government made the headlines after deciding on a policy of ethnic cleansing. It wasn't ethnic cleansing on the Serbian scale. Nobody was killed and nobody was left starving. It was simply an act of linguistic cleansing. The French announced their decision to protect their language by putting severe restrictions on the import of Anglo-Saxon expressions, and moments later hordes of displaced idioms and homeless American business phrases were fleeing across the French border, dazed and desperate.

There was an immediate reaction all round the world. Everyone laughed. The spectacle of a major nation getting so nervous about its own language that it puts up trade barriers against other languages is, frankly, laughable, or at the very least not quite as tragic as death in Bosnia and starvation in Rwanda.

And the whole thing was exaggerated by our lack of sympathy with the French position. We in Britain have a quite different attitude to our own language. We are hardly even aware of it. When we import foreign expressions we don't sniff around them distrustfully - we leap on them and welcome them and immediately adopt them and forget that they were ever foreign, which is why there are so many foreign terms in English, like parka and anorak and en suite, and why we have let our language be swamped by Americanisms . . .

Even the Americans, not famous for their interest in other people's languages, would not enact laws against foreign phrases. Indeed, there was a piece in Monday's International Herald Tribune by an enlightened American called Nicholas D Kristof, who is learning Japanese prior to a journalistic stint in Tokyo. In this piece, Kristof said that English was too insular and should import far more foreign expressions and words, and gave a list of Japanese, Australian and even Indian phrases that he wanted to see imported. That man, I cannot help feeling, will never be a member of the French government.

Well, the French language ban came and went, and the only thing that happened in the dozy world of Anglo-Saxon talk, as far as I could tell, was that Anthony Steen MP, of whom I had not heard, put down a Commons motion calling for the banning of all French expressions in English. It was meant, I believe, as a joke. By parliamentary standards, no doubt, it was a good joke.

But it didn't reflect reality. The reality is that we have lots of French in our language, and it has done it nothing but good. The reality of the situation was better reflected by the Tom Stoppard play Dirty Linen, in which the first five minutes of dialogue is all in French, but in French that is currently used in English, so that anyone educated could understand what was going on, even if he thought he couldn't speak French.

Nevertheless, the thirst for revenge against the French that Mr Steen MP represents, in his own small way, is a worthy motive. Resentment against the French has governed much of our history. It wouldn't have been the same, somehow, if we had defeated the Prussians at Trafalgar or fought it out with the Italians for control of Canada. I'm not saying it wouldn't have been fun; I'm just saying it wouldn't have been the same.

(And let us not forget that there are times when we and the French are on the same side. I think it would be true to say that if France were to play New Zealand at rugby, and we were to watch the match, there would be some deep, noble spirit within us which would want the New Zealanders to get their noses rubbed in it. Why, only the other day France thrashed the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, twice in a row, and I could not find it in me to feel sad.)

However, there is still that lingering, residual desire for revenge against the French, and I am proud to say that we are about to achieve that revenge. I recently received a cutting from a Brussels correspondent of mine with the glamorous name of Nika. The cutting was in French. Here is what it said:

'Peter Mayle made the whole world laugh with A Year in Provence. Now at last it is translated into French.'

Yes, the French are about to get the whole horror of the Peter Mayle experience. With any luck they will have to suffer the TV programmes, too. If that is not revenge, I don't know what is.

React Now

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

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
With a record turnout forecast, Thursday's poll will be unlike any election Scotland, or anywhere else in the UK, has experienced  

Scottish independence: There's been as much hatred as hope. But this is democracy at its best

Andreas Whittam Smith
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week