Dec 072009
(asked by Ravi from the UK)

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?

Very interesting question and for once, we’re going to leave the US alone (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, many citizens from both countries work, live and settle in the other one.
See what I mean?
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.
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 anyway.
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? Any historian here?), 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 being almost constantly sworn enemies.
And you also know of the influence history has in shaping national identity and national rivalry. And 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, whether it is with sports, or colonization before that.
And 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 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 Europeans and France resent strongly the fact that there are some tensions between Europe and the US, Britain tends to side on the US’s side (are you still trying to gain the 13 colonies back or what?), even in very shameful ways like the last time.

But seriously, apart from those criticisms and rivalries, I don’t see any hate from the French towards the UK.
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. There hasn’t ever been a French newspaper insulting Tony Blair and calling him a worm or a weasel, even while he behaved like Bush’s bitch.
Can I say the same with the British press and Chirac and the French? No I can’t.

But 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 Parisians maybe the French people that are the most enamoured with the Brits.
If you had asked about people from Périgord, yes, you may find quite a few that dislike the Brits more and more, but one cannot say they don’t have good reasons (when locals can’t afford to buy houses anymore and must leave villages where their family has lived for Centuries because British retirees have killed the housing market, there are good reasons to be mad).
So sure, apparently you have been mistreated by Parisians.
But where you’re way off here, it’s because this 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 they don’t know any other way to treat people, even between each other.
Simple as that.

But 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.

  17 Responses to “Why do the French hate the British so much?”

  1. I agree. Beyond a bit of the usual fairly inoffensive rosbifs stereotyping (which has its equally unserious parallel in British ideas of the French as either Marcel Marceau or a guy cycling about in a beret with a string of onions) I don't see any French hatred of the British at all.

    Sure, you can still see the history of mutual suspicion in its traces in the languages, but in my experiences both nationalities find that more amusing than anything else. It's the kind of generally friendly rivalry you get between any neighbouring countries with a long and complicated history between them, and who've taken different positions on things like multiculturalism/secularism etc.

    These days I almost know more Parisians living in London (very happily) than I do living in Paris, and I also know a lot of English people living longterm in Paris without feeling persecuted.

    It sounds to me as though Ravi has just met some rude Parisian service culture or queue-jumping or something, maybe, and taken it as directed at him as a Brit…? It would be interesting to know what, though.

  2. Maybe a third part opinion would be of some help here… I am European, proud to be at least partially French and professionally working as an English teacher so , although I might be guilty of having various “prides” I am definitely having no prejudice against any of the 2 countries. I have met British citizens all over Europe, in Italy, in Greece, in France, Turkey, Poland and in my own country, Romania, Eastern Europe. They do have a strange inner feeling everybody is persecuting them for being British , which is both funny and 100% not true. Nobody hates the fact that they are Brits but they go on thinking that and being sure that lots of the many inconvenient things one might experience when travelling abroad happen to them precisely because everybody has something against them being from UK and not because countries, cultures and customs may vary extremely. I think it is related to people feeling unsecure in a non-English language environment because they never complain about USA, Australia or Canada no matter what they experience there…. If one checks reviews they give over internet sites about places they visited one would immediately notice repeated assertions like “ It is obvious this hotel was meant to the Germans/Russians/etc and not at all to us, Brits…’ ,or : “ The staff speaks German and French but do not care at all for us, the English speaking clients” or “ It is full of Germans/Turks/bla bla bla so,they are not very friendly to UK people “ “ The clerk helped only the Italian tourists, while us, the Brits had to wait un-noticed until everybody else get their luggage bla bla bla a.s.o … If they meet someone rude they consider the rudeness is connected to them being British … Another thing I have noticed when interacting with British people is that they always concentrate on what is different . They keep complaining about this being like that, and that being the other way round while in Uk things are, on the contrary,like this and like that … Sometimes they miss a lot when they try to do business abroad because being very rigid in their approach they don’t get the “vibe” of the place/market/deal .

  3. At the risk of sounding even more incendiary, I wonder if perhaps Ravi was on the receiving end of a rather worse sort of ethnic stereotyping (or maybe I'm guilty of it too, since I'm guessing by his name that he may of South Asian ancestry)? But even that is not necessarily characteristic even of Parisians.

    Parisians can be famously abrupt, even as Londoners can be impatient of anyone and everyone. But, as a generalisation, they seem to me to be much more relaxed and open nowadays than they were when I first went to Paris 40-odd years ago. Hard-pressed service personnel in tourist-oriented businesses are a different case though: if I were in that sort of life I'd be more than a bit misanthropic.

  4. British/French rivaly was officially put to rest in the 1904 Entente Cordiale, which pretty much ended any colonial competition between the two empires.

    The only issue I've heard a French person respond to with Brittanophobia is the destruction of the French fleet at Oran by the British, which is the French Pearl Harbor. Those French people with relatives who died in that raid are, understanbly, not necessarily pro-British.

    I live in Santa MOnica, a place that is crawling with Brits. Recently they declared (through all the usual media) a holiday celebrating their contributions to Los Angeles. Basically, to say how great they are. And to ask all of us natives to acknowledge that fact.

    Given that attitude, I don't think it would take much to make the Brits feel unappreciated abroad.

    PS – I think anti-French feeling is much higher in the UK than it is in the US, and certainly higher than any anti-British feeling in France.

  5. Don't know about Parisians…but out here in the great southwest (Dordogne), that segment of brits who came here to get over on the great real estate prices, have been here for years and never bothered to even attempt the language … and use only other brit provided services, basically rejecting even the most superficial appearance of integrating into local life…well that might have SOME influence on their dwindling popularity.

    • Cheap travel, that’s what ruined the British reputation. Prior to 1970 the British presented a cultured face to the world, for the most part they spoke or were willing to learn the indigenous language, typically they had a first class education and very good manners, then came cheap travel and the boorish invaded Europe.
      In an answer to your question Parisians are rude and ignorant to EVERYONE irrespective of nationality, it comes from a false sense of exceptionalism and superiority, so please don’t feel picked upon, they’re like that with everyone.
      Best wishes.

  6. I didn't know (or had forgotten) you lived in Dordogne. Yeah, as mentioned, I'm sure the Brits are not that popular anymore over there, but I really can't blame the locals on that one.

  7. Another big reason : the anti-French propaganda and historical revisionism. They’re actually bigger perpetrators of anti-French one-liners and “you guys lost all wars, don’t wash, are dirty socialists, are rude etc…” trying to impose them as “the sky is blue” type of truths than the Americans in my experience.
    I think it’s part of the tabloid ‘culture’. Anything measured, long and explained, or too “human” is seen as “corny”…and any form of over-simplifying, stereotyping is seen as ok… That’s a generalisation, but that’s something that many French (me included) have experienced and can’t stand. It’s deep-rooted in ethnocentrism, insularity and acceptation of prejudices IMHO, and if you don’t “laugh”, you have no sense of humour…Give me a break.

  8. Hello !
    I’m French and i live in Paris.
    For answer at your question : no :Not every French hate english people.
    I am even going to say to you a thing : the French people hate more the Americans (they are not very kind with us!:)
    For my part I like very much English because you are very kind, because I like London, your culture (the literature, your language very easy to learn) and William < 3! Lol
    By hoping to have answered your question I wish you a good day (or an evening);)

  9. It’s quite simple really, the average size of the male English penis is 6.3 inches whilst that of the French only 6.1. Why wouldn’t they hate me based on that information. :)))

  10. I visited Paris in October 2011…as a born and bred englishman from london,i was ready to be hostile as soon as i got on the train at St Pancras..pulled in Gare du Nord and saw the outside of the station was a bit rough,however i got a cab to where i was staying (levellois perrot) and found the area to be a quite nice,went to look for a train into central paris,got offered as much help as i wanted by a local who explained to me the mainline suburban rail was ok to use at the daytime but wouldnt advise it at night..went into paris centre,the champs elysee was filthy and full of homeless beggers but the arc di trumph was something else,as i was there in late october,i saw a few poppys for the britains war dead who died fighting the nazis in france,i thought that was a nice touch…the eiffel tower was a grant monument,altho i must admit i was shocked by the sheer numbers of romanian gypsys who pickpocket while people wait in the que…in all though paris was a grand city and 4 days wasnt enough to see it all so il be returning soon!

  11. Everytime I go to France I have a good time …it’s a beautiful country and so much to explore – French guys I’ve met have a great sense of humour – I don’t know if there is an equivalent of the tabloid culture in France as there is in UK …IE basically people who hate everything

    Personally I am more interested as to why any French person would come to live in UK I dont get that at all when we from UK love so much about France

  12. I do feel obliged to add my own comment. As an English person who has spent some time in France (Normandy), the French people I’ve met have always seemed very kind and accommodating.

    However, I do feel that in the French press and media there is a distinctly anti-British, almost bigoted vibe that contrasts markedly with the kind of attitudes I see in the British media. Hear me out on this.

    I read LeMonde (online) a lot, and it’s not so much the articles themselves that give me this impression, but the comments (which are arguably more revealing). Whenever I see any article on Britain, there always seems to be a considerable crop of comments that downright insult Britain and its way of doing things, whether it be about the economy, politics, the Royal Family — you name it. A commenter on an article on Sarkozy visiting London to praise de Gaulle’s role in WWII even managed to work in some serious anti-British WWII jibes, and his comment was even ‘liked’ by others!

    The fact is you rarely see this kind of thing in British media. If there were a British article on France, the content of the comments would be completely the opposite (apart from the occasional far right-wing troll). The British as a whole tend to be very self-effacing. For example a BBC article on France would be an opportunity for people to whinge about everything that appears to be wrong with Britain and how ‘we don’t do it like that over here’.

    The truth is, both countries have a lot to learn from each other, but this isn’t shown in France. The French tend to big up France, and put down Britain, while it’s the complete opposite for the British, who would never dare say anything positive about their own country. Heavens forbid!

    This is just what I’ve noticed. I love the French people but, I don’t know, they often come across as quite insular and nationalist.

  13. Just found this old article and as an Englishman who’s spent some time in Paris I’d like to give my views (for what they’re worth).

    Firstly, reading the comments and answer given above, the general vibe from most is there’s no hatred, and if there was pockets of hatred it is the Brits’ fault. That, to me, hints at an underlying prejudice, even if you hadn’t realised it. But this isn’t what I want to dwell on. I just thought I’d highlight it.

    Anyway, firstly there are the obvious historical conflicts. They play their part. What is strange, though, is that the English don’t hate the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians for 600 years of Viking raid, rapes and pillaging. The Spanish and English don’t hate quarrel so much do to the various wars (we destroyed their greatest Armada after all…….though the English weather had it’s uses :-)) and very recent wars with Germany and the USA doesn’t see the same amount of bitterness, so we can’t just be lazy and blame historical conflicts.

    So let’s look at today. As has been alluded to, Britain doesn’t really want to plunge headfirst into the Euro. We’ve been dipping our toes into the water for a long time and given the current state of the Eurozone one can now conclude, with hindsight, that we were sensible in being cautious. It has to be for the benefit of the British as well as being beneficial to the Eurozone. But other countries like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland aren’t in the EU at all, so is this just another excuse?

    Then there’s the obvious British dislike of the French. The view that since we don’t like you because you don’t like us. A perpetual motion of mistrust which leads to dislike. I liken it to two families who get into a cycle of honour killing. Someone somewhere did something wrong and the other family retaliated, to which the other family felt they needed to restore their honour and retaliate back. No one wants to be the first to swallow their pride and say ‘enough is enough’. I think there are definite parallels here, though it’s only rudeness and sniping these days.

    Pride brings us to the nub of it all. 400 years ago the big European colonies engaged in not just petty wars but world domination. The French helped the US to gain their independence not because they cared for the freedom of Americans but because they wanted influence in the emerging new world. Americans gained the freedom from British rule but France gained little political or cultural influence or power. The new nation adopted English as their language and based their justice system on the British system. This meant the two nations of the USA and Great Britain kept a close relationship (after all, the war of Independence was fought against the British King, not the British people. There was still resentment and distrust of Monarchy in England long after Cromwell and as many British as Americans weren’t happy with their treatment and status). Anyway, it’s my opinion that the French were offended and felt the Americans turned their back on a French way of life. What followed through the Victorian period was British dominance on a global scale. The English language; the British justice system and how all civilised societies live by ‘innocent until proven guilty’; how British-style empiricism defeated rationalism in the sciences which led to the British industrial revolution; how the idea of human rights started with Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ -which defended the French Revolution and paved the way for the American Revolution- and Paine’s influence on Benjamin Franklin and the Constitution. Even in the 20th century the United Nations was a British idea and the International Human Rights Act was overwhelmingly written by British lawyers. Our ideas on ‘rights’ (Thomas Paine), liberty and freedom (John Stuart Mill) are accepted as the ideal amongst the western world. British language, ideas and culture, then, won out over French language, ideas and culture.

    This is why Britain doesn’t need an ‘official’ language. We don’t feel the need to have one. The French feel they have to promote their language throughout Europe and the world with their ‘La Francophonie’. The French were upset over trivial things like the Prime Meridian going through Greenwich, not Paris. How the international language of the Sciences is English, not French. “But this is all a long time ago now and hardly relevent!”, I hear you cry. Well, how about France’s involvement with the Rwandan genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis? How Rwanda wanted to become part of the British Commonwealth, use English as their official language and open English schools in place of French ones? How François Mitterrand thought this was an anglophone plot that must be stopped at all costs, which resulted in one of the biggest genocides in history? And all because of French pride in their language and culture. We hear lots of outrage regarding British and American involvement in Iraq but hardly anything regarding France’s involvement in Rwanda.

    So, what is my opinion? I think most intelligent Brits and French people have no hatred at all. Mistrust and dislike? Maybe this is more accurate, but not hatred. Dislike on the British side seems to be dis-educated, moronic jingoism. On the French side it is bitterness and envy that the British outfought and out-thought them. British ways of doing things won through and became the foundations of the modern world. The world IS a very Anglicised one and that is hard for many proud Frenchmen to accept.

    But fear not. In 50 years both the Brits and French will be working in sweatshops for the dominant Chinese superpower. All hail China! Vive la Chine! ;-)

  14. In my opinion it’s all about power and recognition between two ennemy brothers.

    Brothers : celtic roots, roman roots, christian roots, massive influence of the french language in the english language, Hundred Years war in France with the English, the same will to conquer the world, the same fights for freedom and rights of men. All those reasons that make that the French are much more in love and fascination with England than with, for example, our “boring” (and bad known) German “friends”.

    Power : we both had a chance to become the leaders of the world, like rome vs carthage, and a real chance, with great men, power and realizations.

    Recognition : that’s the key point. Because since we lost the fight for the leadership, since Louis XV and Napoleon, the British are forgetting they were not the only ones that could rule the world. For instance when you say “the idea of human rights started with Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ ” the French think “and what about Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, D’Alembert, Montesquieu? Those arrogant and navel-gazing British think they invented everything and gave the Rights of men to the world, but they don’t recognize the French philosophers who influenced their ones, and they ignore we didn’t need them to make our revolution!” Because, of course, and as in every country, you celebrate in first your own great men. But as you have the power today, those british ideas are conquering minds throughout the world, and make the French sad and humiliated, and they “hate” the British. If we hadn’t this great past, all what you say about the british triumph would be true too but we would have accepted it much easier. We hear in the british world that we are loosers, cowards etc whereas we were the most powerful of your enemies. So, we just would like that the British/Americans recognize that we are not this ridiculous “olala country of love, amelie poulain, gastronomy and mode” but a country who has a great place in history, whose army was not the worst in the world, and who was not the last to give to the modern world the good things there is in it. As it is not the case, the French, who don’t like unfairness, don’t manage to love the British without restrictions.

  15. hi everyone I am an old Brit, my dad was captured by the Germans while fighting in France. I have visited France on several occasions, I have read several of the articles here and can’t help noticing that there isn’t much mentioned about the Norman conquest of England which was total and long lasting, it influenced our whole culture & language, just an observation. It is sad that some of the more intelligent articles are a thin disguise to bang a drum and attack each others cultures. We are unique cultures and quite different in lots of ways, surely this makes the world a more interesting place, we do not have to agree on everything or even like each other that much. I hope the French remain forever French & the Brits forever British, we will have a more interesting & diverse world and hopefully this will enable us all to look at life through each others eyes from time to time and be fascinated and enriched by this.

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