(asked by Megan from Brisbane, Australia)
I have read in various places that Bretons see themselves as a little bit apart from
the rest of France. Is this true, in your opinion? Is it changing over time? What are some cultural differences?
Oh yeah, I totally agree with this statement. Bretons are a peculiar kind of French… Or so they think and try to convince themselves.
The reason is simple: they think that they’re not really French and that their culture is somewhat special. Just because, Bretons originally came from the Celtic tribes of Britain that came from Great Brittany (whoops sorry, I meant Britain) when the Angle and Saxon tribes invaded the island. Those British colonies soon became the Duchy of Brittany and it stayed somewhat independent until the 16th Century.
Seen like that, yes, that kinda sets them apart from the rest of France. Well, yes, but if you look at it from a different perspective, most of what is France today has various cultural origins, and during feudal times, most of the French territory was somewhat independent until the 16th Century, give or take a couple of Centuries.
Sure, their culture is more Celtic than the rest of the French. So what? What’s the big deal about being Celtic? Is that some misplaced “superior race” feeling?
So basically, for the past five centuries or so, Bretons have kept on convincing themselves that they were different from the rest of the French.
Supposedly, they have a local language… Yeah, just like almost everywhere else in France and just like everywhere else in France nobody speaks it anymore, expect that in the rest of France, nobody makes a big deal about it and doesn’t pretend they care and/or speak it.
They have a very vivid traditional folklore; except that what they don’t realize is that they’re the laughing stock of the rest of the country because of it.
They claim that they have a very typical local cuisine. Yes, once again, just like everywhere else in France, with a major difference: regional and local cuisines are interesting and rich anywhere in France, anywhere but… in Brittany… Crêpes? Seriously? Oh, sorry, they call them Galettes in their peninsula. Anyway, they think they’re gonna impress us with crêpes, galettes, whatever!? Do they think we’re American tourists or what? And what is their local alcohol? Apple cider? Really? How many gallons do you need to drink before getting somewhat tipsy?
Actually, thinking about it, they should be embarrassed to be different, not proud…
Ok, now that I have alienated every Breton on Earth, let’s be serious a minute.
Sure Brittany has its specificities, but seriously, no more no less than any other “peripheral region” of France (Brittany, Pays Basque, Catalonia, Corsica and Alsace to only mention the main ones). I think the fact that Brittany is seen as “more special” is double:
  • First, Brittany is the only one of those regions that is not on the border, and very often, the other regions specificities are mistaken for resemblance with the neighboring country (Yeah… Well… Go tell a Basque that he’s like a Spaniard so that we can have fun watch him kick your butt).
  • Secondly, Bretons moved in mass to Paris about a Century ago (to the point that one almost can say that the biggest minority in Paris is not really Algerians but Bretons). And as “expats” they must have developed a stronger sense of regional identity than people from other regions ever had to do (especially because it happened at the same time the French government made sure it would make regional differences as irrelevant as possible).
As a consequence, today, yes Bretons are the most “regional flag waiving” people in France, although that’s kinda dying out (a few decades ago, there were some independentist political movements, not anymore), and they sometimes have some strange behaviors that are perceived as quite peculiar from outside of Brittany (because let’s admit it, the rest of France just doesn’t care). For example, I had a Breton friend that had the Brittany flag tattooed. Another friend, was very proud the day he could “catch” the name of his town as his Facebook login… You’ll never see (to my knowledge) similar behaviors in other parts of France without appearing suspicious right away, and that just leaves me wondering…
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  23 Responses to “And what about Brittany and them Bretons?”

  1. I thought Apple Cider and the hard cider was the regional drink of Normandy. And as far as I knew, galettes are different than crepes?

  2. Thanks yet again for answering, David, with this particularly detailed response. Everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief now as this is the last question I had to ask. :-)

    Really enjoyed the dialogues I have had with people on this site over the past few weeks. Thanks all. I will continue reading the blog but will fade into the background now.

  3. Nino: Normandy and Brittany, but seeing the general level of alcoholism in the Breton population (maybe another explanation for their delusions?) I'd guess that cider is definitely not the only thing they drink. Galette and crêpes are exactly the same thing, despite what the Bretons will try to make you believe, the only difference is the type of wheat and the filling, not enough difference for two different words in my opinion.

    Megan: You're so very welcome, it's rare enough when I get questions that really interest me, so when it's five of them, I must answer them, even if it takes me months. ;-)

  4. Really interesting post! I had heard of Britons and Brittany but never knew much (except they make lace? I think I learned that from a travel program).

    Thanks for the education! ;D

  5. AskAFrenchman doesn't know what he's talking about when he equates galette bretonne and crepe. I'm not breton and I have no root there, I don't have a horse in this race btw.

    Crepe is really easy as pie. The hardest part is to avoid lumps in the batter and allow a few hours for the batter to rest.

    Galette is hard. I've seen several friends failing them. To the point where we would buy fresh precoocked ones at a charcuterie in Paris rather than banging our head against the wall.

  6. I admit, I don't know anything about cooking… ;-)
    I meant that as a concept they're really the same thing, and they're both as uninteresting as the other as far "regional cuisine" goes.

    Crêpes are fun for Candlemass, because it's winter, it's cold, and eating them is a nice way to spend that Sunday (so they're basically interesting one day a year). Galettes simply never are…

  7. Admit it, in your view the deadly sin of Bretagne is not to produce wine. And it's true that chouchen and cider hardly compensate for this, but it's still worth of tourist attention.

    They do decent charcuterie in Bretagne. They have a specific take on pastries too, being all about butter and shortbreads and all that. They also know their seafood, though it's maybe more about fresh local produces than specific recipes.

    I'm not antagonizing you for the sake of it, I just think that for people looking for travel ideas Bretagne isn't a silly choice.

    Enjoy great outdoors and sea shores? Hate crowds? Fan of Arthurian legends and medieval castles/monasteries? Have an affinity with Celtic cultures?

    Hell there's worse than Bretagne when it comes to French regions. How about Picardie :) ?

  8. How about that, we actually agree on something for once!! ;)

  9. Boulet (and Ksam),

    I don't hate Brittany (just its weather), I just think the Bretons have a too high opinion of it and of themselves. Yes their culture is interesting, but no more no less than any other culture in France (or elsewhere). They're not special, that's all.

    More specifically: Yeah, by no means I advise anybody interested to visit the region (remember my post was about the people, not the place) ;-)

    Breton pastries? Eh… I don't really find them that great, maybe because they're too buttery.
    Seafood: yes, but that's valid from anywhere on the coast, that's not a Breton thing)

    But we fully agree on Picardie. What a scary place (well, that's valid for pretty much everywhere North, North-East of Paris - or how the Frenchman has decided to alienate a big bunch of his compatriots).

  10. Hey, why is Picardie such a scary place?! Please tell me more - I am intrigued now by these comments.

  11. Think Northern Territories… ;-)

    Picardie is a scary place because despite its location (near Paris, near Belgium, England, you name it) its a wasteland (at least a cultural wasteland). Oh and the Picard accent is just one of the worst accents there is, my ears bleed every time I hear it.

  12. Poor old Picards! I just found this article online as well:


    Compared to many parts of Australia, it probably isn't that much of a cultural wasteland… (Though, as I mentioned in response to my first question, we are gradually maturing - just a very slow process.)

    By the way, based on what I saw in a French travel film many years ago, isn't Picardie the area renowned for all of those wooden games people play in pubs?

  13. Just got back from Bretagne and it's a lovely place to visit- We were in La Coudrais with friends and I agree about the weather- though today as we left it was SUNNY and 30 in full sunlight!!! We only had a chance to visit one town which was very pretty/charming.
    Thanks for all the info about this place.


  14. Have to laugh at a Frenchman berating a group of people for having too high an opinion of themselves! Oh the irony… I do admire the way the Bretons have cherished their culture, with absolutely no help from the French government, who won't even recognise their language! Totally arrogant, prejudiced behaviour, but then again, the French are known for that, aren't they? They forbade kids from speaking Breton in school! Shameful behaviour.
    I have visited Brittany many times, loved it, the culture and the people. Found them to be more friendly than the humourless, arrogant, 'regular' French!
    The way the French have treated the Bretons and the way you talk about them looks pretty vile to an outsider, imagine the French talked this way about a race or religion? Oh wait…you do….
    You think the Bretons are a laughing stock? Well, the French are the laughing stock of Europe, there's a reason most people can't stand you lot!

  15. See, the problem with people like you Elizabeth is not that you don't get the humor of this blog, that I'm used to, it's the fact that you're totally missing the point of my article as well as a lot of France's cultural and historical background (and also most likely that you're confusing "French" and "Parisian" in your comment).

    No the French government doesn't help Breton culture, because the French government doesn't help any regional culture (that's simply not its job), no the French government doesn't recognize Breton language because the French government doesn't recognize any regional language, there is only one and only one official language in France and that is French, but that doesn't mean that other languages are forbidden, repressed or whatnot (they may have been in the 19th Century for many reasons, but that's not the case anymore).

    So, you've visited Brittany and found nice people. Good for you… But tell me, where was it that you met "regular" arrogant French? In what part of France?

    The French haven't treated the Breton any particular way, if you think there's some sort of oppression by the French against Brittany, not only you're gravely mistaken, but I suspect that you haven't even read my article fully have you?
    So I repeat, yes the French (i.e. centralized, Paris-based) government have oppressed Brittany in the past and by "oppressed" I mean, just the culture, not the people, JUST LIKE IT HAS DONE WITH EVERY SINGLE OTHER PART OF FRANCE.
    Which was the point of my article. Bretons think they're special, they're not. End of story.
    Now I have an advise for you: before thinking about writing an amazing comment that will show me and shut my mouth, maybe you should think about reading the whole thing, and more important, turn your brain on before reading and use it, so many people forget to do that when they read stuff on the Internet you wouldn't believe.

  16. =v= Lest we forget, this region is home to Asterix the indominatable Gaul.

  17. Could the reason the Bretons think that they and their language are special is that there are more of them than the others? Maybe it's just a question of having a critical mass. We anglophone Canadians like to compare our Québécois separatist movement with European ones, particularly when we revel in the delicious irony of de Gaule's "Vive le Québec Libre" statement. (ie How would HE have reacted to a taste of his own medicine?) Our 'main' minority has done a great job of protecting their language and culture, and tend to be very "noisy" about it, while the Natives, who also have (unique) languages to protect, do not get as much airtime, or official language status. It seems like a numbers issue to me.

  18. Could it be numbers?
    I'm not sure. I don't know if Bretons are more numerous than let say Alsacians.
    But about being more vocal, now that you mention it, the fact that there's a large Breton minority in Paris (this is the Breton paradox, they all think their region is God's gift to Earth, but they emigrate in mass to Paris,you don't see that with other regional minorities) could play a role.
    I don't know.

  19. People interested by this subject must read the paper from CNN about briton language.


    Here is the answer CNN didn't accept. I hope it could help people here to understand how history can be rewritten, and how a US channel support this kind of story.
    Howevere I'm afraid they are not really interested in Breton or its speakers.

    CNN's report is biased : the stereotype of the Pancake bar in Brittany intends to limit our culture to its folklore.
    Even worse : in this report, the only minorities who are interviewed defend extremist nationalist causes, they ignore Brittany's real history.The same black legend against France is repeatedly presented without any other viewpoint being expressed.
    From the beginning, Brittany has had a multilingual culture, during all its history, the Breton language was in the West part of the area, the Gallo (a Romanic language similar to the French) in the East, the Latin language, the cultural language, and the French have been practised whatever the social background. From the XIth century, the Dukes of Brittany have started to speak French. It is therefore useless to oppose the French to the Breton language trying to suggest the idea of a unilingual Brittany, which never existed.
    Some readers' reactions on CNN site are particularly relevant: as soon as eva56 dares sharing her experience, which is not unique, her viewpoint is run down in insulting terms, assimilating jacobinism to fascism : one reader, proving his lack of rationalism, cannnot deny the fact eva56 is Breton but refuses to give her the right to express her viewpoint ; another speaks of "cultural genocide" without taking into account the real meaning of these words : let's ask the Native Americans about it !
    Such activists forget the awful part played by some nationalists during WW2, peoples of the world have the right to know what kind of peoples were Roparz Hemon and his friends. In 1950, he wrote: "a miracle occured : for 4 years, from 1940 to 1944, a wind of freedom blew in Brittanny! ». I don't think men like Gwenael Bolloré, a Breton who was one of the first Free French fighting on D-Day, will agree.
    It is true that the French Republic retorted to a tough policy toward regional languages, but it would be useful to ask why, at a time when Breton was first the language used by the church and when ignoring the French language has big consequences in the rural areas. To set up the French Republic, there were fights and the Breton language was assimilated to the conservatives' language.
    However, since 1951, Breton has been accepted at school (Deixonne law).Why would you make people believe that in France children cannot learn Breton, Corsican or Basque ? There is no Police forbiding people from speaking the language of their choice. There are Breton lessons in public schools in France since 1983 (circulaire Savary), children can study both in French and Breton, without being looked down in any sort. And of course, Bretagne is in France, and her capital is Nantes, where people don't speak Breton.
    Among the people interviewed by the journalist, I also noticed that Mr Louarn, who presents himself as a defender of the Breton language, decides to use the English language in such a poor way that subtitles are necessary to understand him. If Breton is spoken and alive, he must speak Breton .What Mr Louarn expresses is a sort of bitterness, resentment against his own country. As for me I am Breton and I don't give that man neither the right to speak in my name,nor to give a distorted image of my homeland and region.
    It is ironical to see CNN be concerned about the Breton language in France without taking any interest in other celtic languages. Is the French Republic responsible for the decline of Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland or the Cornish language in England, or the Manx on the isle of Mann, that charming tax-free paradise ?

  20. Thanks a lot Brittany. Very informative indeed. (nice to see a Breton who is not blinded by those things too) ;-)

    Concerning CNN, you know them, if CNN was about actually informing people and not propaganda and clichés, we'd all know it by now.

  21. Thank you for such a detailed response to my question, Brittany. FWIW, I had my first trip to France a few months ago and had a lovely, lovely time. Unfortunately, I did not get to Brittany though I definitely hope to go there when I return one day.

    I spent most of my time in Avignon. Lovely people, lovely architecture and LOVELY FOOD. ;-)

    I also traveled briefly through Alsace (Mulhouse), Lyons, Paris and Lille though I only had a few hours at some of these places.

  22. You're very welcome and sorry for the delay.
    Glad you liked France.

  23. I agree with everything you said. I just wished you had made more publicity for our regional languages (even though i understand you keep an un-complicated, didactic tone…) because i really would like people to understand the riches France has (or had…) as a crossroads, without which the territorial continuity of Europe wouldn’t exist : all these people who were our ancestors (for some, or the rulers of the land anyway…) mixed in the most chaotic way in Gaul to make this great diverse place with all these crazy people (it’s a miracle we’re at peace haha) that today’s France is.
    It’s the only place on the “continent” were you still have Celtic descendants and Celtic language indeed (i think that’s also why they see themselves as “special” some of these Bretons!…Like, “yay we’re the only Celts among all these mostly Latin(-influenced) people, we have to show our “difference”…or whatever : all these Occitans, Arpitans (and that’s another one i would have loved to have you mentioning among the “major” ones…;), it’s also known as Franco-Provençal…, all these Alpine people), Northern Catalans and Basques of ‘Iparralde’, Poitevins, Saintongeais, Normans (especially Norman, the Bretons have a big rivalry with them…When will they ever let it go about Mont Saint Michel…), Franc-Comtois, Burgundians, Alsatians (only a dialect of German by the way…) Flemish, Picards and so on.. They wish they’d been Welsh or something (the legend is that their poor rustic ancestors could get by selling their pink onions in Wales speaking Bretons…). Anyway, i’m an Occitan too and i have no problem with Picardie, i don’t see it as a cultural wasteland…I know it’s fashionable to do so among my fellow southerners though…Just that famous scene in “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” sums it all up, Galabru repeating “C’est LE NORD!”….wahhhhhh hell! haha I love our regional diversities, one way or another, may they persist and thrive if possible (even if there are more important matters on this Earth for sure, but it’s the salt of life too!) ;)

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