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Je crois - encore!

Let go of my petard!

Britain was once conquered by the French, around 1066. Or so they'd have you believe. What actually happened was that a bunch of Danish Vikings led by Norman had just conquered a patch of France (coincidentally called Normandy, which in Danish means 'Normans town').

Meanwhile a distant uncle of his was attacking York, waving at Harold and shouting 'We're up here!'. Just as Harold had shot up there on foot (as the trains were awful then, too) and biffed the Vikings, William, one of Norman's descendants, decided to invent the ferry, nip over to England and shout 'We're down here, now!'. Poor old Harold - actually one of our more successful kings - was on the verge of winning, was just ready to pack up for the night and finish off the smaller force of johnny-foreigner when a lucky arrow fired up into the air happened to land in his eye. He fell off his horse and was hacked to pieces.

Nothing to do with the French at all, really.

And William, whilst furtling around in the corner of some building in the little area he'd conquered - as you would - found a pile of books that the English had written and left lying around to gather dust with the excuse that libraries hadn't been invented yet.

These books only happened to list everything that existed in England and were really the last thing that a conquered people should have let fall into the hands of a man whose surname was Conqueror! And, being a quick thinker he used them to convince the English that the whole country belonged to him. He would mention, somewhat casually, that the house, third on the left past the church in a small hamlet somewhere - the one with Mrs Bloggs and her son in it - was his.

Somewhat incredulously clerks would deny this, then check and to their astonishment find he was absolutely right every time. Obviously it was his because he knew every detail. The English, being British, naturally just accepted this and queued up quietly to pay allegiance. That's how we were taken over.

Hoist by our own petard. Which, dammit, is a French word.

Oh no they're not!

Sophisticated? In a word - chic. We don't like to admit it but their fashions, their foods, their perfumes, their chocolates, their lovers - just about everything French has the edge over it's English rival.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

We set up an image that we can deny, even hate, yet secretly whinge about and succumb to. An image that Johnny Foreigner laps up, that gives them a superiority which they accept and use, with our permission, to beat us over the head with. I went to France and (sub-vocally, of course) said 'OK lads. I can't choose clothes - show me what I should wear. What should I buy to have that inevitable French superior style'.

Have you seen what they wear? It's awful! Sort of early sixties careful stuff. Stuff my Mum wishes I'd buy. The trousers - shiny? Pullovers - ribbed. Cigarettes - de rigeur!

The Joy of Food

They take a joy in dismembering meat. Only - they don't throw the horrid bits away. Nor do they use the bits to construct a meal.

Let me explain.

It's a bit like my success with Lego. There are all sorts of bits and pieces in the box. I'm sure you're supposed to ignore most of them and use just the best bits, the easy bits - the nice big blocks to make up something wonderful. Probably you could do something with the fiddly bits, the odd shaped pieces - in fact you could probably lump them together and disguise them to look like something.

And they do this with meat. Except they do the opposite! All the nice easy bits disappear. You look at any hotel with a choice of menu. The cheapest may well have meat as you would know it - but you'll be lucky. Most of the menus use the odd bits. The more you pay, the deeper inside the body you go. You can have odd bits stewed and reasonably recognizable bits cooked (Ha! Shown a flame and then eaten raw).

Now. Let's get serious. Andouille. It's one of their specialities. They're so proud of it that the shops can even have pictures of chubby smiling men holding in front of them, in one hand, a giant sausage. No, it shouldn't be allowed, and yes, it is easily misinterpreted, but there it is. They have different sensibilities to us.

Now I haven't quite worked andouille out yet. But it seems to me that they take a delight in using the bits that even MacDonald's rejects. I think they eat this stuff themselves - I don't think it's done just for tourists - though I'm not sure.

Why can't we do it?

We stopped in a village and went to the local Bar. It was 10 past 12. There were only a few others in there, already tucking into some bread. We asked for the menu - there wasn't one. You just get the plat du jour.

OK - so we start with the bread. There's a bottle of wine on the table - indeed on every table. And as everyone else is drinking form theirs, we open ours too. Then along comes the entrée. Very nice - cooked til just tender cauliflower in a mayonnaise sauce. And then along comes the entrée. A second one? Unsure of what it is, but pork based. Not knowing there was a second entrée I thought this was the main course and served myself to a large portion. Still, it was nice.

And then the main course appears. Leg of elephant bird - it can't have been a chicken, or a duck. A goose perhaps? So much delicious meat, and a portion of breast all cooked in a beautiful sauce - there has to be wine in it, and vegetables too. With a bowl of crinkly pommes frites. Wow! And now the 'afters' - the cheese plate. Four courses! Ca sufit! Then the waitress appears once more with a tray of desserts, mousses and milk puddings - OK, why not! Lastly the coffee.

Five courses, plus bread, with wine and coffee included.
£15? £12? £9.95? No - £5 the lot.

But even odder were the people. This was, to me anyway, a slap up lunch served in the local caff. And in there were the local estate agent, solicitor and others - the suits. But by 12.30 the place filled with the workers, the shop assistants and all the lads from the building site opposite. I don't know, but to me seeing the builders roll up their sleeves and delicately tuck into a five course lunch next to the solicitors and the like just didn't ring true.

We met an English electrician - and he explained that in England the 'lads' would sit on a wall, get out a copy of the Sun, generally shout, swear and take the piss out of each other whilst tucking into a sarnie. En France the French equivalent lads apparently spread a table cloth on the ground and make a three course lunch of it. They'll spend an hour eating, supping a glass or two of wine quite probably diluted 50% with water chatting over the current political and economic situation and - it's so normal. Just not the way we'd do it!

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