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Baise-moi veet: Risque French

01:00 Sat 20th Apr 2002 |

Q. Baise-moi veet

A. Kiss me kwik. Nothing to do with French at all, really, just a saucy seaside phrase. And let's face it, when it comes to sauciness, the Brits, especially the English, have always considered the French to be past-masters - and mistresses, of course - of all things raunchy.

Q. What is it about Britain and France

A. Without going into some involved exploration of the relationship between us and our nearest neighbours, it's fair to say that the love-hate thing goes back to way before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Apart from the fact that French is the language which has most influenced English, Brits learn from an early age that there are certain things that the French excel at.

Q. How

A. Just look at any dictionary, look up 'French' and count how many phrases in everyday use have a French attribution. There are windows, loaves, cricket (hmm), pleats, French curves, French chalk (and cheese) and French polish. Apart from the fifty or so in more or less common use there are a hundred or more which have been used over the years and have now fallen into disuse. Almost all these phrases fall into a few basic categories: food, fashion, architecture and gardening. They are the indicators of the major influence which France - always considered somewhat more refined than stolid old Blighty - has had on British culture.

Q. So how do the French see les anglais

A. In a reciprocal manner, the English feature more prominently than anyone else in French idioms. As one would expect, the references to food in a French dictionary show the British as people of plain and simple tastes. For example, to cook meat or vegetables � l'anglaise means boiled and without sauce except for a knob of butter; une assiette anglaise is a simple plate of cold meat; and cr�me anglaise is custard (and what's wrong with that ). However, jardin anglais suggests a more wanton aspect of British nature, as it means a garden that imitates the informality of nature in contrast to the 'French' garden of symmetrical paths and little hedges. Broderie anglaise, a kind of fancy embroidery, is about the only English contribution to fashion that the French will acknowledge. Chevaliers learn how to anglaiser a horse, that is cut the muscle in the base of the tail so that it sticks up.

In a nutshell, the British learn that the French are sophisticated, while the French learn that on the other side of the Manche we like things pretty unfussy - except when it comes to horses' tails and gardens.

Q. What about the naughty bits

A. This is where it gets interesting. Both English and French contain phrases of a rather less polite nature in reference to each others habits and characteristics, especially when it comes to sex. We all know about French kissing, French knickers, French tickler, French disease (or pox) and the like. But what do the French think of us A pretty strong indication is that le vice anglais, 'the English vice', is a term for homosexuality and anglaiser (not the equine version) is to cheat.

Interestingly, though, both attribute contraceptive devices to the other: French letters are, of course, condoms, but a capote anglaise, or 'English cap', is what we call a Dutch cap.

Q. How do the Dutch fit in with all this

A. Curiously, you may think, in English and in French the Dutch come in as the second-most name-checked nation. In English there are about a dozen, with Dutch uncle, Dutch elm disease, Dutch courage and double Dutch probably the best known. In French they have hollandaise sauce, various potato and cheese dishes and the fabric hollande. Why this should be is anyone's guess. You'd think Germany would loom large in both languages, but in English all we have are German measles and Prussian blue. The French pretty much ignore everyone else, with only a few instances, such as un 'uil am�ricain meaning a 'wandering eye' and to speak fran�ais comme une vache espagnole is to speak French badly, like a Spanish cow - not mad as une vache anglaise, however.

Q. And French toast

A. Not French at all, but the American name for 'eggy bread' - it's a bit more glam apparently.

So, can't live with each other and can't live without each other: like some bickering old couple the French and the Brits rub along quite nicely, really - the word frottage does, after all, come from the french frotter, 'to rub'.

See also the answerbank article on Dutch

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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