re-read this book 1000 years of Annoying the French (ISBN 978-0-552-77575-5,
Bantam Press, 2010) by Stephen Clarke, a writer who these days lives in
Paris, and found it just as enjoyable as the first time. After 12 months of
book reviews, this book gets my ‘pick of the bunch’ award.
My dear Scottish mother detested the French. She forgave the Germans for
their couple of hiccups. She was sympathetic to the Poles. She tolerated the
Spanish. But the French? Even French cheeses were not welcome in her house.
So along comes a book, which I thought might give me the answer to my
Mother’s antipathy to all things Gallic.
The early years were mainly military skirmishes, with France and England
taking it in turns; however, despite French history books, the Brits seemed
to be on top, which did not please the French at all.
When you come to notable figures in British history, there is Mary Queen of
Scots. According to Clarke the historian, “Mary Queen of Scots was a French
creation. She was as Scottish as foie-gras flavored haggis.” Mother would
not have been as amused as I was.
Champagne and Dom Perignon get their mention on the French side of the
ledger, but historian Clarke claims that it was an English chap by the name
of Merret who worked out how to keep the bubbles (and in fact manufacture
some with the second fermentation in the bottle) from exploding in the
bottle. So there. Methode champenoise was invented not by the Dom, but by
Interestingly, at the court of Louis XIV, courtiers were obliged to bribe
palace officials for any little favors. Did the French then bring this to
Thailand via Ayutthaya, I wonder!
The infamous Ponzi schemes and similar rackets in 1720 led to the British
South Sea Bubble, but this was only following what the French had done
earlier that year. It would seem that greed is universal on either side of
the English Channel.
By the time we have the Americans getting involved with both sides, Clarke
writes about Benjamin Franklin’s eccentricity thus, “…to develop his theory
that the best protection against sexually transmitted disease was a hearty
post-coital pee. Not one of his better ideas.”
And that Oh so French decapitation machine, the Guillotine, turns out not to
be French at all, but was invented in Halifax, Northern England as early as
1286. Dr. Guillotin might have popularized it in France, but France cannot
claim bragging rights. The first to experience this machine in France was an
unfortunate robber in 1792 called Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier, lucky I suppose
that it was not called a Pelletier, though Pierre-Andre Pelletier, of the
Amari Watergate might perhaps know more.
This book is the equivalent of Bill Bryson’s travelogues, but historical
(and hysterical). I laughed all the way through this book and you will too.
Unless you are French! It will still be available through the Bookazine
outlets. This is an ideal book to read following the New Year holidays. We
all seem to need a little humor by now!