The French are angry with British bad manners - GulfToday

The French are angry with British bad manners


Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron. File

It does not happen often, and when it happens it remains a wonder. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson writes a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron but committed the unforgivable diplomatic sin of putting the whole text on his Twitter account. The British are known for their manners, but the French always believed that they were always better than their neighbours across the Channel on the manners front. An angry Macron told a press conference, “I am surprised by methods when they are not serious. One leader does not communicate with another on these questions on Twitter, by public letter... No, no.” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin cancelled the meeting with his British counterpart Priti Patel at Calais.

Apart from its inappropriate form, Johnson’s letter was impolite in what it had to say. The British prime minister said that France would be held responsible for the illegal immigrants landing on the British shores, and that it is France’s job to prevent the migration. He also wanted that the British troops to conduct joint patrolling with the French in checking illegal migration. The furore erupted over the death of 27 illegal migrants when their inflatable boat sank in the English Channel, which separates France from England.

The blame game has its roots in complex political matters, including Britain’s exit from European Union and the fight between the two countries about French fishermen not getting the licence to fish in British waters. But the immediate cause relates to manners, norms, protocols. The French care much more for these intangible values of following the right order than the British who believe in their own code of politeness, which can be cold, cynical and aggressive. The French code however requires that you can be as antagonistic as you want to be, but the ceremonial forms cannot be abandoned. If the British prime minister chooses to write to the French president, then the prime minister must follow the time-haloed norms of diplomatic communication. The French would not want any foreigner, especially the British, to treat cavalierly French chivalry.

The objection is not what Johnson wrote but to the manner of its communication. Though in reality, what Johnson wrote is more offensive than the manner in which he did it. But the French were provoked by the manner of it, and dismissed what he wrote as of no consequence. That is why, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal described it as “threadbare in its substance” apart from being “inappropriate in its form”.

Etiquette pundits on both sides of the Channel will have much to say about Johnson’s calculated rudeness and the French refusal to overlook the rudeness part of it. The real issue is the death of 27 people. The real issue is that illegal migrants entering Europe and wanting to move on to England. The European interior ministers of France, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium along with the European Commission will meet at Calais on Sunday. Britain has been kept out of it because of its bad manners more than for its crude stance.

Johnson for his part must be outraged by the French tantrum because the British prime minister believes that he was forthright and honest to God about the burning issue of illegal migrants, and it cannot be reduced to a question of bad form and bad manners. Johnson and British compatriots would likely argue that the French reaction was trivialising a serious issue. The British take pride in their plain speak because they cannot make English into the elegant language that French is. The French on their part take pride in the fact that they care for their language and hugely respect its cultural cadences rather than stoop to British plainness and vulgarity. It is indeed a clash of cultures if not that of civilisations.

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