If you look at the use of the word ‘French’ in the English language and likewise anglais(e) in French, the usage yields valuable clues as to how Brits have traditionally viewed the French, and vice versa.
Phrases in English using the word French are mostly related to food and sex. The French would argue they do both better.
Let’s start with food:
French toast – which you don’t see in Britain much, I think it’s more American. I have yet to sample any. Probably the equivalent of pain perdu in French, but I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t tried that either.
French fries (or Freedom Fries as they are sometimes known in the US) – just ‘fries’ in France.
French beans – these seem to be the only type of green beans the French eat, known to the French simply as ‘green beans’. My father, allotment enthusiast extraordinaire, doesn’t believe me when I say I am not aware of a word existing for broad bean or runner bean in French. Quite frankly I would rather broad beans did not exist full stop (that’s period to American folk).
And now for a bit of sex. It would appear that the following expressions stem from Anglo-Saxons equating Gallic culture with sexual sophistication. Whether or not this is still pertinent today is debatable. ‘French kiss’: a kiss with tongues. Following extensive research conducted on both sides of the English Channel, my humble opinion is that the Brits actually have the edge (Mr Frog being the exception, naturally). Then we have the ‘French letter’, disliked unanimously by both French and English gentlemen, which confusingly goes by the name of un préservatif in French, thereby belonging to the category of ‘false friends’. ‘Cette confiture contient-elle des préservatifs?’ I think not.
I am told that the verb ‘to French’ means to perform oral sex. Likewise the seemingly innocent manicure/furniture restoration terminology, to have a ‘French polish’. I do not intend to develop this paragraph any further as I wouldn’t want to give the worrying numbers of people who arrive on my site via the search terms ‘petite porn’ any reason to come back.
Swiftly moving on, the following are expressions using the word ‘English’ in the French language.
Culinary terms using the word ‘english’ are rather evocative of English cuisine as a whole, I think. Crème anglaise is what the French call custard, that staple of stodgy British puddings and trifles. The French version of this is thinner and served cold, a little more refined than warm, gloopy English custard. I like both and will not be made to choose. Cuit à l’anglaise means boiled. Several of my French acquaintances associate English cooking with overcooked boiled food, even going to far as to suggest that we boil most of our meat. I for one have never boiled a piece of meat, but I must admit that the French expression conjures up memories of soggy sprouts in the school canteen.
Les Anglais ont débarqué is a somewhat old-fashioned expression to describe the bane of every woman’s life, menstruation. Something to do with the Napoleonic wars and the undesirable arrival of the English who wore red uniforms. Prior to that, another phrase commonly used was recevoir un courrier de Rome, as Cardinals also wore red robes. So the idea behind the phrase would appear to be more about colour, and not derived from ‘English’ being synonymous with pain, PMT and hot water bottles.
Finally, there is an expression meaning to go AWOL which the French and English ascribe to each other. Filer à l’anglaise: ‘to take French leave’. The Germans are with the English on this one sich auf französisch verabschieden, but the Italians are with the French filarsela all’inglese. So opinions vary, but basically both the French and the English are associated with impolite behaviour.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bugger off now and do some work. Pardon my French.