When 24-hour licensing was introduced in 2005, the government said it wanted Britain to imitate the “continental” drinking culture, where everyone sipped half-pints at café tables and the virtues of moderation were imbibed with spritzer at the age of five. That is a complete fable, says Jim Pollard in the forthcoming issue of Prospect, available on 25th March. The drift has been in the opposite direction: in Paris, le binge drinking est bien arrivé—and it’s because the French are increasingly imitating us.
It’s only the latest, Pollard says, in a long line of English imports ranging from pop records to corporate brands to street slang. And this shift is beginning to affect people’s private lives too, wrote Lucy Wadham in a previous issue of Prospect. When his last marriage to the long-suffering Cecile broke down, Nicolas Sarkozy was attacked over his lack of “pudeur” (a word part-way between shame and modesty) as he pandered to the press: an Anglo-American tactic that went against the grain of the Fifth Republic’s Catholic origins.
However, all the French coverage of the recent alleged Bruni/Sarkozy dalliances isn’t necessarily a sign of the French media becoming more like the British in its appetite for celebrity scandal. Rumours that Sarkozy’s liaison with his ecology minister has been invented to salvage his reputation as a “sex dwarf” (in the face of being cuckolded by his man-eating wife) point to an undiminished gulf between French and English attitudes to sex.
We have no concept of the chaud lapin: the very idea of a prime minister sleeping with a member of his cabinet would make English blood run cold. But for the French, such news can be bundled together with Bruni’s liaison as “extramarital affairs” as a face-saving measure. Meanwhile, the English-speaking internet resounds to a dwarf joke about Sarkozy that David Cameron made in September. We’re not identical yet.