I have come to realize that my connection with the French goes beyond the gust of wind and the burst of fire, the proverbial reference to the deadly Mirage and the destructive Rafale. Perhaps, fashion and wines have a better claim to the country’s identity than its controversial defence deals. Even heroin smuggling from Turkey to Canada via France from 1930s through 70’s dubbed ‘The French Connection’ has long been consigned to history. The country is now more proud of its perfumes and the Eiffel. For me, it doesn’t end at just that. The stubble I support on my chin is called a French Cut, the widely accepted facial definition of being a suave man. It is one generic stuff that one can improvise to trim stubble to suit different face cuts for getting a dapper dude look. What’s more, the French have been generous enough not to draw any patents on it. That the cut will inspire lingerie makers to invent French-cut panties is not easy for me to fathom. Not sure if they invented it but there is no denial by the French on it as yet!
What surprises me most is the fact that quite a few things attributed to being ‘French’ have no French connection whatsoever. My order for a plate of French fries in a cafe in downtown Montpelier in south France had many eyebrows raised. ‘There is no such thing as French fries’. Perhaps an attribution to the potatoes they didn’t ever fry, I imagine! The story goes that stationed in Belgium during World War I, the American soldiers named it so after finding the French-speaking Belgian soldiers savouring it.
As you rightly guessed, next on my checklist was to look around for a French toast. Surprisingly, it remained as elusive as the French-fries though back home roadside eateries whip it out in a flash. But why don’t the French? Simply put, this sweet snack popular across the world has no French-connection. Traced back for its origin to the Roman Empire, the toast recipe seemed to have travelled with the early English settlers to America during the 17th century. And, it has been popular as a French recipe ever since!
I’m not done yet on my French connections. The cricket we play today is an English creation, but I can’t forget having played French cricket as a child. Using one’s legs as wickets and to protect them with a bat remains a fascinating challenge to fend every ball thrown at you from a number of players encircling the batter. Although historical records do indicate that a primitive form of ‘criquet’ did originate in France, the French are not making any serious claims on it. I wonder why aren’t they claiming what is genuinely theirs?
Why should they when everything else is coming their way, anyway? Curiously, the etymology of the sensual oral technique is grounded in English but it is known the world over as ‘French kiss’. ‘Is that genuinely French?’ I queried a French. When it comes to passionate romantic matters, the French are no shrinking violets. They seem to own every second of that deep-mouth exploration. Who else but the French alone could introduce such adventurism to the world! ‘Ow is that, monsieur!’
I’m done with my French connections. It’s over to you!
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)