Beware of the frogs

<strong>Touché: a French woman's take on the English</strong>

Agnès Catherine Poirier <em>Weidenfe

Books about national stereotypes are a dodgy, if lucrative, business. Throw together a few clichés about garlic and dirty campsites, stick on a cover with an amusing illustration, and there you have it: a mildly entertaining piece of literary fluff destined for the dark dusty reaches of a seldom-visited bookshelf.

Touché, however, is an attempt at fluff with substance. The journalist Agnès Poirier, who writes for Libération and the Guardian, has produced a collection of short, well-informed essays that give a French perspective on various aspects of life in England. Politics, society, food, art and Hugh Grant are all discussed with a cheerful wit, backed up by some more serious historical and philosophical observations.

Unsurprisingly for a journalist who regularly flits between London and Paris, the national characteristics Poirier chooses to compare are, more often than not, those of the urban elite. A discussion of etiquette is confined to the middle-class English habit of over-politeness, while French life outside Paris rarely gets a mention. Overall, Touché simply presents us with a France that stops at the périphérique and an England that stops at the Watford Gap.