Republican France secretly loves the British royal family

Sure, we decapitated our royals. But we truly love (mocking) yours.

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There are many things the French love to make fun of the British about. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road; starting to drink at 5pm; cricket; lamb with mint sauce (why?); baked beans (same question); separate hot and cold taps (do you like pain??); celebrating annually a plot that almost blew up parliament; and so on.

But nothing tops the British Royals – at least, before Brexit, nothing did. “Les Anglais” – which is, confusingly, shorthand for both “the English” and “the Brits” – love their Queen. It’s the first thing we think of: to the French, London equals Buckingham Palace long before Whitehall even comes to mind. Can you *believe* they still have a monarch?!

Famously, monarchy didn’t turn out that well in France, and since 1789 we have more or less stuck to a Republic, so to French people, the mere existence of royals is puzzling. Descendants of French monarchs still technically live today, but we don’t even know their names, and no one (but for monarchists, who must amount to 11 individuals altogether) cares. No throne, no royals! It’s genius – you Brits should try it.

Sure, we decapitated our royals. But we truly LOVE yours. French people speak of the British royal family like most people speak of the Kardashians: they’re either obsessed or pretend not to know anything about them – and in both cases, they love doing so. 

The French obsession with the British royals is nothing new. Official visits from Elisabeth II are always a big news event (and her French is so much better than Theresa May’s). After I first moved to London, my grandmother regularly asked me about the Queen, with candid respect – she is very knowledgeable about the British royals. Obviously, I had to buy her – and, jokingly, most of my family and friends – the kitschiest royal mugs I could find.

The French media is obsessed with them, too. It’s the French magazine Closer that first published stolen photos of topless Kate Middleton in 2012 (and was condemned in 2017 to pay the royal couple €100,000 worth of damage). And of course, it’s in Paris that Princess Diana died in a car accident. No one in France old enough to remember 1997 has forgotten it.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding has made big headlines all over the world, but “le marriage princier” is not overlooked in France either. Some French people are even planning a trip to London for the occasion.

On 19 May on French TV, expect live coverage and little logos with Union Jacks, jokes about how Charles will never be king, and (probably quite sexist) running commentary on Meghan’s dress – just like British TV. Before the wedding, Prince Harry was most famous in France for his unfortunate Halloween costume from 2005 – but now it’s his turn to parade in ridiculous carriages and weird dated traditions, so obviously, the French will be here to watch. It will not be said that Republican France missed an occasion to indulge in gently mocking its oldest historic frenemy.

Not me, though. I pay the royal tax, which is infuriating, so you’ll find me complaining at the pub with British republicans. And I’ll surely be the one to poke fun at, because apparently, France too has a king now.

Pauline Bock is a New Statesman contributing writer based in Brussels. She writes about Brexit, the EU, France and the Macron presidency. 

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