|Image via Akseli Koskela|
Château de Langeais in France, once the home of King
Richard the Lion Heart, destroyed by the English in the
Hundred Years' War and rebuilt by Louis XI in 1465.
One thing that I noticed whilst travelling about in Europe is the line that you can draw across the continent dividing the two biggest cultural influences on almost every country, that is, the line between the Latin, and the Teutonic, and there exist a heap of cultural stereotypes and attitudes that seem to accompany the divide. (In terms of language Finland, Greece, Ireland and the Slavic countries all have very different languages, but if only in cultural stereotypes if in nothing else, they still seem to conform to their side of the dividing line). In Switzerland this line actually has a name: the Röstigraben or Rosti ditch after a popular form of mashed potatoes eaten in the German half of Switzerland. Maybe in other parts of Europe the demarcation isn’t so clear as in Switzerland, but you’ll know on which side you’re on when you sample the food in the North (or when you’re in Oslo and you have to barter one of your own limbs just to pay for the meal!). Or, likewise, you’ll know you’re in a Latin country when notwithstanding the tasty food your holiday experience is somewhat lessened when you have to learn to use your elbows to queue-up for a bus in Nîmes after your train has been inexplicably cancelled.
But I can’t help feeling that England and subsequently the United Kingdom occupy a bit of grey area. No-one would ever say that the UK is a Latin country - but at the same time, it’s not quite one-hundred-percent Northern either. The language itself is an odd mix, Germanic origins and an underlying Germanic grammar but with Latin words making-up more than half the vocabulary.
English stereotypes are likewise mixed: the English have somehow managed to acquire the dour puritan work ethic of Northern Europe without the famous German efficiency or Scandinavian inventiveness. Don’t think I’m just knocking the Brits either - Australians have a “she’ll be right” attitude to not doing a job properly without the joie de vivre or work-life balance of the Latin countries.
Hmmm, best of both worlds really.
But, actually these are just facile national stereotypes. The point that I really want to make is that too often the French heritage in English is forgotten. Whilst 20th century English writers like Thomas Hardy and J.R.R. Tolkien rejoiced in digging-up old English and Anglo-Saxon words, with their homely and honest connotations (consider Thomas Hardy’s “Hap”), only advertising executives and the worst types of academia have taken an interest in the French and Latin words in English.
|Image via Akseli Koskela|
Bordeaux, capital of Aquitaine, was ruled by the King
of England for 300 years, or was it that for 300 years the
Kings of England were from Anjou or Aquitaine?
But I might leave you with a favourite for rich connotations and a lovely etymology: consider “journey” from journée as in bonne journée, it originally only meant a day’s travel or a day’s work but in English the word seems to have exemplified Bilbo’s attitude to a going out for the day - which says a lot about the English:
“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”