Thursday, 20 January 2011

Anglophiles and Francophiles: Or, Yes, We Can All Get Along

[Jeeves and Wooster, the epitome of Englishness]

Anglophile or francophile? One can be either, or neither, but not really both. It is one arena in which you must, if you wish, choose a team early and stick with it. Anglophiles tend to be one type of person, and francophiles another. It is rather obvious which team has won the favour of the Idle Historian. I have long pondered the question of how well anglophiles and francophiles can get along with each other. Despite their opposing characteristics, I believe that the answer is: just fine; très bien. Some of my dearest friends, as they say, are francophiles. I just prefer to think of it in the terms that Marge used addressing her son Bart in The Simpsons when he cruelly ridiculed graduate students: "Don't make fun of them... They've just made a terrible life choice." Of course, the opposite camp might state much the same opinion.

[Some wear their francophilia close to the heart]

If the volume and depth of readily searchable material on the internet is any indication (and it may well not be), francophilia is more tangible, easier to define, and has more dignified adherents -- Thomas Jefferson, statesmen of various stripes, and monarchs stretching from Europe through to the Middle East. Being a francophile is associated with high culture, fine cuisine, refined taste, and in the political sphere the ideals of the Enlightenment. The anglophile, on the other hand, brings to mind a rather different character. A quick search yields the names of individuals -- living and deceased -- such as Bill Bryson, Tom Clancy, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and most importantly, Gwyneth Paltrow. Historically George Frideric Handel serves as the model of a anglicized foreigner who embodied Englishness. It is important to remember that a legion of twentieth-century émigrés from continental Europe enriched British science, art, architecture, and design.

Perhaps anglophilia is so ingrained a concept in the anglo-saxon world that it is actually somewhat difficult to really come to grips with the idea. Does being a real anglophile involve some degree of ostentatious performance, requiring affectations involving tweed, tea, and teddy bears? One may well need to cultivate some eccentricities along the way as well -- puttering in the garden, taking up obscure hobbies, or the like. It is certainly rather more lighthearted than its francophile counterpart. Its cultural touchstones are certainly not lightweight -- Shakespeare, Austen, and the BBC for starters. It also includes the famed comic tradition ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan to P.G. Wodehouse and Monty Python. One certainly could not be considered an anglophile without an affinity for this type of humour. Anglophilia is further complicated by the notion, as stated on the rather scant wikipedia page on the subject, that "The term is not usually associated with citizens of Commonwealth nations (the former British Empire), although these countries share many aspects of culture and history with the UK." Not to mention non-Commonwealth legacies of Empire, from the anglophilia of the entire Maltese nation, to the endurance of many British traditions in nations such as India. British governmental systems, customs, and sports such as cricket continue in wide swaths of the globe.

The urge towards this "-philia" of other nations and cultures has always been with us. Perhaps it is even hardwired into our human genome, and is the impetus that keeps up exploring and incorporating new influences into culture, language, art, and food. There have long been francophiles, anglophiles, russophiles, lovers of America, Africa, and Asia. Famous in late modern Europe was the figure of the "Orientalist" -- in those days indicating anything from Turkey to parts East. I don't believe that this mania for the "Other" need necessarily indicate any lack of appreciation for our own familiar cultures. Instead, love of the Other entails some of the best parts of our nature -- the desire to blend new and old, to import different ways of doing and thinking into the existing order of things, and to share experiences with our fellow human beings.

Anglophile or francophile, we can all surely raise our glass of ale, or of Bordeaux, in praise of the fine pursuit of the Other, and how in doing so we are all the richer.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

1 comment:

Manx said...

Hear hear!

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