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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Cabbage and Christmas: What the French and Germans really think of each other

From baguettes to Birkenstocks, clichés on France and Germany die hard, even as the two countries celebrate 60 years since the post-war treaty establishing friendship between the two European giants after decades of rivalries and conflict.

Cabbage and Christmas: What the French and Germans really think of each other
Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

On the occasion of six decades marking the signing of the Elysée Treaty, AFP spoke to some Franco-German couples about their culture clashes on everything from food to Christmas.

Bread and cheese

The French national obsession with the baguette – recently elevated to UNESCO world heritage status – can be hard for Germans to comprehend.    

The omnipresence of the elongated bread at mealtimes is a source of consternation for Verena von Derschau, born in Germany and married to a Frenchman.

“It doesn’t even get eaten! It just ends up as crumbs by the plate,” she says.

Reader question: How many baguettes does the average French person eat per day?

By contrast, pungent cheese and other sources of French gastronomic pride can lead to a certain hauteur vis-a-vis other cuisines, with fingers pointed notably at Germany’s love of potatoes and cabbage.

François Dumas, a Parisian who lives with his German partner, winces at the idea of some Teutonic preparations such as Maultaschen, a meat-filled dumpling usually served with broth.

“I give up there!” he says.

Comfortable shoes

While Birkenstocks now belong to the same stable of luxury brands as Louis Vuitton, the cork-soled sandals – on occasion sported with socks – remain emblematic of the German love of practical clothing.

“Germans dress like sacks, always comfort first,” says Roland, a Frenchman in a bi-national couple for years.

Schools

Meanwhile, in France it is children who suffer discomfort in the country’s strict school system. “I feel sorry for them, they have such long days,” in contrast to the German pupils who often have the afternoon free, Julika Herzog says.

Technology and trains

When the family is on holiday in Germany, it is her husband’s turn to complain. “There’s nowhere you can pay with card,” François Dumas says.

“And the trains are always late,” he says, the opposite of the German efficiency many expect.

Bells and bunnies

Festivals reveal yet more differences. The relative absence of the Easter Bunny in France was a surprise to Verena von Derschau. Instead, “they have bells”, she says, puzzled by the images of a winged bell bringing goodies to children during the spring holiday.

Flying bells and a giant omelette – how the French celebrate Easter

Christmas follows a different rhythm on either side of the border, too, with the French dressing up their trees early in December, while many Germans wait until Christmas Eve.

Germans also lean towards a more sober tree decoration, says Verena von Derschau, who has banned blinking fairy lights in her household.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

The French newspaper that only appears once every four years

This week is a very special one in French media - a newspaper will appear in the news kiosks which has not been seen since 2020.

The French newspaper that only appears once every four years

La Bougie du Sapeur (the soldier’s candle) is a satirical newspaper that has a very unusual quirk – it is only produced once every four years.

The paper is published on February 29th, which means that it only appears on a leap year (anneé bissextile in French).

As 2024 is a leap year, the paper will appear in news kiosks on Thursday for the first time since 2020.

Keen crossword fans might be the first to snap it up – the paper publishes a crossword and then publishes the results in the next issue; meaning that you have to wait four years to find out the answer to that cryptic clue.

Launched in 1980, the paper describes itself as drôle mais pas méchant (funny but not nasty) and is largely devoted to satirical news articles and musings upon the quirks of everyday life in France.

For example, the 2012 front page concerned itself with why requesting a demi (half) of beer in fact gets you a quarter of a litre, not a half.

“It’s a veritable scandal,” ran the editorial comment. “When you ask for a demi in your local, you get a quarter. It’s organised theft. We are starting a crusade to return the demi to being: a demi!”

The paper – which proudly holds the title of the world’s least frequently-produced newspaper – was set up by Jacques Debuisson and Christian Bailly, as a joke between friends.

The name La Bougie du Sapeur refers to Camember, a sapper [soldier] in a comic book created by Georges Colomb in 1896. In the story, Camember was born on February 29th and joined the army when he had celebrated his birthday only four times. 

The paper retails for €4.80 although you can also get a 100-year subscription for €100. Profits are donated to charity. 

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